The construction industry can often be a dangerous and competitive field, so it is vital that women have access to resources tailored to their needs. Companies and associations are taking steps to promote women in their organizations and educate young women about the opportunities available.

Women in construction: Learning resources

At a virtual event for Women & Students in the Building Sciences hosted by the International Institute of Building Enclosure Consultants, women in the building enclosure consulting field discussed challenges and opportunities they have faced throughout their careers in the trades industry.

The director of marketing and business development for Pretium Engineering Inc., Jennifer Hogan, explained that early on in her career she found it difficult to gain respect as a woman in construction. She believes that age is more of an obstacle than gender.

“Most of my success with that has just come from open and honest communication,” Hogan explained. “Having that communication and being willing to step up and speak up and assert yourself is important in that situation because that’s how you build that respect.”

The main thing that has helped her throughout her career is being assertive.

“Sometimes that means failing or not being successful. Sometimes that means asking a ton of questions, but really that’s what will help open up additional doors for you,” she added.

Tania Krysa, manager at MTE Consultants Inc., said she hasn’t faced any major challenges in her career in the construction industry, but recalled one incident when she was catcalled on a construction site.

“I didn’t make it a big deal. I just wanted it to go away,” she said. “When I got to the office the owner of the construction company called me and said, ‘Tania, I heard what happened on-site and I fired the guy.’ The owner said, ‘we have a zero-tolerance policy. If it’s not you that he called out to it could have been a resident, a client, anyone. This is just a person who does not treat other people with respect, not just women.’”

Although the incident occurred almost 20 years ago, she still remembers his words.

“He said, ‘you need to advocate for yourself and don’t let these things happen to you and not speak up about it,’” Krysa recounted. “It allows that person to continue with that behavior towards you as well as just towards other people in general because they believe it’s accepted if you don’t say something,” she explained.

The women also spoke about the importance of networking and connecting with others, regardless of how difficult it may be.

“People really like to talk about the things that they know,” explained Stephanie Robinson, director of Eastern Canada Building Sciences for WSP Canada. “One of the tips that I use is that I come armed to those types of situations, whether it’s meeting new clients or colleagues, with a handful of safe questions that I know will get people talking. This will lead to common interests to create that natural dialogue and connection with someone.”

Krysa shared some advice given to her by a colleague on how to engage with others at events. 

“One of the things he said is when you start out pick the person standing alone in the corner because that is the person who doesn’t know how to start a conversation,” she said. “Just approach them. It doesn’t matter what you start talking to them about because they are going to want to be engaged and be out of that lonely situation.”

Another tip she shared was to prepare ahead of time.

“If you are being strategic and you are going to an event, try to think about who you want to talk to,” Krysa suggested. “Pick those two contacts who you know are going to be there and research them. What are their interests? What do they post on their LinkedIn?

“At first I thought, sounds a little creepy to me, but at the same time if they are posting on social media it is something they are comfortable putting out there and having people know about. They can be great conversation starters.”

She also emphasizes the importance of planning more than just golf or sports events for her clients and rather more personal ones.

“We shouldn’t just be assuming that a client is going to enjoy what we put in front of them,” she said. “We should actually get to know them, think about it, and start being creative. Get to know the people, not even for the business but because it’s fantastic to get to know people on that level. It just makes things a lot easier and the business side of things will come.”

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