Building with the big guys

Gherkin buildingNo Country for Young Women has a very cool series going on about women working in architecture and construction–two fields that are wildly male-dominated. Sara Fox, an American property development consultant living in London, who was responsible for the construction of London’s iconic Gherkin building, had this to say:

Because construction is still, really and truly a male-dominated industry, the initial reaction is that as a woman I can’t possibly have any credibility. I can’t tell you the number of meetings I’ve attended where even though I was the most senior person present, because I was the only woman in the room, I was expected to serve coffee and tea. I have often found it’s just easier to offer, to save embarrassment (and a long wait). I can also remember attending numerous meetings with my almost all male project team, when firms who were tendering for work directed their presentation to one of the men. Those who arrived thinking I was just there to take notes of the proceedings were pretty soon disabused of that notion!

The “it’s just easier to offer” approach reminds me of so many conversations I’ve had with young women who ask how to stay vigilant about your feminist identity when sexism is so pervasive and defending against it so exhausting. My advice is imperfect, but works for me: fight when you have the energy to fight, use humor whenever it feels appropriate, and recognize that being “out” as a feminist in non-feminist friendly spaces is really critical, but you aren’t a bad feminist if you don’t have the energy to do it all the time.

Join the Conversation

  • Chloe

    I truly appreciate the advice you provide at the end.

  • Diana

    Does anyone know what it takes for a female to actually be a construction worker? I’m interested to know, because I’m tire of doing admin work. What are the chances of a construction company hiring a female?

  • chelsa

    First a note to Diana: It’s very, very hard. I live in a boom city with a lot of construction projects currently going on. Even though I have had background experience in construction, none of it has been paid experience, so often companies turn up their noses at me.

    That being said, there are ways around this. Check you local trades schools to see if they offer an entry-level intro into construction. Do some volunteering with groups like habitat for humanity to get “on th ejob” experience, and last but not least, look for programs designed to get women into trades. Where I live, there is a Non-Profit called Women Building Futures that offers sliding-scale cost courses for women who want to get into the trades, but just can’t get past the barriers. Often, they get work through partner companies. And once you have a “real job” on your resume, the rest is pie.

    Check out:
    Women Building Futures
    Opportunities for Women in Construction

    Both Canadian websites, but I’m sure there are American equivalents out there.

    • Diana

      Chelsa, Excellent! Thanks for the resources. : ]