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Self-Advocacy is Key Strategy for Women in Construction

June 17, 2014
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Women have to use tools and opportunities more creatively to boost their profiles. "When people underestimate you, you just have to rush in," said Deborah DeBernard, vice president of the American Institute of Architects.

Panelists told attendees to seek out and take advantage of "informal" opportunities.

“For many of us, there are no straight lines,” said Susan Kurland, assistant assistant secretary of aviation and international affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation. “But we do need to prepare ourselves to take advantage of opportunities or to create opportunities for ourselves. We are all works in progress.”

Corissa Anderson, a project manager at  Hunt Construction Group, told attendees to "find where the risk is and how to manage it." She said, "interfacing with clients, managing subs and knowing the critical path is how you get noticed."

Tighe urged women to determine “whose orbit I have to be in to realize my goals," and to bring something to the relationship with those who can help you get ahead, such as having "info that somebody else wants.”

Speakers noted the importance of mentoring, particularly with technology tools fostering easier access to top executives and allowing younger women to share technical skills with male veterans, in exchange for valuable institutional memory—so-called "reverse mentoring."

Panelist Sarah Carr, operations vice president at contractor McCarthy, says women mentors are growing in number. She is a co-founder of a new California-based peer group for AEC sector women in operations work.

Pat Hauserman, a 33-year construction veteran and vice president of Tishman Construction Corp., urged women to do more "calculated risk taking in determining how to get noticed."

CBRE's Tighe shared a personal anecdote about a paper napkin on which a former male colleague drew the company's organizational chart during a lunch meeting that basically spelled out why he thought she would never advance to the coveted position of vice chair.

Tighe placed the napkin in her purse and later dated it Jan. 8, 1997. On Jan. 11, 1999, the company issued a press release announcing her promotion to vice chair.

“That lunch was so helpful. I knew for certain that I had no internal champions,” she said.

Tighe already was an award-winning realtor, but she decided to increase her visibility with the press and with the Real Estate Board of New York.

“A person with a public profile is often viewed as an expert,” she said. “Putting yourself out there is indeed a risk, but absent risk, your life and career will be pretty ho hum. Once my profile was raised in the industry, my promotion to vice chair was pretty inevitable.”

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