Aug. 3, 2021 - Here Is How I Decided to Become One

I’m a Woman in Construction – Here Is How I Decided to Become One

When I introduce myself as working in the construction industry, it is not uncommon that I’m asked what attracted me to the industry: Was I following my parents’ footsteps? Is that something I always wanted to do?

None of these apply to me, as my reasons for choosing the construction industry were much more down to earth…

It all started as a 17-year old having to decide what studies I’d undertake after my Baccalaureat (the French exams done at the end of high school, and required to enter a university program), knowing this would have a major impact on the rest of my life. I had 2 criteria to make my selection: be able to earn a living after 2 years of studying, and expect to like the type of work I had chosen… I remember reviewing the categories of studies available to me, and going through an elimination process using the following criteria:

  • More than 2 years of studies – because I wasn’t sure I could afford it, and would then found myself without any qualification;
  • Limited work opportunities if only studying 2 years, such as studying law or languages – because the level of knowledge would not be high enough for a job specific to that field, and I would then likely be required to go into a different, probably more administrative, field;
  • Lack of work opportunities in the field, such as in history, geography, literature – too many qualified persons for only a few positions; and
  • Type of work I knew I would not like, such as looking after the well-being of others, administrative work, being someone’s assistant.

But there’re a few factors I simply did not think of considering:

  • Gender diversity in that field of studies and industry - after all, the previous generation of women had opened the doors to pretty much all types of works, and my generation was just following their lead;
  • Location of the university / college – after all, this was the beginning of my adult life, including learning to deal with everything on my own and seeing my parents a lot less; and
  • What my parents and friends thought of my choice – after all, my choice of education was deciding my life for the foreseeable future, not theirs!

I was then left with several options, which, if I remember well, were all STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related. Of those, construction was the most appealing because it was about creating something that would be used by many people, and would generally stay up for many, many years (considering that we’re still using many buildings and infrastructures that are more than a century old, or that have become historical sites!). Although engineering and architecture were out of my selection because they both required more than 2 years of study, studying building technologies appeared to me to be a very good alternative: it gave me the option to work on site or in a design office after 2 years, but also to carry on my studies if I had the opportunity.


But why did I decide to follow such an elimination process, rather than follow my heart and consider building a career around what I liked to do?

Well, in my 17-year old’s head, things were quite simple: I wanted to be financially independent, able to spend without having to constantly check my bank account, and able to afford some “luxuries”, such as a nice home, going out with friends, travelling… And I was aware that “jobs for life” had become a rarity, meaning that I had to take charge of my education and training, rather than rely on my employer.

Also, at the time, the “gig” economy did not exist (yes, that was before cellphones and internet were part of our daily lives!), and I had absolutely no knowledge of anyone having multiple successful careers at once, creating something for themselves rather than fitting into a professional mold created by companies!

In conclusion, and with insights, I believe that my decision to enter the construction industry was more based on a lack of confidence (of not being financially independent if I didn’t choose a field that provided work) rather than on being a “fearless” young woman going into a male-dominated industry! Yet, despite the inevitable ups and downs, I’m rather satisfied with the way I decided to start my adult life. However, with today’s opportunities being so different, mostly thanks to the internet and the “gig” economy, I may have taken a different approach and consider being more “daring” in my choice of education and employment…

Each of us have our own reasons for selecting our education, and then how we start our career. I think that confidence, priorities and perspectives are key factors in how we make these decisions – as well as the up and coming opportunities and trends that new technologies bring. And what seems “daring” to some is actually the opposite to others, and vice-versa…

It is very tempting to “advise” the younger generation on how they ought to decide their future, but what worked for us may be completely outdated for them, and not aligned with their level of confidence, their priorities and their perspectives. But we can let them know about our strategies and circumstances so that, if they so choose, they can consider them when making their own decision.