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!


  1. Interesting view, I am the father of two daughters, they say that fathers of daughters tend to recruit more females. this may be subconscious but looking at my last department it was true. it was 60% female and mixed race, I even managed to include a token white middle aged man to show I don't discriminate!

    But maybe I do subconsciously but I do believe in the ability to do the job. I do not believe I am aggressive or obnoxious etc. My management style has been described as benign and my character by subordinates as 'open minded'. I found my staff to be supportive and very loyal to me and that in itself was very rewarding.

    After I left that position the 'Essex girl" got my job deservedly so and 'token white man' moved to an equivalent post with another employer - again deservedly so. I hate the term sexist, together with racist, homophobic or any other label someone somewhere comes up with to explain why some person does or doesn't get what they want or receives what they don't want.

    As white middle aged male I was bullied at work by a senior male manager. It wasn't I believe because of my sex, colour, race, religion, sexual orientation the fact I have a beard or as far as i can see anything else (unless of course there is a phobia for picking on the Welsh (Introducing Celticophobia!)). However I can look back and know it was very real and it was not very fair on me, the point being that glass ceilings don't just exist to those who have a label sometimes for some reason some obnoxious person of dubious parentage just takes a dislike to you.

    I agree to large extent with the author I am fed up of seeing "the girl" on the front page of our newsletters, on the magazines, even our intranet there are many deserving people who should have recognition and are probably being overlooked because we "must show we employ ladies" (now I am not even sure if I can say ladies these day but mother mother brought me up to show respect toward women so in this - I apologise if I can't and blame my parents!)

    Where I do disagree is that we are not all obnoxious, offensive, insulting, provocative challenging, aggressive, disturbing, inconvenient, niggling, troublesome, annoying, difficult, exasperating and irking males. I view you as a person and would like you to view me the same way. Guess what we would get on just fine!

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