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Build a New Approach to Female Construction Leaders: Kim Shepherd Bylines in Construction Executive magazine

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Decision Toolbox Chairwoman Kim Shepherd and Manager of Creative Services Tom Brennan contributed a byline article to Construction Executive magazine highlighting women leadership in the construction industry.

The article originally appeared here and a copy is below.

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Build a New Approach to Female Construction Leaders

By Kim Shepherd, Chairwoman, Decision Toolbox
With Tom Brennan, Manager of Creative Services, Decision Toolbox

If you were expecting another article about breaking through the concrete ceiling or why women need to keep up the struggle, I’m happy to disappoint you. I don’t think it’s such a good idea for female leaders to focus on the struggle. Let me quickly say that I appreciate all of the women who have engaged in the struggle to get us where we are today, from the suffragettes to Gloria Steinem.

Today, however, I think women need a different approach with a positive emphasis on the power women already possess, and female leaders are uniquely positioned to encourage that. Promoting women in leadership makes good business sense. Several recent studies indicate that increasing the number of women in executive leadership and board roles can increase profitability. One suggests that male-only boards in the U.S., U.K. and India are incurring an opportunity cost, measured in lower returns, of a whopping $655 billion.

Don’t stop recruiting female pipefitters and masons, but there’s real ROI in attracting women at the top level. In traditionally male dominated industries, such as construction, female leaders can make an impact in at least two important areas: mentoring other women and helping to develop and implement strategies for mitigating bias and discrimination. 

Mentoring Women to Recognize Their Power

A lot of women don’t realize how much power they actually have. Marketing professionals know it: almost all marketing is targeted toward women, because they make the spending decisions. “Women now drive the world economy,” according to the Harvard Business Review. In addition, more and more companies are embracing the qualities that we often associate with women, like emotional intelligence (EI). Several articles and studies suggest that construction project management would benefit significantly if project managers had training in EI.

Women leaders, then, should help other women embrace their power. Unfortunately, many women may lack the confidence to wield it. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman argue that bridging the “confidence gap” is an important first step in helping women become leaders. Women mentors can get great insights and advice from their book, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know.

More Tips for Promoting Value-Adding Mentoring Relationships

Both parties should:

  • Reach an agreement on goals for the relationship, and check on progress regularly. This doesn’t have to be overly formal, but it ensures both parties are on the same page.
  • Commit to being honest and open to push-back. Since both gain from the relationship, it should be a give and take that’s based on trust. This is especially important if the mentor is the mentee’s supervisor.
  • Set regular times for communication. You can always engage more frequently, but having a standing appointment will help keep the relationship robust.
  • Take advantage of technology to stay connected, even when you’re in different cities.

Women leaders should also encourage women to embrace their womanhood. A great resource for this is Being Equal Doesn’t Mean Being the Same: Why Behaving Like a Girl Can Change Your Life and Grow Your Business, by Joanna Krotz. There’s no reason hardhats and high heels can’t share a closet.

Taking the Bite out of Bias and Discrimination

Bias is tricky. It’s a belief, while discrimination is an action. Our right to believe as we see fit is protected by the Constitution, while the law provides specific provisions for acts of discrimination. However, from a risk management perspective addressing bias is the ounce that can help prevent pounds of discrimination.

Increasing awareness is an important first step. Everyone has biases and most of them are unconscious. It’s very difficult for people, on their own, to become aware of their biases. For that reason, if you’re interested in helping your team recognize their biases, you may want to engage a trainer or consultant to facilitate the process.

Additional Strategies for Fostering Gender Equality

Still, one or two training sessions are just the beginning. You also can try:

  • Promoting work/life flexibility for all employees. It’s good for everyone, but since many women still have primary responsibility for child care, the lack of flexibility works against women more than men. Some companies provide on-site childcare.
  • Showcasing successful women in your organization and upholding them as role models.
  • Establishing equal pay policies for your entire organization.
  • Communicating an unequivocal policy forbidding sexual harassment in any setting at any level, and detailing consequences for violating the policy.
  • Ensuring all managers and executives embrace gender equality as a core value of the company.

Gender bias won’t vanish overnight, according to diversity consultant Gerard J. Holder. It’s an ongoing effort. Additional ideas for promoting gender equality can be found in his book, Hidden Bias: How Unconscious Attitudes on Diversity Undermine Organizations and What to do about It.

I’ll leave you with this thought: a construction company that has an active gender equality program is more likely to attract more female applicants at all levels, in addition to distinguishing itself as an industry pioneer.

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