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An open letter to the AEC C-suite

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An open letter to the AEC C-suite


David Barista | December 30, 2016

Illustration: Pixabay

Enough talk. Enough with the pleasantries. It’s time to listen—to really listen—to your female colleagues, peers, and employees. Many will be too proud to open up fully about their struggles with forging a career in the male-dominated AEC industry. Others feel that they don’t have a safe forum—free from judgment—in which to talk freely about the issues they face on a daily basis.

I listened. I listened for two and a half days while more than 100 women AEC leaders—from firm owners to executives to mid-level practitioners—talked about gender bias, inequality, flawed hiring/promotion practices, lack of flexibility, work-life balance struggles, and a general absence of empathy from firm leaders across the industry. As one of a handful of men in the room during BD+C’s inaugural Women in Design+Construction Conference, November 9-11, in Dana Point, Calif., I listened to these women as they discussed issues I never even knew existed.

I left the WiD+C event with pages of notes. I also left with an understanding of the single thing that women AEC leaders want more than anything else: They want YOU to listen. They want YOU to understand their plight. They want YOU to take action. 

Have you heard of “prove it again”? For the unenlightened like me, it’s a business culture phenomenon where women are made to prove their merit repeatedly—and more frequently than their male colleagues—before being formally recognized (promotion, raise, etc.) by leaders.

What about “potential vs. credential”? Never heard of it? Me neither, until about a year ago.

I left the WiD+C event with pages of notes. I also left with an understanding of the single thing that women AEC leaders want more than anything else: They want YOU to listen. They want YOU to understand their plight. They want YOU to take action.

Here are ways you can get involved:

Recognize the issues women face and offer your support. As AEC leaders, women need your support to effect real change. Unfortunately, according to WiD+C attendees, there are too few C-suite types who are willing to make equity and diversity a priority. There are even stories of firm leadership obstructing programs and initiatives.

“I was in shock,” a 30-something WiD+C attendee told me when describing how, months earlier, a principal in her firm squashed an in-house women’s group organized by several employees. “‘It’s not fair to the men in the company to have a womens-only group,’ he told me. I could not believe what I was hearing. He just doesn’t get it.”

Realize the business case for hiring and promoting women in AEC. From emotional intelligence to collaboration, research studies suggest that women, in general, bring a particular set of strengths to the workplace.

Get involved in “women in AEC” causes and events. When’s the last time you participated in a seminar or forum focused on women-in-business issues? When’s the last time you sat down with a female leader in your firm to discuss the company’s culture, workplace environment, or hiring/promotion practices? If it was recently, great. If not, consider giving it some attention in 2017.  

In the post-event survey of WiD+C attendees, one of the top requests for the 2017 conference was to invite male AEC leaders to join the event. Without your support and participation, the forums and conferences will remain mostly talk, and little action. Please join us! dbarista@sgcmail.com

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