How do we help more women in construction to get the recognition and promotions they deserve? By helping them develop their confidence. Last week, I attended the Professional Women in Construction’s (PWC) Professional Development Advisory Council meeting to discuss just that. This advisory council is a new group tasked with helping our organization with professional development, born after the audience outcry for help at last April’s healthcare forum.
There were three panelists speaking, who posed some questions to the audience to discuss during breakout sessions. The discussion focused on career decisions and confidence, and how to tie them together. My part was to facilitate one of the group discussions and formulate a few key takeaways. After a fascinating discussion, here is what I found.
The Reasons Why
Women got into construction because it was either a lifelong dream they had as a child, perhaps inspired by a family member or of seeing a house built. Some of them didn’t want to sit in an office cubicle all day and loved the tangibility that construction offers, either by working with their hands or by being able to physically see the results of their work in the world around them. For others, they fell into it, but stayed because they loved solving the problems and challenges that this industry provides
Every project is a puzzle to be put together, a chance to do something different and make an impact in the world. I’m sure that many of you reading this who have worked in construction can probably identify with some or all of these reasons.
But getting and staying in the industry was not the sticking point. Instead, much of the concerns raised centered around confidence. Most of the audience felt they had some level of confidence as they grew in experience or when they were prepared for a meeting, though most admitted to overpreparing. Having confidence in their own knowledge and understanding was another issue, especially if they were questioned – having someone ask them, “Don’t you know that?” would really throw them off their game and have them start doubting themselves.
The Power of Questions
I thought it was so fitting that on my way to this event I had seen a young girl – perhaps 7 or 8 years old – on the subway selling her artwork. She had several coloring book and hand-drawn pieces in a folder, and she was going from person to person asking them if they’d like to buy one.
I watched her approach a man sitting a few seats down from me.
“Excuse me, sir, would you like to buy some artwork?”
“Ok, let’s see what you have,” he said. As he looked through the folder, he picked out a Mickey Mouse picture and asked her how much she wanted for it.
“That one is $20,” she replied.
“Well, that’s a lot of money. Good luck selling them at that price.” And he handed back the print.
“Ok, thank you,” she said, and stood there for a bit, looking at the floor. I watched her to see what her next move was going to be. You could see the doubt in her young face, but suddenly, she picked herself up, determined to continue, and started speaking to people on the other side of the train.
“Excuse me, miss?” she quietly asked an older woman, who didn’t reply. She repeated herself, but louder this time. When the woman replied, no thank you, she moved on.
She neared my seat and asked the gentleman next to me if he wanted to buy her prints, and he also replied no. Shyly, she looked at me.
I looked at her with a smile. “What do you have?”
She opened the folder and I picked out a hand-drawn print. When I asked her the price, she said she wanted $5. As I handed over a $5 bill, I asked her how long it had taken her to draw this.
“It’s not about how many hours,” she answered. “I did this because I needed $5, and plus, this one is really cute and I enjoyed drawing it.”
She smiled at me, and you could see that this win gave her the motivation to keep moving through the car and asking each person if they would like to buy some artwork. The subway is a tough place, and most people won’t even look at you. But she kept going, and I could only admire her courage and confidence at such a young age.
Finding Your Confidence
I recalled this as I was facilitating the group discussion. It had confirmed for me that we get what we ask for – and if you don’t ask, nothing will happen. That is what I wanted to pass on to these women: some advice about how to have the confidence to be themselves at work and ask for what they needed.
It isn’t easy to have someone question your knowledge in a meeting. Be prepared for it and have some comeback answers ready in case someone tries to throw you off. For example, when someone asks you why you don’t already know the answer to the question you just asked, try saying, “I’m just checking we are all on the same page,” or, “I am asking questions to make sure we don’t miss anything.”
When something like that happens and you start to doubt yourself, you are beginning to take it personally. This is a real killer, because that can lead to getting defensive, feeling flustered, shutting down, and not asking questions. Try not to take things personally – going back over things and clarifying issues is not a bad thing. And more often than not, you are probably voicing what others are already thinking but haven’t had the confidence to ask.
The final issue we discussed was asking for a raise or promotion. If you don’t ask, you will never get. The key is preparation – research salaries and plant some seeds with your boss that you want a raise and want to discuss it at your performance review. It isn’t easy – but nothing worth doing is, usually.
The final takeaway from the event was that confidence is tied to knowing yourself and believing in yourself. We all go through different phases in our lives – some people are looking up to you as the more experienced colleague, while others are depending on you to deliver and make them look good. Remember, you have something valuable to offer and contribute, no matter where you are in your career.
I really enjoyed being at this event and talking to so many other women in construction. It’s made me reflect on mentoring, and how important it is to achieving your goals in life. Next month, I plan on sharing some more mentoring insights with you, as they have been instrumental to me being able to write and launch my book, Health Well Done: A Patient-Centered Management Approach to Building Healthcare Environments, which releases imminently.