Part Three – Why are men hostile about women being in construction? Identifying 3 main types and how to deal with it.

The third in a series of blogs looking into women in construction, this week we attempt to answer “Why are men hostile about women being in construction?” The questions come from Becky and will be answered in the following order.

  • Why should women choose construction?
  • Why shouldn’t women choose construction?
  • Why are men hostile about women being in construction?
  • If the industry is so hostile to the idea of women being in construction, why would / should women choose it?
  • If men don’t even like the construction industry, why would women?
  • What do women have to gain by going into the construction industry instead of another industry that is already accommodating to her needs?
  • What are the risks and what are the potential gains?
  • Is it worth it in the end?

Why are men hostile about women being in construction?

The majority of men on site are not hostile about women working in the sector and it would be dangerous and insulting to think differently, that’s not to say that there are not issues such as subconscious bias that need to be overcome. But that happens with women towards women (even ones working in construction) as well, so I shall cover it in more detail in a later blog if you request it.

There are though, some men that do act in a way that can be hostile; this behaviour can be overt and plain to see and in my opinion far easier to handle. Then there’s covert; much trickier to spot and likely to make the person on the receiving end feel unsure of what is actually going on. The reason this is such an issue on site because more often than not the perpetrators of this behaviour are usually people with power, either given (in charge on the job) or taken (social – e.g. the natural leader) others are likely to follow their behavioural patterns. This is for a number of reasons including lack of knowledge around the true motives of the perpetrator, peer pressure or for an easy life, who hasn’t laughed along at something they know to be wrong to fit in and to protect the group; we all have our stereotypes to fit into and our loyalties to protect.

It’s important to bear in mind this is a very power related issue and that means it’s more likely to occur where one has power over another, for example a female site manager is more likely to face hostility from same-level peers, or above, than from subcontractors. This is, of course, likely to be obvious to anyone who has worked on site; if someone is linked to how you get paid, you’re less likely to be in a pain in the arse.

So why then the extreme hostility?

We shall look at three main reasoning’s and look at why they occur, how the symptoms can be displayed and how you can look to overcome them: –

  • Fear
  • Self-preservation (promotion)
  • Misogyny

 

Fear

Fear of what might happen to a woman on site, could accidently end up in court.

Reason

The easiest of the three, sometimes site environments push people into thinking they can’t ask for help and it’s seen as a weakness, This coupled with a big lack of knowledge around equality law, women in the sector and management skills can mean that some managers simply don’t know what to do or how to ask for help. This then leads to fear; fear that they might put their foot in it and end up in court; fear that the “lads” on site might say something that ends you them up in court and; fear that the women in question will be like one of “those women” that cause trouble.

Symptom

Managing women in construction away from environments they perceived to be harmful (more filing duties, in office away from site), references to political correctness.

Overcoming

Where possible try and have a conversation with your boss about how you feel about being on site and your ambition. Explain what you will and won’t accept in terms of language and make it clear he has nothing to fear regarding your interaction with other staff, unless of course they cross a line, in which case, you will inform him and warn the individual in the first instance, not run straight to a court room. Also make it your responsibility to protect and support other women in construction, you’ll be surprised how many women in the sector who are classed as “that type of woman” are actually a lot like you, they just had to manage a hostile environment without support.

 Self Preservation

Women might rock the boat or get “their” promotion

Reason

Women are much more likely to point out a social injustice, so an alpha heading a group will see women (in fact anyone who is different to them or the main group) as a threat to their position. Research has found that in these circumstances alphas can subconsciously influence the group into thinking the threat is to the group, not the alpha individual, and this is where you can see groups acting out of character and isolating individuals. Secondly, the equality agenda has been misinterpreted over the years and led people to believe you can give some people jobs based solely on their status as a woman, asian man, person living with a disability, etc. This isn’t true, but that doesn’t seem to matter to some people.

Symptom

Become isolated from the group, your work is subject to additional checks (more than peers), appraisals are non-descript,

Overcoming

A word to the wise, the people behind this behaviour are usually very political; they don’t play fair and will cover their tracks. You have a few choices the first is to get them on side, look at their ambitions and consider how you could help them achieve them, make sure they know you are there to help and thus eliminating the threat and instead being seen as useful. This doesn’t always work of course and in such cases make sure you keep a detailed diary of any events that might seem small and insignificant, they can add up to so much more and protect you against any accusations that might be levied.

Misogyny

Some men do not like women, it can manifest itself in any of the ways described above and unfortunately more. It’s here that it should be mentioned that sexual harassment, be that physical or language, is usually more about power and “putting women in their place” than it ever is about sex, so if you do encounter this try and acknowledge it for what it is and ensure you make a note as it in case the situation progresses.

Conclusion

Research shows us that it is not the behaviour of individuals that force women to leave companies, it’s the support they receive or feel they should receive from their organisations. Most women do not report instances as they do not feel they will be taken seriously, and that is not good for companies looking to retain key talent.

In closing, individuals seek out a company that will have a dialogue with you around what to do if you face an issue, stay professional if something occurs and try not to display your emotions if possible – I know this is hard but unfortunately you are more likely to be seen as weak and out of control than as a credible employee.

Organisations, let your staff, especially those on site, know you support them before they have to ask for it. Know what you would do if these situations arise and have someone in-house who has read a bit of research on the barriers women face in the sector. At the very least have someone external you can call for advice in this area, it’s never easy and usually both sides feel wronged but there is generally a solution if handled in the right way.

As usual we encourage your comments,