Nov. 4, 2021 - No Role Models? And So What?

I’m a Woman in Construction – No Role Models? And So What?

Lack of role models… A few simple words often used to explain why there are so few women, and other minority groups, in some industries – such as in construction and other STEM related industries. Yet, we are present in these industries - at different management and leadership levels, in more or less technical positions, in large and small businesses, in cities and in the country… and many of us didn’t have anyone looking like us, or coming from the same socio-economics, to show us what could be done… So, how did we even think of entering these industries, and how did we get to where we are without such role models?

Speaking to other women in construction, I noticed a few “trends” in their reasons for joining this industry:

  • A family history of working in the industry, even if, in the past, it was mostly the “men” of the family;
  • A family’s view that an engineer or science based degree is one of the best, if not the best, qualification to have;
  • Coming across this industry as an alternative to other careers requiring long and expensive studies, or suffering from an overcrowded employment market;
  • Coming across it while researching qualifications fitting one’s specific requirements – for me, it was the length of the studies, the ability to enter the job market straight after, and the availability of jobs in that industry.

In this article, I’m particularly interested in the 2 last points, based on personal choices and decisions rather than family’s guidance.

So, going back to my original questions: How did we even think of entering these industries? How did we get to where we are without such role models?

I think one key element is a strong desire to live our own life, and not the life that others think we should live – independently of any type of industries!

  • What do we want to experience? A quiet life with a nice family and a nice home? Live “out of a suitcase” for a while while travelling? Prioritize a professional career or experiment with life?
  • How do we want to earn our living? Work in an office or in the field? Start earning as early as possible? Study hard for a few years and then work hard to go “up the ladder”?
  • What does “Success” mean to us? What are our “Values”?
  • What are our priorities? Is money the most important criteria? Or is it about working in something we enjoy, or exploring different paths and see where they take us?

But where does that desire come from - especially if no one around us has gone “their own way”? Here are a few sources of inspirations:

  • Someone “in the news”, even if it’s just a “one off”, or just the local news, because of something they did or said: sport, adventure, politics, business, artists – they may be very different to us, but something makes us relate to them;
  • Someone around us who’s considered a little (or a lot!) “eccentric” but, again, with whom we can relate to a little, or feel attracted to, because they do things “their way”;
  • A family member who may not have gone “their own way”, but who has different ideas, or do somethings differently;
  • Biographies, documentaries, live and reality programs;
  • Fiction;
  • And so on… we can find inspiration everywhere around us, if we keep our eyes open…

And then, there is “life” itself, that requires us to make some decisions about our life, whether it’s deciding between studying or working, the type or studies or work to get into, staying where we grew up or packing up for a new place, looking for stability and security or attempting to explore elsewhere, facing the cost impacts of our choices and deciding between debts or a change in lifestyle…

None of the above are specifically related to STEM industries – instead, these questions, inspirations and life events are what guide us to create our own path because there isn’t one readily opened in front of us, whether it’s towards an industry where we’re part of a minority or not! In my opinion, the key is not to try to be different, but to do what we can, and dare, to have the life we want! And that includes not considering what others think we should do.

Now, would it be easier to follow our own path if we had role models already doing something similar? Most probably, YES! Personally, I’d have loved to be able to discuss my situation, the options available and ways forward with someone “ahead of me” and with a very similar profile. Instead, I have to “content” myself with speaking to others who have “something” that interested me (position, experiences, personality traits…), whether these people are partly like me or not at all…

Yes, not having an “example” to follow makes it more difficult to progress and can lead to more struggles when in difficult situations or when feeling that some changes are needed. But, at same time, I believe it forces us to think about what we really want, what our priorities and our “Values” really are, and what “Success” really mean to us – and to attach less, or no importance to what others think we should do…

So, does pursuing our own path without role models makes us “trailblazers”?

I consider that I’ve been following my own path, with no role models but many inspirations along the way – but I certainly don’t see myself as a “trailblazer”, nor as a “groundbreaker” nor a “pioneer”… Why? Because I believe I could have done more, better, reached for higher visions and goals… And because I’ve wondered more than once whether I was actually following the right path for me… But, despite these questions and doubts, I still try to do things “my way” and to follow my own path…

What do you think?