Why Women are the Answer to the Construction Industry’s War for Talent

Dec 15, 2021 | Article

The construction industry is on fire right now, but success creates challenges, too. And when I talk with industry leaders, their number one need is finding better talent. Faster.

The War for Talent

Nobody can avoid the relentless challenge of doing more work faster. Even the big companies with ample budgets for hiring find that they can’t find the right people or onboard them fast enough.

Building Relationships
Senior leaders in the industry are looking for people who have strong social and emotional intelligence. Yet, current and prospective employees do not have the systems or support to develop these skills. The ability to build relationships is key to any job at any level. Prospective hires must know how to motivate and inspire colleagues to leverage their connections to deliver projects and get more work for the company.

Transformational leadership is the ability to lead others in a way that moves the relationship forward for everyone’s benefit.

Building Skills
Employers are looking for people who can inspire and motivate, yet they admit that few current leaders have these skills. The already relationally strong leaders have so much on their plate that they can not invest more time in teaching.

Relationship building is a slow process requiring nurture and practice, not one and done. There is a desperate need for relationally strong leaders, but there isn’t necessarily a pipeline to develop that kind of talent.

Massive Opportunity for Women in Construction
Women are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this incredible opportunity. Interestingly, women can serve their companies by delivering more value by closing the gap in transformational leadership.

Companies can win the current talent war by investing in women right now.

What Transformational Leadership is Not

Most people’s experience with leadership has been transactional, and transactions are giving something to receive something else in return, like at a bank machine. Transactional leadership, then, is supervising projects and delegating responsibilities using supervision to meet deadlines and complete projects.

Transformational leadership motivates and inspires people to want to get the work done.

Until recently, the primary leadership style that has been reinforced and rewarded in the construction industry has been that transactional model. That is what is rewarded in the performance review systems. Supervising, delegating, organization, and project management are crucial aspects of meeting deadlines. However, the foundational skills needed to work with clients to solve the most complicated problems are the underlying elements of transformational leadership.

How do people rise to leadership?

Author, Jeffrey Tobias Halter author of the book WHY WOMEN: The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men answered these fundamental questions.

  • How do companies decide who gets put into a leadership role?
  • What behaviours do they look for?
  • How do companies know someone is ready to be a leader?

In general, he explained that most companies reverse engineer the question. They look at senior leaders in a company, the most successful ones, and get curious about their behaviours. Then they look for others who demonstrate similar behaviours.

Transactional Leadership is biased towards promoting men.
Research shows that men naturally gravitate towards a transactional leadership style, and women naturally gravitate towards a transformational style of leadership. Because the industry is so male-dominated, construction companies have been looking for those transactional styles. The ability to delegate, organize, manage projects, and supervise is heavily represented in performance review systems.

Interestingly, almost every organization that offers professional development for construction professionals has a supervisor course that leans into those transactional skills. Therefore, the current system reinforces the transactional model of leadership.

Alice Eagerly and Linda Carly’s article “Women in the Labyrinth of Leadership”, explains that job performance is often a series of transactions to be rewarded or disciplined. In this way, a leader creates a favourable give and take relationship.

“Self-interested such leaders manage in the conventional manner of clarifying subordinates’ responsibilities, rewarding them for meeting objectives and correcting them for failing to meet objectives.”

Transformational leadership focuses on motivating and engaging followers with the future vision.

Transformational leaders establish themselves as role models. When people can follow these leaders with trust and confidence, they are empowered to mature into fully effective contributors to their organization.

Leaders are looking for people who have the social and emotional range to manage clients and win new business effectively. They’re looking for people who demonstrate transformational leadership.

If the industry desperately needs these skills and women naturally have these skills, why do so few women rise to senior levels?

Glass Ceilings Don’t Exist.
The McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace Report shows that women progress to leadership positions slower than men across all industries.

It’s not that women and men progress at the same rate, and then at the C-Suite level, women fall off; it happens at the very first level of promotion.

Statistically speaking, the first promotion happens for men before it happens for women because leadership training and performance review systems reinforce transactional skills.

Is Women-Only Training Biased?

Jennifer Todd, president and founder of LMS General Contractors, says that she would get backlash if she followed traditional training course practices – specifically in areas such as negotiation. I have repeatedly spoken with HR managers who agree with Jennifer and tell me that sending women to courses designed by men is only setting them up for failure because they do not address gender stereotype bias. Stephanie Slocum, the author of She Engineers, confirms that gender bias does come into play when people are being considered for leadership roles.

If the existing training models worked adequately, men and women would rise to leadership at the same rate as women.

Janice Teal from the Municipal Group of Companies  said,

“I worried that some women-only training could perpetuate prejudice against men. However, seeing people like myself in similar roles with similar challenges validated that I wasn’t alone. Being in this setting allowed me to see that some of the traditional barriers women have faced in the construction industry are slowly fading. Don’t get me wrong, there are still barriers to overcome, but they don’t seem as impossible anymore.”

Transformational leadership requires new behaviours.

Usually, leadership behaviours are reinforced by leaders in the company. These leaders are also responsible for mentoring and coaching employees to learn these skills.

Today’s leaders are extremely busy, and they don’t have time to spend with each employee to develop the behaviours necessary to lead in this complex environment.

The few leaders with transformational leadership skills are already working with clients, leading projects and inspiring their team. Many do not have the additional capacity to train each member of their team.

Finding talent that is relationally healthy and able to navigate the nuances of business in this new era requires investment at all employment levels. Knowing how to find that talent is what keeps people up at night.

I love digging deep into how we can promote more women into leadership roles. In my next article, I will be looking into the topic of mentorship and why relying on mentorship to advance women into leadership roles may not be the best approach.

I’m curious about your company. Does your leadership training account for gender bias? Have you noticed the difference between transformational and transactional leadership at your company?

Please email me at hello@ambitiontheory.com or message me on LinkedIn because I would love to hear your opinion.

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