Femme Fatale in the Construction Industry
BY: Marjorie Anne Rodriguez • Aug 21, 2019
This is a narrative about how woman’s career grew in the Philippine construction industry and her reflections about working in one of the world’s most male-dominated industries.
I have always been a creative woman, but not in the Instagram-crafty sense. Technical drafting and product design were my favorite subjects back in school. I am comfortable with using a screwdriver and pliers and fixing broken things myself. So, I graduated with a degree in Industrial Design and entered the hardware industry, which is a subset of the construction industry. I was hired at a time when the real estate market is just beginning to get a foothold in the field.
Fortunately, the company I am working in has an equal men-to-women ratio. Despite this, I cannot deny the fact that the culture here is still male-dominated, influenced by the clients whom we serve. 70% of our management are men, with only the admin departments having female managers and supervisors. My male colleagues are your typical ‘macho Filipino’- basketball fanatics, funny, and some of the most down-to-earth people I know. Given these dynamics, I would assume that a woman who grew up in a ‘sheltered’ environment would need time to adjust in such a set-up. In my 7 years of experience, I realized that I have adapted happily to this culture. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:
1. Site visits galore!
Being in a construction site brings a sense of empowerment and awe. As I walk around with all these hard-hatted architects and engineers among rubble and dirt, I can visualize the future of another landmark in the city unfolding soon. Even in finished buildings, it is a habit of mine to check out every door closer or hinge. It’s nice to feel that you contributed in the creation of a building or a house.
2. Say hello to overtime and goodbye to weekends.
Buildings are places where the most important human organizations are based, from businesses to households. Which is why if a construction project gets delayed, the formation of these groups get delayed as well. Thus, be prepared to render overtime. An engineer may call you after 5 to specify that screw they need for tomorrow ASAP, or your homeowner client might ask you for technical service on a Saturday to fix their leaky faucet. If you are mother or a daughter taking care of a family, the work might be too demanding for your time.
3. People in the construction industry are some of the most down-to-earth individuals ever.
People who have spent years working on open construction sites can eat and hang out just about anywhere. We are not choosy! We go to meetings in our polo shirts, jeans, and rubber shoes in preparation for a site visit that follows afterward. For lunch breaks, we head out to the nearest street carinderia or food stall. Celebrating birthdays is as simple as karaoke night at a colleague’s house.
4. Beware of a few Gastons though.
I am not generalizing, but here is one of the realities I faced in the industry: I have encountered a few men who tend to “subtly” maneuver his malicious advances in a corporate setting, such as ‘accidentally’ resting his hand on the small of your back and pulling it back in half a second, and pretending that nothing happened. Be careful of men who cannot keep their eyes and hands to themselves. Report them immediately to your superior or HR.
5. Don’t be afraid to channel your inner Wonder Woman.
Being an introverted female leader can be quite a challenge. Chances are your ideas, no matter how brilliant or helpful, will fall to deaf ears if you do not know how to use your words wisely. Speaking in a submissive voice, while using auxiliary verbs in instructions such as, “Will you finish this report for me?” is ineffective, and gives your male colleague the option to not follow you. BE ASSERTIVE. BE FIRM. BE LIKE WONDER WOMAN. Use an imperative tone when delivering instructions. Do not doubt your ideas as you explain it to your colleagues. Do not take constructive criticism personally. Men communicate in a clear, logical matter, especially in business matters, so it is best to talk to them the same way, listen intently, and suspend all emotions to avoid infiltrating your actions.
6. A woman’s charm can sometimes save the day!
In an industry filled with stressful deadlines and million-peso quotas, men respond best to the female charm – kindness, sensitivity, humor, and a bit of girlishness. Now before the feminists stone me, please consider this. As women, we have the influence to temper driven business meeting into a friendlier and sober environment. We can prevent negotiations from becoming arguments.
7. Sensitivity to clients.
The Chinese-Filipinos are the majority in the construction industry. They are in almost all scales of business, from hardware stores to commercial developers. Therefore, it is important to be sensitive to their culture and traditions. In our company, we stopped producing black polo shirts for employees because our Chinese clients believe it is bad luck.
8. You will learn about Building 101- a free course on Civil Engineering and Architecture, if you will.
Hanging out and discussing projects with engineers and architects has taught me technical skills outside of my degree, like reading blueprints, creating Gantt charts, and cost estimation. With this knowledge, I can never be fooled by a contractor with their expensive quotations again.
9. All that training in hardware and power tools has made us expert handywomen.
Do you need to do some basic repairs in your home? No worries, you can do it yourself! Or you can get your colleagues to help you out. No need to call the plumber or the local carpenter. If someone in the office has a broken washing machine or a doorknob that needs installing, we just call on a colleague from Product Division to drop by our place in exchange for a reasonable fee and merienda.
9. You become familiar with traditionally men stuff
Sports, cars, tech, and even their relationship preferences and issues. Think of it as a privilege pass into the male mind.
With this accumulated guy knowledge of mine, I am able to tell the difference between a Porsche Carrera versus a Porsche Cayenne. I can also follow a game of basketball and form a genuine opinion as to why this player didn’t deserve that technical foul. And the best part is that I get great advice from my male colleagues about dating and relationships. I can now smell a cheater the moment he steps into a room.
My experiences in construction have shaped me into a different breed of woman, and I love how they made me stronger and wiser. I believe every one of us can cite various plus and minuses in their own chosen careers. At the end of the day, it truly pays to look back once in a while at the path that you already took, appreciate the view from a different perspective, and connect it to how your character has been shaped by it.