THE BLOG

I'm Not Just a Blonde at the Construction Site -- I'm the Boss

10/09/2013 12:42 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

I have received a few questions from readers with blog suggestions but one stuck with me in particular. It is one I am asked a lot when I do mastermind one-on-one or wing-man work with women and one that is hard to muster up the courage to ask: "What are your thoughts on diversity as it relates to gender in the workplace?"

I think that in my case, being a woman opened doors that may never have been opened.

I think women ought to be thankful for the fact that gender diversity is a hot topic, and not for the reasons you may think.

I think that people who get stuck under the glass ceiling are stuck in the corporate cooker and they must either choose to break out or wait till the steam bubbles up so hot that the lid blows off. More on this later.

I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and construction was my family's mainstay. I have been around it my whole life and truth be told, my happiest place on earth is on a roadbuilding site with machines pushing and swinging dirt and people all working hard. I like the energy of it, the smell of it, the sounds of it. I like creating by using big machines.

I can be a bit vacant sometimes when it comes to the norm and so it took me a long time to even recognize that I was the only girl in the room, on the job, anywhere in sight for that matter.

Sure, being a girl in construction came with the standard issue nuisances you would assume -- naked pin-up girl pictures in the tool trailers, having to use disgusting man outhouses, getting hit on steadily, getting tolerated and not taken seriously...but I just kept my head down and got to work.

I worked hard, was always early, did more than anyone else, had more passion and interest and I did it all very quietly. At the end of a shift or a week or a job it might not have been noticed that all of that was me, but I was ok with that. What I wanted was knowledge. I wanted to say that I knew what it meant when people talked about mechanical problems with the machines, so I paid attention when the serviceman came to the site. I wanted to learn to estimate jobs, so I counted how many swings of a excavator bucket a guy could do digging in compact clay in 60 seconds.I perfected my craft from whatever access I was given to information.

After gaining enough knowledge I started contributing where I could, for free. I would take the initiative to look at a problem, figure out a reasonable solution and then ask the foreman if I could bring him a coffee. When I came with the coffee, I mentioned my idea. I would often preface it with "this might not be a very good idea and you would obviously know far more than me but I have been paying attention and what do you think about . I am interested in your thoughts because I could learn so much from your experience."

This got the people who make decisions to know that I was not just a little blonde token strutting around the job site but that I was watching and thinking and had value.

The lesson in this is to perfect your craft any way you can, even if you do not get paid more. If you are patient and strategic and lay out a plan for where you want to get to, you will find a way to get there, which leads me to my next phase, the leap.

I am sure I got more learning out of those men than they ever knew they gave me because so many of them would share insights with me, let me bring them coffee, or sit with them over lunch. I am sure that if I had a penis over 50 per cent of the access to knowledge would not have been there. I learned a lot.

When I figured I knew enough, I took that learning and started my own business -- the leap. Sure, as a 28-year-old girl wanting to start a construction business I was a bit of an outlier but I think it was the freak-show aspect of it that got people to at least listen to me.

"Lets go for lunch with this woman who thinks she is going to start a construction company and run it...I want to meet such a person."

I still had boardrooms of men ask me when my boss was coming so that we could start the meeting. I loved telling them I was the boss.

Another favourite was one time when we were looking for equipment operators and a fellow came in and said "Hey honey, does this job come with coffee because I would sure like to watch you go and get me one." I got him the coffee. I then asked him if he was ready to meet the boss for his interview. I then said, "Nice to meet you."

That fellow worked very well for me. I think he put his head down a little every time I walked by because he was a little embarrassed about asking the boss to watch her behind while she got him a coffee.

These situations can either break you down or raise you up. They super-charged me.

What I know from over 20 years in construction is that no one will take anything from you that you don't let them. And I think that is true in life too.

Truth is -- and this is the part where I get really honest -- the fact that awards like the one I won this year from PROFIT and Chatelaine Magazines calling me Canada's #1 Female Entrepreneur even exist is a huge opportunity for women. This stuff does not happen for men.

Let's face it, in an open award category I would not be number one. But I am happy to take the award and all of the opportunities my difference (having lady parts) has afforded me. I have never seen it as a hinderance, only as an opportunity.

I have never cared how I got the door opened, whether it was because the guy who made the list liked my tits or because he liked my resume: the key is to walk in the door and be the smartest, most crafty and dead serious one about the opportunity before you and odds are you will move ahead. There is nothing sexier than a smart woman and you can quote me on that.

For those gals in the corporate structure, the end game is different. For we entrepreneurs, we simply break free and start our own thing. For women who love what they do and have high aspirations within a corporate structure the perfecting of your craft applies just as much as it did for me. If you are good, you are good and no one can argue against smarts.

