When you think of construction what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If you’re like many you may be picturing groups of hard-working men laboring for extensive hours outdoors. This isn’t what comes to mind when you ask Heather Smith about construction. Smith, Director of Marketing at Michigan Construction and Director of Engineering at the Michigan Concrete Association, recently shared her experience as a woman working in the construction industry.
When Smith was at Michigan State University, she was one of only a handful of females pursuing a civil engineering degree. When she started her career in construction 16 years ago at the Barry County Road Commission, she was just one of handful of women who attended the County Road Association’s annual conference.
While the construction industry still has a long way to go, Smith notes that over the years the industry has shifted, and more and more women are entering the construction workforce. As a pioneer in her field, Smith is frequently asked by both men and women how women in construction can succeed in a predominately male industry. Here are 10 points she likes to make:
1. Know Your Value
Recognizing your own worth and abilities will show your peers that you are confident, and someone who can be counted on to get the job done. If you want to work on a project, speak up. If you want to lead a team, say something. “You will be waiting forever for someone else to recognize your value,” Smith says, “no one will appreciate your contributions until you appreciate them yourself.”
2. Cultivate Confidence.Studies show that women are much less likely than men to speak up in meetings. And when they do speak, women apologize repeatedly and allow others to interrupt them. If you don’t have confidence in what you are saying, how can you expect others to? Although confidence was a trait Smith had to build overtime, she learned to recognize the value of her opinion and now believes what she says is worth listening to.
3. Stay Positive
"As with your attitude, so goes your life." Having a good attitude will in turn generate good will and positive moral amongst your employees/peers. Focus on the victories, not defeats. Most importantly, Keep Moving Forward!
4. Play to Your Strengths
Understanding where your strengths are will propel you forward in your career. In a male-dominated industry, a woman can bring unique skills that are not only advantageous for her, but the company as a whole. If you don’t have all the skills you need to succeed, Smith says don’t worry, “go out and learn, do everything you can to distinguish yourself and grow professionally.” This ties in well with her next tip.
5. Be an Aggressive Lifelong Learner
Continue to search for ways to further your education and knowledge and don’t dismiss constructive criticism along the way. You don’t have to know it all right now - keep yourself open to learning new things through seminars, trainings or classes. Change can be quite painful, but it is required in order to reach new levels. Change will force you to adapt, grow and further yourself within your career.
6. Learn How to Handle Conflict
Women and men handle their emotions differently, which is why learning to acknowledge a conflict and then working to move past it is Smith’s 6th tip for finding success as a woman in a male dominated field. Staying professional is key when surrounded by men in a workplace, when confronted with a conflict ask your peers “Is there a way to move past this?” Force a constructive conversation. Don't read emotion into texts and email. If possible, never email or text when you are angry or upset, take some time to calm down and then engage in the conversation.
7. Don’t be afraid of leadership roles or opportunities
Whatever your position is, find your leadership role within it and push yourself to be the go-to person for those situations. You are a leader not matter what your job title. Whether it is heading up a key initiative, solving problems or resolving conflicts, be the person your peers turn to when a problem arises.
8. Lead by Example
You don’t have to be in a leadership role to be a leader. Remember that no matter the industry, someone is always watching. Being a leader is a daily practice, and oftentimes actions speak louder than words. "Attract what you expect, reflect what you desire, become what you respect and mirror what you admire." ~ unknown
9. Support others
Although this may seem obvious it is imperative to always be a team player. Women who treat others fairly and respectfully are happier and more productive employees. Smith has seen her fair share of women treating their peers and other women poorly, and believes “If you cant say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” We are all in this together and teamwork is crucial in our industry to project running smoothly.
10. Be You
Remember in tip #1 when Smith talked about recognizing your own worth? Her final tip and what she believes is life changing revelation. Know that you are a unique and valuable part of the team, and that you bring an important perspective and skill set that was missing without you there. Being yourself in your career will open up opportunities and ultimately make you feel more fulfilled.