There are countless articles published talking about the importance and value of mentorship, and we recently saw many of these voices during Women’s History Month in March. Many of these articles strike home at the essence and reasons why mentorship is especially critical for professional women in the workforce.
However, for professional women in a male-dominated industry such as building materials, these articles go beyond simple inspiration. They can be the difference between a short-lived career or an enduring one where you can truly leave a lasting impression on not only women—but the industry as a whole.
I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 10 years old from the Czech Republic, not knowing a word of English. I worked two jobs in high school to help my mother make ends meet and worked three jobs while attending college full time on an academic scholarship. I spent a lot of time in the restaurant industry, working on the weekends and holidays, envious of guests on the other side of the table. It’s true, my sheer determination led me to where I am now: being a wife, mother, and gaining knowledge and experience from many male-dominated industries. But along the way, it has been clear to me the importance of finding opportunities to help other women advance.
How Mentors Can Support Professional Growth
According to a survey conducted by the Olivet Nazarene University in June 2018, 56% of American workers have had a professional mentor, while 76% believe that mentorship is important. Previously working in male-dominated industries including construction and motorcycle equipment, I am passionate about helping other women as they pursue careers in building materials. I have experienced the difference hard work and women can make, not only through mentoring other women but also by bridging the gap with men in the building materials industry to help them understand gender differences, as well as the varying values women, can offer their companies.
At the start of my career, I felt the right thing to do was to become “one of the guys”, understanding the language and learning their way of communicating with one another. I was passionate about my work and projects, intensely focused on client service, and was certainly growing confidence within the industries I worked. But along this journey, I began to grow more confidence and I realized the importance of stepping outside this mold and understanding the distinct differences between men and women—particularly in the areas of communication. For me, I was fortunate to work in a company environment where these diverse voices were encouraged—even within a male-dominated industry.
Other women are not so lucky. Many do not have the fortune I’ve had with supportive senior management. This is where mentorship becomes so critically important.
I know this because I’ve seen it first-hand, through my involvement with building materials associations and organizations where I’ve had the luxury of meeting hundreds of other professional women. Learning from these women has been instrumental in furthering my own professional career, as well as shaping the type of mentor I’ve now become to other professional women—of all career levels—inside my own very organization. I’ve also made it a priority to focus on nominating women colleagues for industry awards and speaking engagements inside my organization so they can shine under their own spotlight, and it was also important that I encourage them to attend the Women’s Forums from various associations for additional growth opportunities.
Podcast Episodes on Mentoring & Women in Construction
HR Punchlist: Using Technology to Achieve Workforce Diversity in Construction - Diversity and how both technology and attitudes are evolving to make it easier to recruit, retain and report on a diverse workforce. Guests from Arcoro and the National Association of Women in Construction share their tips and tricks for filling roles with sought-after younger generations, minorities and women.
Backbone of America: Mentorship Program Gaining Traction in the Construction Industry - Providing employees opportunities to keep growing and developing is key to the Walbec Group. Find out how a mentorship program and other community outreach is creating a positive work environment for this company.
The Contractor's Best Friend Podcast: How Coaching and Mentoring Can Help Keep Your Employees (S6, Ep2) - Brad Humphrey and the Caterpillar experts review the importance of participation and engagement with workers as a method of employee retention.
Digging Deeper: McCarthy Partnership for Women Promotes Opportunities for Women in Construction - Callie Nottingham, McCarthy Building Companies, shares her journey into construction, as well as the components of the McCarthy Partnership for Women, a program designed to help grow women’s opportunities in the industry.
Digging Deeper: Skanska’s Johana Godoy Highlights Career Opportunities for Women in Construction - Skanska USA's Johana Godoy shares her experiences and career growth in the field of construction, as well as opportunities for other women seeking a promising and rewarding career path.
Digging Deeper: Ladies of Sunbelt Rentals Discuss Opportunities for Women in Construction - Three female team members from Sunbelt Rentals discuss their roles and career paths within the company, as well as how to encourage other women to consider career opportunities in construction.
Digging Deeper: Rebar Contractor Proves Women Have a Place as Ironworkers - Jacqueline Pruitt tells how she proved herself in the strenuous rebar installation trade and positioned herself to found Marvella Steel Placers, plus provides insights on how other women might forge their own career path in construction.
Digging Deeper: Project Exec Shares Her Own Rapid Growth & Opportunities for Other Women in Construction - Jody Staruk, Consigli Construction, shares her experiences rising through the ranks in the industry, as well as discusses the various opportunities for other women to find fulfilling careers in construction.
Digging Deeper: Suffolk Construction’s Lea Stendahl Highlights Careers for Women and “Rebuild the Ratio” Campaign - Lea Stendahl shares her path into the industry and the opportunities she sees for other women in construction. She also highlights Suffolk's "Rebuild the Ratio" campaign to not only get more women into the company but more girls into STEM careers.
It's Ok To Not Be ‘Just One Of The Guys’
I wanted to become a strong female mentor who could demonstrate to others how to be successful without having to just be one of the guys. It has been important to be strong and show how to make it okay to be female, even feminine, in the industry and serve as a leading example to others.
It is important for women to mentor other women, provide opportunities and lift each other up. The professional direction women receive from other women is essential. Consider the things female professionals need to be successful. Outside of professional talent and hard work, sometimes women need support from others to champion their ideas and goals, which studies continue to show, may not always receive the same amount of direction and prioritization as those of male colleagues.
The right mentorship goes beyond emotional support and advice. It can be imperative in helping growing female leaders understand and successfully navigate the political minefields that every organization encounters, male-dominated or otherwise.
Best Practices For Finding Mentors
Finding mentors can be challenging for professional women, particularly younger women. Mentors, like portfolios, should be very diversified. You should seek mentors with similar interests, and with dissimilar interests. Mentorship should not just be a popularity club. You should seek mentors of various age groups, as long as they have sincere wisdom to share. You should also choose mentors who can support you in difficult times, but also challenge you and push you to be even better than you ever expect to be. Mentors are special people who have the ability to see potential and help you reach that potential even when there are difficult situations to navigate.
With this insight, professional women of all ages can have a better understanding of what to look for in a mentor, and how to grow their professional relationship to achieve great potential—in building materials or any other industry.
About The Author
Katerina Jones is Vice President, Marketing and Business Development at Fleet Advantage, a leading innovator in truck fleet business analytics, equipment financing and life cycle cost management.