WAIT! Don't Leave!
We’ve all heard it before, it’s a common conversation in the construction world right now – the existing labor shortage and how it is only going to get worse in the coming years as the Baby Boomers retire out, the Gen Xer’s and beyond are not interested in destroying their bodies and are looking for options to manual labour.
Another part of this conversation is that the construction industry is missing out on 50%+ of the population by not (yet) being welcoming to women and other minority groups.
At this rate, we really are not in a position to be losing any people that do come into the industry, especially women. So why are women leaving the construction industry and what can we do about it?
What is the problem?
I have had hundreds of conversations with women having various relationships with the construction industry, some are in, some were in and are now out, some are halfway out and almost unanimously the top four reasons women gave for either leaving the industry or considering leaving the industry are:
Overlooked for advancement
Lack of opportunities
It breaks my heart to see so many women struggle to know what to do. Most often these women do not want to leave, they love the work, but they often feel as though their hands are tied and they don’t have a choice. Let’s explore each of the issues and discuss potential solutions.
Family obligation challenges start even before the kids come. Right from the beginning women are often hesitant to start families knowing that it could threaten: their ability to do the work, their options for growth and advancement in their career, keeping their job or being welcomed back after leave. I know all of these were considerations for me when I was starting a family. When you’re with the right employer, none of these will be an issue.
To add to that, typically, the woman is the primary caregiver in the home and childcare options are not available to accommodate the construction schedule. Whether it be dropping kids off at daycare or school, attending an appointment, being available to watch a performance or being home when they are sick – most employers do not have policies in place to accommodate these things that arise. Not to mention the guilt women feel if they do have to take time off for family matters. Women who have been able to work around these issues most often have the support of extended family to make it work. The others, reluctantly leave.
Toxic environments have been one of the most devastating experiences for women in the construction industry. Toxic environments have been responsible for turning a love of the industry into a hate with no interest in staying or making it work. This is the one issue where women are happy to be leaving the industry and don’t look back. The experiences some of the women I spoke with had were such that they had no hope that it would be different anywhere else and were looking forward to something different. This, I think, is the worst scenario because not only are you destroying lives (confidence, self-esteem, self-worth etc), but it is also completely avoidable with good leadership and an interest to support women in the industry. Many employers and unions are doing great at combatting this, however, there are still way too many that stick their head in the sand and hope the problem goes away.
Overlooked for Advancement & Lack of Opportunity
Being overlooked for advancement and the lack of opportunity are interesting challenges because they are not always intentional. However, it always feels obvious and intentional to the one experiencing it. They can lead to frustration and a lack of engagement at work. They can also start a chain of employer hopping, hoping they will find one where they can get beyond the pigeonhole, they often find themselves in. One question to ask yourself if this does keep happening is “What can I do to strengthen my skills and put me in a better position to advance?”
The biggest challenge presented by all these conditions is that women lose confidence and their voice, to advocate for themselves.
So, what do we do?
I believe the first priority is taking control of your condition and addressing the confidence issue. The thing is, if you don’t manage the thoughts running around in your head, beating you down, that will travel with you wherever you go and whatever you do, and will sabotage your efforts for growth and advancement in your career. Low confidence opens the door for imposter syndrome to creep in. Imposter syndrome is especially strong for women in a male dominated industry, and will continue to degrade confidence.
To build your confidence, I have a few recommendations. The first is the book “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown where she discusses the power of being vulnerable. I recommend this book because I know from my own experience and from talking to many, many other women in the construction industry that being vulnerable or showing a vulnerable side is about the last thing they would want to do. However, I argue that when you allow yourself to be vulnerable, that is the point where you take control of your power and you no longer have anything to fear. Vulnerability is actually a superpower.
The second is a podcast called Unf*ck Your Brain Podcast with Kara Loewentheil. Kara speaks on boosting self-confidence, overcoming self-doubt, managing your critical self-talk and much more. The episodes vary in length and average about 30 minutes. Kara breaks down the issues clearly and helps you to understand what’s going on and offers solutions.
Finally, I offer a workshop for women in trades & construction who struggle with confidence called “Unleash Your Inner Confidence”. In this half-day workshop we discuss what confidence looks like, the factors that influence confidence, how to nurture your confidence and strategies for boosting confidence. The women leave with a greater understanding of what is happening when our confidence is high or low, tasks and tools to put in place to strengthen confidence daily.
After getting your confidence right, what’s next?
Employers in the construction industry have typically been slow to respond to the changing needs of their employees. Providing flexible work options, where possible, is one solution. Establishing a strong leadership team is essential. Providing training on leadership and diversity in the workplace is also beneficial. And if you are a potential employee, these are some of the questions you can ask in an interview to determine if the company will be a good fit.
However, taking responsibility for your situation and being courageous to have the tough conversations can also help the situation. Not only might it help the situation, but you will also get clear on the position of your employer, their willingness to address the issues making it easier for you to decide to stay or go elsewhere. Having the hard, uncomfortable conversation and advocating for yourself will also boost your confidence.
What it all comes down to is that there is a huge demand for labor right now and if you find yourself in a negative employment situation, go elsewhere. Do your research when looking for a new position. Does the company advocate for diversity, equality and inclusion? What are their values? Their mission? A well-built company will have this information on their website, and it will give you a good indication as to whether you align with the company.
You do not have to stay in an environment you don’t love to go to everyday.
If you're struggling with confidence and would like help to understand what's going on and gain strategies to strengthen your confidence, visit my website today at www.ThriveHQ.ca to learn more about and register for the Unleash Your Inner Confidence workshop. Because there is a better way.