Sep. 7, 2021 - Reflecting on some of my Privileges

I’m a Woman in Construction – Reflecting on some of my Privileges

The construction industry is well known for being a male-dominated industry, with still a low percentage of gender diversity – although the percentages vary widely depending on the type of work, the management level, and the countries. However, I believe that many of us who are part of the gender minority have careers in the construction industry that we, overall, enjoy. In this article, I’d like to start to reflect on what I see as some of my privileges that have allowed me to have such career – and I acknowledge that not everyone has the same opinion than me…

Privilege: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor

I’ll admit that I didn’t think much about my privileges until 2020, following the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on specific groups of people, and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the news. But some of the discussions that then took place led me to me think about the privileges that very probably facilitated my evolution in the construction industry, and how others may find it more difficult to have a fulfilling career in that same industry. This is a personal account, one that may inspire others to reflect on their own privileges and, why not, help us be more inclusive of those that are different from us.

Here are the 13 privileges that came to my mind when thinking about writing this article. I’m aware that I very probably have many more: some that will come to mind at a later stage, and others that I’m unfortunately not aware of…

  1. Being a white woman in Europe and North America is certainly one of my biggest privileges, as it makes me part of the “majority” population in these countries.
  2. Being from Western Europe also brings many advantages such as stable governments, substantial social assistance availability, access to education, substantial legal equality between genders (although far from perfect and not always easily enforceable), limited restrictions to enter other countries.
  3. Being fully able-bodied, and therefore not having to worry about accessing any places, hearing what is being said, being able to easily communicate with others, etc.
  4. Growing up and always living in a safe and secured environment, in my home(s), places of education and work, while driving.
  5. Having access to a fairly broad education that included key topics such as French (my native tongue) and mathematics, but also a wider range of topics covering geography, history, physical and biological sciences, other languages, even a brief introduction to philosophy – all of which gave me a basis of general knowledge and culture, learning to think for myself and opening my mind to other worlds. But I recognize that some of the teachings, such as history, are biased toward a point of view that doesn’t fully reflect what actually happened.
  6. Having access to a wide range of literature (at a very low cost thanks to public libraries), which provided me with many examples, real or not, of women and men going for what they were interested in, building up their own path, even if outside of social norms.
  7. Growing up with little social constraints in my close social circle: no family tradition nor profession to follow, no expectation nor restriction on what children ought to like based on their gender… but mostly a “blank slate” to follow my own path.
  8. Having the right, and being able, to decide of my own future, such as electing to study construction technologies based on subjects I liked and was quite good at, length of studies before getting a qualification, and job opportunities in that industry.
  9. Being the 1st generation in my family to have access to higher education thanks to grants provided by the country, which allowed me to go to university at a very low cost, and without having to have a side job.
  10. Having access to all field of studies, without gender restriction - even if there was a lack of gender diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields amongst applicants.
  11. Believing that my generation of women had equal opportunities to men, thanks to the work of the previous generations of women who opened the path for us, from legal rights to entering more traditionally male-dominated industries and positions.
  12. Being a citizen of an E.U. country, which gave me access to an international education and many other international students, again at relatively low cost thanks to grants. This also gave me access to international experiences without having to deal with administrative restrictions.
  13. Being able to move to Canada with a permanent employment contract in hand thanks to my education, experiences and languages skills, all gained with the help of the above “privileges”.

Of course, this “reflection” is only the beginning, and I recognize that I still have a long way to go to better realize, and appreciate, my privileges; and to understand that others, with different backgrounds, can have very different perspectives to mine.

And I’m wondering how we could use our diverse privileges to make the construction industry a more diverse place – and therefore a more efficient, modern and profitable industry.