At a recent panel discussion geared toward women, most of the attendees under 35 years old raised their hands when they specifically were asked if they feel they have the same opportunities in industry as men. The enthusiastic response led one panelist to say, “the game is changing,” but not long afterward an audience member expressed frustration over management not viewing her as equal to the men she works with. That led some audience members to nod their heads in agreement, with one quietly saying “there’s still a glass ceiling.”

Photo by Joanna Dela Rosa

One way to handle an odds-stacked-against-you situation is to seek advice from a mentor in the company, said Angie K. Jones, vice president of Construction Remediation at Somerset, N.J.-based AMEC. Jones was one of the panelists for “Caution—Women at Work,” one of the sessions at ENR’s Groundbreaking Women in Construction conference, held May 8-9 in New York.

“Shame on you if you stay in a bad situation,” said panelist Carra Wallace, managing director of Executive Initiatives at the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York.

Wallace and other panel members stressed the importance of networking in and out of the workplace to help find new opportunities. “For me, it’s being involved with a committee during work hours and taking the time and pushing yourself to go to meetings that you think you don’t even have time to do,” said panelist Vicki Shirley, DBE coordinator at Flatiron Construction Corp., Firestone, Colo.

“Get out of your comfort zone and meet people,” said panelist Elizabeth E. Velez, president of construction firm Velez Organization, New York.

Meanwhile, of the four generations in the workforce today, it is perhaps the youngest, those under 27 years old and dubbed Generation Y, that can make the other three scratch their heads when it comes to business culture issues. However, these so-called “Gen Y-ers” have a lot to offer the marketplace, said Lisa Ballantyne, vice president and general manager of Special Projects at Turner Construction, New York. “They are all about digital media and having everything at their fingertips. They are extremely tech savvy,” said Ballantyne, who led a separate session, “Creating New Leadership: Managing and Developing Gen Ys.”

Research shows that many of the “Traditionalists,” born from 1927 to 1945, as well as the Baby Boomers,” 1946 to 1963, are staying longer than expected in the workforce. With many of the Traditionalists, Boomers and Generation X-ers (those born from 1964 to 1979) in positions of leadership, it is helpful to understand the characteristics of and factors that influenced the Gen Y-ers who will one day take the helm, Ballantyne said.

Each group views education differently, for example. Traditionalists see education as a dream; Boomers believe it is their birthright; Gen X-ers view it as “a way to get there,” and Gen Y-ers see it as an expense, she said.

Recognizing that generational differences exist may also help in communications with clients, Ballantyne said. She recalled one occasion for which she hand wrote four thank you notes to clients. “But then I realized that one of my clients is a Gen Y-er and would probably want an e-mail, not a hand-written note, instead.”

The multigenerational workforce will likely be reshuffled by 2016 when Boomers, Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers will each command a 30% share of it, Ballantyne said. Traditionalists are expected to account for the remainder.