“Oh that happens daily!” Karen Say says laughing.
Somehow along the way, our society has decided that certain types of people or certain genders know or do certain things. That is the reality women in construction have to face daily, the judgment that just because they are a woman, they couldn’t possibly know anything about construction, the process, the tools, the technique, or speak the lingo.
When a woman walks into a room, “you start at a negative three. Men are taken at face-value and just begin talking about construction. But as a woman, in particularly a young woman I would have to talk technical knowledge and use specific technical terms until the light bulb went off in their head that I actually knew what I was talking about and equally deserved to be at that table. Just then, I am at zero and we can begin talking business.” Say continues.
To be fair, this is not a trait that is unique to construction or even to men. It is something we all do. Our brains look to identify patterns and strive to identify what is familiar, when there is something different we subconsciously react. Some are just more vocal and inappropriate about it than others. Many women in construction admitted that they too are surprised when they see another woman. They are intrigued and want to know her story—a thought pattern that they do not have with the men in the industry. If women do this with other women in the industry, it is to be expected that men will do it as well.
“There always seems to be an underlying tone when I meet my male counterparts in the industry that I don’t know anything about construction. They feel they have to be careful of the things they say and how they say it. It’s extremely annoying and at times frustrating.” Daria VanLiew says. Being aware that you are what is unfamiliar, is something that women are unable to forget, but it also gives you the power to begin to ease the discomfort in the room. Give the men some common ground to talk to you about. Whether it is sports, hunting, or construction—by you providing the topic, you are providing the opportunity to bridge the gap over the hurdle of what do they talk to you about?
It can sound really easy to be a minority, but the everyday experience reminds you that it’s not. Women still hear phrases like, “You’re a woman what could you know?” and “Honey go get me a cup of coffee.” And if a woman walks into a meeting with her team of men, her team will still be addressed before her, regardless of her rank.
“When the drywall crew that I had hired showed up, a young stocky guy got out of their vehicle. He asked where the contractor was. I said he was looking at her. He started laughing. I asked him if he wanted to get paid. He stopped laughing. I have continued to use that company for decades, but no one ever laughed again!” Iris Harrell shares one of the many experiences she has had. “There were also many times that I would not even be given the opportunity to interview for a job, let alone be hired just because of my gender. My solution each time was to start my own company.”
The perception by others both within the industry and from outside of it, is astonishing! People never consider that these women made a choice and that they want to work in construction. The assumption is it’s because of their husband, father, son, cousin, brother or some other relative made them do it. Times have changed, women have choices and more importantly women can enjoy and thrive in what is perceived as a man’s industry. They are doing it today and will be even more successful at it tomorrow!