Thursday, July 20, 2017

Women in Construction should stop worrying about the glass ceiling!

Women in Construction should stop worrying about the glass ceiling and focus on appreciating the glass cage they are afforded.

I rarely, if ever reach for the ‘gender’ card to boost arguments close to my professional heart.
You can look through hundreds of my blog-posts and will see, that it never (or really hardly ever) pops up as an issue, where I acknowledge the fact, that I am a woman and I work in construction.
I write up this approach, (or reluctance to accept gender issues within the industry) to the fact that I grew up in an environment where girls were encouraged to ‘go for the stars’, no matter of the traditional gender of their chosen profession.

The reason for me ‘reaching for the keyboard’ on this not very BIM-ish topic this time, is this sudden surge of companies I see, seemingly elevating their female staff to areas they were barred from before. 
I.e. pushing them through that proverbial 'glass' ceiling to show that this industry is not sexist any more. Giving them awards, certificates and titles.
Sorry, but it is. Sexist, The industry as such,

Again, do believe me, I am not by nature a good female-rights warrior. A bad cook, a mother, have not touched the washing machine in ages.
Yet, even decades ago, in the mid-1980s, I did feel somewhat uneasy when I first enrolled as an Architectural Student,
The Faculty I went for, 'the cream of the cream' of its host country, artificially controlled the ratio of male-to-female applicants it accepted (‘1:3 in favor of the boys’ –  as ‘we must not let the industry become overly womanly’).

Later, from half a globe away, and a fully qualified MSc Construction and Architectural Engineer, I also found myself squirming a bit at the statistics, that showed, that the majority of female graduate Architects in NZ got registered with the Architectural Board decades after their male peers or even more likely, never.
At the time when NZ's Prime Minister was a woman, women architects at annual conferences were still out-numbered by 5 to 1. (good for the ques in the loos, nothing else).

Still, I sort of marched on with my own agenda and plans, for decades, blaming my personal professional failures on anything but gender, lack of experience (early on) naivety (also) broken English, immigrant status, no local network, not well enough prepared for the tasks at hand, lack of technical knowledge, biting off more than I could chew etc. etc. etc.

But then, years went by, and I listened, studied and learned and learned and started seeing the gaps in the profession, gaps of knowledge, experience and expertise in colleagues around me.
Lack of skills they easily got away with, (with much lesser price to pay for it)
No financial penalties or setbacks to their careers.

I can't say often enough how uncomfortable I am to cry 'sexist',
I still truly (and probably foolishly) see myself first a person, a wife and a mother and within the industry a reasonably good BIM practitioner, a lapsed, once conscientious, competently registered but maybe not that talented architect, now a pretty capable Design and Project Manager with strong international experience.
Only last I would state that I am also a 'woman'.

Yet, I tread water when it comes to progress within my career, regardless of my efforts or achievements.
And I constantly make excuses, that excuse those that in fact fail me and the women of the industry.
That, really peeves me off.

Sure, I do not help myself by being perceived as obnoxious, offensive, insulting, provocative challenging, aggressive, disturbing, inconvenient, niggling, troublesome, annoying, difficult, exasperating and irking. 
A troublemaker if you've seen one,

Regardless of that (or even more) , I see people rush by me to higher and higher positions helped exactly by those characteristics.
And yes, they ARE my male colleagues. And they get applauded for the same qualities I am shunned for,

Yes, based on my own experience I do see and smell hypocrisy in this resurgence of the push to support female talent in the industry to 'shine' and 'reach their true potential'.
I may be doing disservice to my ‘engineer sisterhood’ by stating this, but my feeling is that the sudden ‘positive discrimination’ is not the answer we should be looking for.

Maybe, we should call these events for what they are: patronizing PR stunts, and not worthy of us, good, solid engineer-women.

The first step maybe is that the ceiling is not the start, but the cage that precedes it.
The cage that forces us to prove ourselves even on the lowest steps of the industry, time and time again (even though we were right 'on the spot' at the very first time we were examined).

Maybe we should break out of the cage first and then head for the proverbial ceiling.

Or maybe even better, we should leave the industry on mass.
Let it nurture its aggressive, yet dumb practices to full destruction.
Let it promote its obnoxious, offensive, insulting, provocative challenging, aggressive, disturbing, inconvenient, niggling, troublesome, annoying, difficult, exasperating and irking males until the industry implodes on-itself.

Now, that is an idea, my engineer -sisters!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Let them play BIM or force them to ditch paper?

