One year ago, I resigned my position as a construction project manager in Boston in order to begin a new design-build company with my husband, John. I equate the excitement of our new venture to the idea of a lengthy sailing trip. Stay on course. Don’t rock the boat. Be ready to raise the sails as soon as the wind picks up. Danger is just over the edge. A storm could brew at any moment, stay aware. Teamwork is essential in every kind of weather.
I’m very lucky to have John on my team. People often ask us what it’s like to work together every day. Most say they couldn’t work full time with their spouse. But, John and I have complimentary talents that make our job quite fun. Despite the worries of being business owners and carrying the burden of financial uncertainty, I can say it is much preferable to past positions I’ve held.
Amidst all of the current protests about women’s rights, I can’t help but think about my past on-the-job experiences. More than once I’ve worked with men, both architects and contractors, that found it degrading to have to collaborate with a woman and went out of their way to limit my involvement. One particular carpenter made it his earnest agenda to devalue my contributions as the design-build firm’s designer. One architect asked me on several occasions to take the lead on design projects, yet he refused to allow my title to be anything but Draftsperson.
Another architect assigned me as the project management lead to a major project. While at the time I considered it a huge career break, I later learned that I was making less than 30% of my male counterpart’s salary. I decided to make it my goal to do an amazing job and bring the year-long project to successful completion in order to prove my worth. This I did, to the point that even the client looked my boss straight in the eye and told him I deserved a raise. However, at the end of the project, no raise was offered. But, you can bet I was assigned to another equally demanding project. When I asked outright for a raise, citing my accomplishments and the extensive gap in salaries between the male project manager and myself, this is the response I received – “I think you make enough money.”
Later, I worked for another project department manager who loaded me up with 75% of the department’s projects, promised a bonus, then conveniently dismissed any discussions of said bonus at the end of the year despite the successful completion of dozens of my projects. I later learned that the next project manager he hired (a man) received a starting salary that was 28% higher than mine – and he hadn’t yet completed a single project!
Then, there was the architect that barely veiled his hopes to engage in something more than just a working relationship. Oh, and I cannot forget all of the times it has been assumed I was the secretary or assistant, even being asked, “Is your boss here?”
I do want to point out that while I find inequality for women rampant in the design and construction industry, I’ve also worked with men who have been perfectly gracious and accepting of women as colleagues.
But strangely enough, I have encountered just as much degradation from people outside the industry. People in general do not expect a woman to be well-versed in construction means and methods. This I knew when John and I started our business. He has since seen it first-hand, too. People want to hear about solutions that entail a structural detail or building repair from him. Yet, they want to hear from me when the issue entails colors, furniture arrangement or drapery selection. The fact that I hold two degrees in architecture and project management along with twenty years of industry experience still doesn’t carry as much weight in society as the briefest explanation from a man, any man. I kid you not, that is no exaggeration.
As angry as I have been on certain occasions about the unfairness of it all, I have learned that it is not about to change anytime soon. I don’t blame the government. It truly is a society thing. I have come to terms with the fact that John must be the face of the business and I the backstage manager. After all of the ethically lacking bosses I’ve had in the past, the fact that John truly appreciates my ideas, knowledge and contributions is enough.
All this woman needs is simply to be shown she is appreciated, fairly and squarely. That’s what most women want and what all women deserve.