Women in Construction: Stop Looking for a Mentor and Do This Instead

Dec 23, 2021 | Article

The construction industry desperately needs more transformational leaders 

There is currently a war for talent in the construction industry today, there simply aren’t enough people to do all of the work. Almost every company needs to get 110-120% out of every employee, which presents a new challenge.

Simply giving someone a longer to-do list, or delegating more does not inspire them to take action and give additional energy to contribute towards the company’s goals.

Construction companies urgently now need transformational leaders who inspire and motivate teams to perform at a higher level – the traditional transactional approach to leadership simply isn’t as effective anymore.

With the current environment’s additional stressors, rewards are not effective in motivating the talent to produce the same or more of the equivalent work as when the new stressors were not in place.

Transformational leadership both inspires and empowers others. Internally motivated employees fulfill their workplace’s needs to everyone’s full potential.

The industry hasn’t traditionally rewarded and promoted transformational leadership behaviours 

The problem is that for a long time, the performance review systems in most companies have evaluated and rewarded transactional leadership skills.

Studies have shown that men naturally gravitate towards a transactional leadership style whereas women naturally gravitate towards a transformational style. Because leadership in construction is so male-dominated, more people in the industry veer towards a transactional style than a transformational style. And these transactional leadership skills have been reinforced through hiring practices for many years.

The relational value that women bring to the table can often get overlooked because it isn’t formally tracked in performance management systems that continue to reward transactional leadership styles.

If you’re working hard, motivating the team to deliver results. But, nobody is around to see it–or nobody is tracking it in the performance review system–are you going to get recognized and compensated for this work?

For women to gain the recognition, titles, and compensation they deserve requires a different approach.

We don’t need another mentorship program.  

At Ambition Theory™, we call out the elephants. Elephants are blocking progress, which most people know exists but don’t want to say out loud. We do not judge, and we do not blame, and we acknowledge that a block exists. Naming the problem allows us to be strategic in addressing it.

A big Elephant: Mentorship isn’t created equal

Ambition Theory has been coaching women in the construction industry for four years, and the biggest game-changer for our clients is the concept of sponsorship. I wrote about this extensively for Forbes in my article “Women, Stop Asking for Advice and Do This Instead.”

Many construction companies have formal mentorship programs, as do local construction associations.  Mentorship helps by creating a relationship with someone more experienced than you at your company. Relationships with senior people are how to be recognized for hard work.

Although mentorship is a reliable tool to begin relationships, it quickly becomes a giant elephant. It actually can unintentionally hold women back from getting the exposure they need to get formally recognized for the talent they bring to the table.

Women Get Advice and Men Get Opportunities

Gender bias shows up in mentoring all of the time; this is often unconscious. It shows up when women are given advice by their mentors. The mentors’ goal is usually to prepare the woman with the skills needed to deliver on an opportunity when the opportunity arises. However, the mentee put on the onus to take action and find the opportunity. Men, however, are treated differently; they are typically given a chance by their mentor, which forces them to learn the skills as they go. The result is that men usually learn the skills faster and are given much-needed exposure to decision-makers who can provide formal promotions.

The research says that typically
women are not pushed as often into riskier situations where they can learn on the job and get the exposure they need to get ahead.

The difference: Skin in the Game

People can be forced to share advice and stories, which is mentoring. But you can’t force someone to put their reputation on the line for someone else, and that is what sponsorship is. Sponsorship and mentorship differ because sponsorship requires the sponsor to risk their reputation to benefit their protégé. Here’s an example: If I were to recommend someone as an employee to another company, I am putting my reputation as collateral.

My reputation helps the new employer risk time and resources for the new hire. If the new hire does not perform well, both reputations are tarnished. But in all things, the higher the cost, the higher the reward.

For sponsorship to work, the sponsor needs to vet the protégé and ensure their values align.
Interestingly, this phenomenon is that – men are naturally sponsored, and women are naturally mentored. Sponsorship is a powerful tool to advance people’s careers, but unfortunately, we aren’t leveraging it to its full potential. With this one simple tweak, focusing on opportunities instead of advice, we can accelerate women’s careers and fill the talent pipeline with the transformational leadership the construction industry desperately needs today. 

Sponsorship goes both ways

I want to address that sponsorship goes both ways, and the senior person can absolutely benefit from this relationship. Specifically, senior leaders can’t be on every job site in construction. When you have a relationship with someone who is more junior than you are, they can be your ears on the ground and share crucial information with you. Real experience through other lenses helps grow corporate understanding and allows everyone do their job better. 

Have you ever heard people talk about social and emotional intelligence? Sponsorship is an excellent example of how to learn social intelligence.  Understanding these human behaviours and navigating and leveraging relationships is the foundation of our coaching programs at Ambition Theory

Reducing frustration, saving time, and building a better workforce are triple wins. When people don’t understand how to navigate relationships and motivate others intrinsically, everyone wastes a lot of time in frustration. 

What do you think?

I want to know if you agree with my perspective that sponsorship is a lot more powerful than mentorship. Send me an email to hello@ambitiontheory.com or send me a message on LinkedIn to let me know.

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