What can come up is the difference between being aggressive and a bitch (the male and female descriptors for moving forward with passion and power). What can come up is having children. What can come up is the general female want to be liked and accepted as equals.

Brutal truth -- drop this crap now. Check it at the door because if you want to walk through the doors of corporate opportunity you have to get used to people not liking you or having an opinion of what you do that makes you uncomfortable. This is the nature of the corporation, whether you are male or female, the people at the bottom of the ladder all feel stepped on while you make your way to the top. The difference is that we are so used to it being men that they get a free pass. When it is a woman, the men feel even more stepped on and the women outcast her. Get over it.

Easy to say. Harder to do.

Here is how I would suggest my corporate gals shake the self imposition of the glass ceiling:

(1) Make a list of the things that bring you joy in your career today.

(2) Make a list of the things that will bring you joy in your next one or two positions up the ladder.

(3) Make a list of the negative things people will have to say about you and your work today and as you strive for your goals.

(4) Now, look at the list of things that bring you joy and see how many of those things truly result in the outcomes that show up on the list of negative things. Does your raise make you a bitch?

Further to that, if you want to get truly pro in this exercise, look at the real impact your joy in your career has on anyone else's life. (Alert -- do not fall into the trap of thinking you impact them by taking away their raise by being awarded it yourself. The corporate world is survival of the fittest, so if you got the raise or promotion there is a reason, you deserved it. It is that simple.)

(5) Bonus Round -- Now look at all of those words you wrote in items number one and number two above. Ask yourself if you want to and do achieve all of them with integrity, hard work and passion. If the answer is yes, then you do not have to worry about anything on that list from number three above. Get over it.

I said earlier that I would speak to the pressure cooker of the corporate world....here is what I see. It is a jungle and is kill or be killed, but all of nature is this way so this is not shocking to me.

Think of it this way ladies, in jungle in nature the female of every species is the hunter/killer/venomous one (go ahead, pick a species and Google it). The female species stalks, plans, hunts, assesses and attacks for the purpose of survival. What if we took those same skills that every woman naturally has and believed that our survival is based on the joy that we get from achieving the things in our career on those lists number one and number two above.

What if we did it with integrity and knowledge and passion while helping other women at the same time as opposed to hunting them? I would be willing to bet that as a group we would transcend from bitches, beyond aggressive and all the way to accomplished in no time.

Gender equality on boards is all over the news, I think it is a great thing for women because some gals will get on boards and have great opportunities because of it. I don't know if it is a great thing for the companies, other than some research that speaks to the fact that having diverse experience and views around the table tends to yield better share prices year over year.

I think that what it probably relates to is more a societal shift from one generation to another and the fact that on the whole, women tend to be more open to expressing concerns around accountability and family than men are and that this next generation has higher stated value for these things which means better work performance when present leading to bottom line results.

This is not to say that the men do not think it, it is only to say that women are more accustomed to it being acceptable for us to talk about it. Therefore, the values of employees and investors are shifting to a place where some of the things women are more likely to say can yield bottom line results in this era. It is not because we are better or smarter or are any different from men really, it is because we have a history of communication which is different.

The corporate soup is boiling, has a lot of eyes on it, is all over the news...have you considered how you might behave differently when the lid blows off? (I hope the answer after looking at your lists is that you would do nothing differently aside from be ready to step up and share your strengths.)

I want to close by sharing with you clearly that I do not believe it is a man's world and I hold no grievance against men whatsoever. Quite the opposite is true. I love men. I love my father who taught me how to be generous and integrous and run a successful business at the same time. I love my grandfather who taught me about hard work through what he exampled for my father. I love my brother who inspires me every day.

I love my husband because he truly is the reason I can do anything with courage. I love all of the men who I have worked for and with because they have all at some time shown me a tender side whether it be to offer me a hand when something was too heavy or to ask for a 15 break at a different time of day so they could call their mother on her birthday in another time zone.

I have learned most of what I know about business from men and I hope to continue to. I believe that it is a historical belief that this is a man's world. To me it is just a world where women have not believed in ourselves enough to show up at the starting line in order to make it to the podium proportionately.

I am loving it at the podium and have met some amazing women here. I hope you will join us....

P.S. I know today's topic could be a firestarter and I hope that if you have an opinion on my opinions, you will share it with me. I love to consider all sides and learn from other women about perspective from all angles. Leave a message in the comments below or email me directly. I can not wait to hear from you!

P.P.S. If you have a burning question about business or life in and around entrepreneurship please feel welcome to send them my way. Today's post was inspired by someone just like you.

P.P.P.S. If you like what you read, join my insiders newsletter by clicking HERE to get my brainwaves in your mailbox weekly. I promise to always be real, be passionate and be all business, in an awesomesauce kind of rockin' way.

In the spirit of courage and speaking our truths,

Kelsey

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