Sometimes, I find that the most useless word, when discussing BIM implementation strategies, is the word ‘useful’.
People tend to over use it to justify ‘playing with BIM’.
Like, ‘BIM was so useful to reduce RFIs’ or ‘BIM was useful for clash-detection’ (my all-time favorite) or ‘it was so useful for our client to visualize the project’ etc. etc.
I don’t know, but for an approach (science?) to be only quantifiable as ‘useful’ after 30 years of active promotion and truckloads of money invested into it, sounds a bit weak to me.

I guess, I have no problem, with people playing with BIM, if it is acknowledged, that what is happening with most BIM-enabled projects is still, a sort of ‘made up play’. A small percentage of people on projects do activities that can be loosely called BIM and loosely qualified as ‘useful’.

But it does no good to the industry nor BIM, when people in high position of global AEC organizations claim ‘you know, we are all BIM’ and ‘it is very useful’. Sure.
And the sky is blue. That can be useful too.

On a parallel topic, a couple of days ago, I read an article from Balfour Beatty (one of my ‘favorite’ companies) predicting what construction will look like in 2050, all robotics, automation, smarts and glitz.
I think the year of 2050 they aimed for, safely places me in the group of ‘unlikely to be around’, yet I would rather happily bet a buck or two now, that none of that will happen, even then.
What any average biscuit factory is able to do now, will still be a struggle for AEC to achieve on a large scale for decades of years to come.

But, hey, we can be optimistic, positive and play with ideas.
Take 3D printers, as an example.
Many visionaries are predicting the true revolution of the AEC industry to be realized through these gadgets.
Just for fun, let me quote a Hungarian comedian’s joke about, how in the future, not only could we just buy a 3D printer and print everything that we need with it, but even better, borrow a 3D printer from someone else and 3D print our 3D printer to print then everything we need. And so on.

Cool stuff. Easy to sell as an idea.
What is not cool is my ‘mighty strategy of the secret weapon that COULD truly change the AEC industry, the strategy of going ‘paperless’.
Not cool, because it is simple, but bloody effective.

For those that like things told honestly, I will spell it out:
Want to change (improve AEC), go paperless!

There is NO better motivation for people to get off their bums, starting top down, from Project Directors all the way down to Document Controllers and change their behavior, then taking away their little ‘helper that helps them survive’.
It is ‘paper’. It is the magic ‘please print me off……’
mantra that gets them off, time and time, from being forced to  perform some true naval gazing and start innovating within the industry.

Get them off their bums and start using, searching, developing, demanding to be developed tools and systems that will assist them doing their core jobs in an environment that does not know of the command ‘Can you please print me off these CAD drawings..’.

For those that like mighty parallels I will spell it out that way too:

Imagine people buying meat in supermarkets. Cool.
Imagine, someone coming in (BIM department head) saying, that, ‘from now on, we will no longer buy meat at the supermarket but will need to hunt’.
Still, will do nothing to stop us going to the supermarket.
Would people suddenly be forced to hunt? No, sure not. (and a one day ‘hunt training’ means nothing either)

OK, maybe not a good parallel, but there is a message to ponder.

Yes, in a ‘mandated’ BIM company, people will parrot the mandated BIM mantra, because they are told to do so and it is good for the image of the company, from Project Directors down to Document Controller.
But none will change their own behavior, unless really forced or inspired.
They will remain to rely for their ‘BIM department’ to preserve the image of BIM-ness, and greatness and innovativeness,  while secretly (or not so secretly) go on with ways they’ve worked by, for ages before.

Using PDFs. Printing PDFs and marking them up.
Getting the few modelers of the BIM Department to create PDFs.
Getting them the print them out so higher ranking engineers and PMs can mark them up.

And you know what, there is nothing wrong with this behavior. But it needs to be acknowledged for what it truly is.
Bugger all ‘Change management strategies’ – ‘BIM uptake campaigns’, change makers and
catalysts, if all they can achieve is to make grey headed PD’s crawling around offices hoping someone will make their projects mandated, ‘easy to use’ 6d+ model somehow palatable and understandable.
(gosh, mate, do me some screenshots of it, would you please?).
But face it, this is not true BIM. This is pretending.

On the other hand, take away the paper and give them some time, and they will find their footing …and… innovate.
Not all, but most. The ones that will not survive in this enforced paperless environment, you will not need/want anyway.

The ones that do, will search and thrive.
Will search for tools that actually work (they will be seriously surprised how few of them do exist) – they will put pressure on developers to make tools that are truly useful, they will strive to continue to work in this new, paperless environment and be successful.

The concept of ‘Paperless’ is not cool, on the surface.
It is only about creating an enclosed environment and banning paper from it.

But would do wonders to the Global AEC industry.

Trust me.