Mentoring Women in Construction
Mentors can help women blaze a career path and handle gender-related challenges.
In the working world, pretty much anyone looking to climb his or her way up the ladder and build a thriving career could benefit from a good mentor to help them navigate challenges and provide career advice. That may go double for women in construction, an industry that’s more than 90 percent male.
It may go triple for women in construction aiming for managerial positions. Only 31 percent of women in construction — a total of 293,00 women— are in the professional and management sector according to 2016 figures from the National Association of Women in Construction.
“I know, for me, coming out of college and into the industry, I had a lot of questions, and at times I was the only women on the site,” said Ha Le Khac, who works in business development at ISEC, a prime trades contractor. “I think it’s important to have someone you can relate to so you can ask those questions.”
Khac is president of the new northern California chapter of Women in Construction Operations (WiOPs), a professional organization that provides a forum for mentoring and furthering the advancement of women in operations positions in the building industry. WiOPs began in southern California five years ago.
The group doesn’t have a formal mentoring match program, but its meetings and events provide opportunities for mentors and mentees to meet informally — and for women in construction to share experiences, advice and encouragement.
Mentoring shouldn’t be confused with training or coaching, which are focused on providing task- or skill-related assistance. Mentoring is about career development, and women may have several different mentors, both male and female, over the course of their careers.
Some companies assign mentors as part of a company mentoring program. But how can women find a mentor outside of one of these programs — especially if they want a female mentor and their own company is short on women in management positions?
Khac believes the mentor/mentee relationship should grow organically. “You look at your company and you look at the construction industry; who do you admire, who would you want to be?” she said. “Then you have to see if you have the chemistry to connect with that person and build a relationship of trust so that she/he would be willing to mentor you.” Khac said a mentor should share the mentee’s core values and be willing to talk directly and honestly.
A good way to find a mentor is to simply ask a lot of questions, according to Khac. “When you’re always seeking out answers or guidance, you will start connecting with your mentors very naturally.”
Khac said she didn’t know much about mentoring when she entered the industry, and she’s glad to see that young women today are coming in looking for such opportunities. “It’s so important for them when they get out of school to start right away to network and to build relationships.”
Women who have benefited from having a mentor may be interested in being one at some point. They can find some advice in WiOPS’ guide to mentoring.
Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.