5 Tips for Breaking the Concrete Ceiling
Construction is a male-dominated industry. Women are in the minority on the job site, in professional roles, and in the office. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up just 9.9% of the industry in sales, professional, management, and service occupations. That’s a fact. But it’s not a negative.
A construction career can be lucrative. For women working in this rough-and-tumble world, the gender pay gap is significantly smaller than it is in other occupations, with women earning on average 99.1% of what men make.
For the team of knowledgeable women who run the Talent Corps office in one of the country’s biggest construction markets, Austin, Texas, working in construction is more than profitable. It’s empowering.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to help and make an impact on others’ lives in a positive way, whether it’s working with a contractor or sub who’s trying to get a project done on time and on budget, or a tradesperson looking for a better opportunity for their family,” said Market Manager Mandy Montague.
Mandy and her team, Account Manager Kim Higbie and Recruiting Coordinator Abby Selzer, agree that you have to know what you’re talking about to make it in the industry. And these three women have indeed made it. They offer this advice for breaking the concrete ceiling and succeeding as a woman in construction.
5 Tips for Breaking the Concrete Ceiling
1 – Know the industry
Take the time to invest in yourself and truly learn the business. You can build rapport and relationships with that knowledge; you can’t without it.
“I want to be a resource to my customers and be part of their team,” Mandy said. “If I don’t know the industry and your business, how can I help you?”
2 – Ask questions
Be humble. Be transparent. Be willing to listen and learn.
“I can’t know everything and if I act like I do, contractors and tradespeople see right through that,” Kim said.
“If you take the time to ask questions and become an expert on what your customers do, you can earn the right to educate them on your areas of expertise,” Abby added.
For Talent Corps, that specialty is employment. “When we work with contractors and get creative about solutions for finding them the tradespeople they’re looking for, they come to us when they need an expert in other areas,” Mandy said. “Humility and openness build that trust.”
3 – One of the Guys
Being the only female on a large commercial job site can be intimidating. The way you present yourself matters to your credibility and reputation. Putting on your work boots and jeans makes a woman more approachable and professional in this line of work.
Kim agreed. “When I’m checking in guys, I’m in work boots. I can be one of the guys that way” she said. “I don’t want the men on the job site to objectify me. I want them to look at me as their equal. That’s how business relationships are built.”
4 – Be resilient
Construction changes by the minute. If you can’t pivot rapidly and smoothly to what you need to do next, you’re going to fail.
Resilience also means having a tough skin. “In an industry that’s male-dominated, there’s some rough language, but I know it’s not offensively directed at me,” Kim said. “You have to be flexible, adaptable, and not easily offended.”
5 – Don’t mistake kindness for weakness
Construction work is hard. The days are long. Everyone’s just trying to take care of their families and get home safe at the end of the day. When you’re working with people, especially as their employer like Talent Corps is, you have an opportunity to be kind.
But when someone needs coaching, you cannot be “fluffy” in your delivery. Being transparent and direct is a huge advantage in a male-dominated industry. It’s equally important to be empathetic.
“Don’t mistake our kindness for weakness,” Abby said. “We have a job to do, and part of that job is holding people accountable.”
According to Team Austin, the best practice for women who want to get ahead in the construction industry is to build relationships. “If we establish trust and rapport with the client by delivering on their orders and being transparent with them, our opportunities are limitless,” Mandy said.
“The team and I are here to build relationships,” she continued. “We don’t want just one opportunity. We want to work with Austin’s construction community for the next 20 years.”