Sharing the Wisdom of Women Warriors #2

The Sticky Floor

First Published on March 17, 2016 by Shirley Ramos                                                                                                 
Co-founder of the Women Building Change Leadership Boot Camp

“Experts have pointed to the lack of women at all levels of the construction industry as one of the main factors contributing to the ongoing labor shortage,” reports Construction Dive Magazine. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 9.8 million people working in the construction industry. Of these, just 872,000 of them (or 8.9 percent), were women. Couple this with research supporting that a higher ratio of women at executive leadership positions in organizations correlates directly with increased success and productivity, and you have a pretty good justification for purposefully recruiting and retaining women in construction.

However, the problem goes beyond just recruiting and retaining women into construction careers. Of the women who are already in the industry, the representation at leadership levels is vastly under served. This isn’t just a simple gender issue or matter of discrimination in a male-dominated business environment. The complexity originates in the different   worldviews for both men and women. In the article Women in Construction: The Sticky Floor, the Stickier Ladder and the Glass Ceiling, I socialize these three phenomena and discuss how they impact the identification and leadership paths of women leaders. This post dives deeper into the first phenomenon – the “sticky floor”:

The Sticky Floor

The Sticky Floor has been described as women’s career blocks, corporate barriers to women’s promotion, and other middle-management bottlenecks that keep women—fully capable of leadership—stuck near the bottom half of the ladder, or unwilling/unable to climb the ladder at all. Although there continues to be a real underlying bias that keeps women from securing leadership positions, there are assumptions, actions and ‘limiting beliefs’ that women themselves experience that inhibit them from taking action and putting that first foot on the ladder, including:

  • Women in the industry don’t promote themselves. It is difficult to blow your own horn, but when there is a culture where women are still proving themselves as capable, showcasing and communicating our abilities becomes essential. The ability to capture and articulate the different job types, examples of successful leadership and knowledge of areas – such as skilled crafts and safety – is imperative to building the credibility for construction leadership.
  • Women don’t always ask for what they want. When making requests, women have a tendency to be humble and indirect. A woman may accept a lower position or less pay, for example, thinking that when she “proves herself,” the organization will promote her or pay her at the level she originally wanted. In addition, women may equate negotiation with “confrontation,” not wanting to seem too assertive or demanding.  The reality is that often get what they ‘ask for’, rather than what they actually wanted.
  • Women assume that their gender is a problem for the company. Women who are building a family or who already have children assume that their roles as wives and mothers are a barrier to leadership positions. One seasoned superintendent who has small children, for example, openly shared that she self-selected to apply for classes offered by her employer, knowing they would never choose her because they knew she had young children. When I inquired what was said or what behaviors she observed that made her feel it was an issue, her answer was a vague “…because that’s the way it is.”

In the midst of these perceived barriers that keep women from taking the classes or applying for positions that move them toward construction leadership opportunities, there are tangible  barriers that keep them tethered to labor, skilled or traditional support positions. They are:

  • Lack of a strong industry network. The small representation of women in this highly male dominated industry, and the fact that the majority of decision makers and “champions” whoserve as connections are also male, can limit women’s  ability to effectively network and build the relationships required to establish the credibility and recognition that propels a resume to the top of the pile. 
  • Hard-wired lingering gender bias. Carol Frohlinger, the founder of Negotiating Women, Inc., says that old, hard-wired systems of gender discrimination are still in place. In fact, she says that’s what is keeping women from aspiring for leadership. Still seeing women as the primary family care-taker, baby-boomer aged executives may not seriously consider a woman for a project manager role, assuming that she wouldn’t be available to the project, at an expected level, due to other responsibilities or commitments. At the very least, women will look less attractive than men for such a demanding position.

Rebecca Shambaugh, author of “It’s Not A Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor: Free Yourself From the Hidden Behaviors Sabotaging Your Career Success” (McGraw-Hill, 2007) would contend that women wanting to free themselves from the sticky floor need to ‘start mopping.” Her advice is to:

  • Balance career and life. Not so that you can prove it to your employer, but to avoid burnout and be the best that you can be both at work and at home.
  • Embrace the “good enough.” We need to distinguish between excellence and perfection. If we work from a place of excellence, we are willing to take risks and learn from our mistakes. Perfection hinders the ability to move up the ladder.
  • Make the break. Consider how/if your current job will help groom you in the direction you want to move. Ask yourself, “How long do I need to stay at one place to be a value to my team and boss?” The sticky floor is about taking control of your own destiny according to Shambaugh. “It’s saying, ‘This is what I want from my career and here is how I am going to get it,’ as opposed to just waiting around for your hard work to be recognized.
  • Interested in exploring these areas more? Learn more about the Women Building Change Leadership Boot Camp here