3 Things To Do The Next Time You Are Mansplained
As women in construction, I am sure we have all experienced the "mansplaining". Mansplaining, as defined by Merriam Webster, is "to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic". Although a relatively new term in the English language, certainly not a new experience, especially for women in male-dominated industries.
State of the Construction Industry
This is in no way a male-bashing article. The vast majority of my encounters with men in the construction industry have been positive. I have experienced many great male allies in the industry, who were happy to teach and mentor me, as well as ones that were happy to work alongside me or be mentored by me. Overall, I experienced great respect from my male colleagues and employees. However, this doesn't change the need for us to have the skill and strategies to manage the negative encounters that persist.
As we continue to work to establish our place in the construction industry, we will continue to encounter men who won't treat us as equals, who don't believe the construction site is a place for women, that think we can't do as good a job, that we're too weak, too soft... and the list goes on. Sometimes it is intentional and condescending, doing what they can to sabotage us and intimidate us. Thankfully, this perspective seems to be diminishing. In my experience, most often the attitude is not intentional or at least not a conscious one. There truly is a deep seeded belief in some men (and some women) they may not even be aware of, that women do not have a place in the industry. Likely it was not a belief they chose, but rather one that was handed down to them. And the mansplaining is their honest perception that they think we just don't know and they feel the need to educate us. So yes, it still comes across as condescending, however the difference is they don't intend to offend you.
What To Do?
It can be challenging to remain calm and not take mansplaining personally, especially in the times it is intended to question your competence and throw you off your game. However, responding emotionally will only escalate the situation and let them "win", in an "I told you so" moment. Reacting emotionally will also not change their mind and will only be a waste of your time and energy. So when faced with a mansplainer, whether it is intentional or not, I recommend the following approach:
Breathe. Take a slow breath or two and give yourself time so you can respond with intention and not react from a place of emotion.
Remember this is about them, not about you. This is probably the one that is most difficult because it is easy to take it personally and make it about you (especially if you have any of your own insecurities or suffer from imposter syndrome - in my experience, both common among women in the construction industry). However, the source of their negative attitude is often their own sense of insecurity, their need to dominate or protect themselves when feeling threatened in an unfamiliar scenario. Their response when threatened, is to attack. Don't take it personally. You can even say in your head, "this is not about me, this is about them and the issues they have. How this person responds to me is only a reflection of what's inside them and has nothing to do with me or my ability to do my job". This is not about you.
Stick to the facts and focus on the solution. In any conversation, the easiest way to keep emotions out of the conversation and avoid escalating a difficult situation, is to stick to the facts. Facts are irrefutable and will help you stay focused on the end goal and not get sidetracked into an exchange that is unproductive and potentially damaging to the relationship or project. The end result in a negatively charged, emotional conversation is usually angry, frustrated participants that have delayed the project, increased the cost of the project and not reached any solutions. Stick to the facts, come up with solutions.
I have been mansplained many times in my career - as a young (and older) woman in construction, as a woman business owner in the industry, as a builder of our home. I most often ignored it, however, I remember one time in particular I was "mansplained" and I almost lost my lid, I still get fired up over it. Backstory, I was the general contractor building our family home. We were installing in-floor, radiant heat that was going to be in a concrete topping on the two upper floors. There was not to be a stitch of carpet in the house - it was all hardwood floors, cork floor and tile. I needed the topping to be perfectly level to provide a good base to install the flooring. I met with the concrete placer prior to the pour and gave him the information very clearly. Spelled it out. Re-iterated the need for level floors - no carpet, all hardwood, tile etc., perfectly level, yadda, yadda... you see where this is going...
As I was watching them start placing the concrete, it didn't seem that they were taking particular care to be "perfectly level", so I just made a comment again to the foreman of the crew that he knew it needed to be "perfectly level". "Yep, we're good, it will be perfectly level".
We of course had to be out for a period of time to allow them to finish and for the concrete to cure. I can't remember if it was a day or more that we had to be out, all I remember was walking into the house when it was done, dry and too late to "touch up". Now imagine this. It's December, although above freezing, I'm freezing cold from the dampness in the air, we climb the ramp to the front porch with two little kids in tow - and me pregnant with number three, we scramble into the house to escape the weather. As I enter the house, before I have a chance to even close the door, I am stopped dead in my tracks. When we step through the door, the first thing I see are (dried) splash marks in the concrete. Everywhere. Then as I get into the house I can see how out of level the floor is, I didn't need a marble to test this, I could practically tuck and roll down the floor. Now that it was dry, there were humps and drips in the main floor all over the place. No care was taken not to have the second floor topping run over to the floor below. The topping was a MESS! I was LIVID!
I immediately called the owner of the company (the one I originally spoke with) to meet on-site and look at the mess. His response to me when we met was... "Oh Sweetheart, if you wanted it perfectly level, we would have to bring in a laser level..." and blah, blah, blah. Now maybe I learned a few things about communication since then, however, I did stick to the facts, maybe a little emotionally charged (I was pregnant after all) the first thing I said was "Don't Sweetheart me..." and continued on with "I didn't tell you how to do your job, I told you what result I needed. It was your job to get that result, whatever it took and this is not it!" He spent a full week grinding the floor, on hands and knees. It was painful to watch, and I think he may have learned a lesson that day.
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