To shape policy, women must be ‘in the room where it happens’

We need more women in positions of influence to shift construction’s gender balance. By Virginia Borkoski
Boardroom. Image: Dreamstime
Image: Dreamstime

Just 9%. That is still the percentage of women working in all roles in the US construction industry. This statistic has remained steady for years now. As a woman with over 30 years’ experience in the construction industry, now in an executive leadership role, I continuously ask myself, and am asked by others, one simple question: Why?

One question I have in response: Are we in ‘the room where it happens’? If you know the Hamilton song, you will also know that it is an elitist mystery, as to what actually happens, ‘in the room where it happens’. 

To be able to shape policy and have a voice, a strong voice, women need to be in that room. Power influence, respect, confidence, alliances, politics and strategy all emanate from here. Plans are made, deals are struck, relationships forged, negotiations conducted. When women are in the room, we can and must influence a shift in policies and attitudes that can raise that 9% statistic.

Whether it is a boardroom for a public company, a not-for-profit organisation, a senior leadership conference room, a partners’ dinner or an executive Zoom call – if women are not in the room, we are easily forgotten. Research tells us that unconscious and implicit bias have significant exclusionary effects on women’s potential for advancing in the consistently male-dominated industry. 

“How do women get into these ‘rooms’? Through perseverance. Being proactive. Confidence. Experience. Having a champion”

All of us recognise ‘replicative hiring and selection’, and even when proactive policies are instituted to improve diversity, most companies still either consciously or unconsciously look for similar cultural, personality, background and values traits, perpetuating hiring ‘in our own image’. 

How do women get into these ‘rooms’? Through perseverance. Being proactive. Confidence. Experience. Having a champion. And yes, some luck. And what happens when you finally find yourself ‘in the room’?

The bar is set high for the small percentage of women that make it, requiring a balance of setting the example while setting the stage. Bringing others with us in spirit who have not yet arrived. Understanding the responsibility to influence hearts and minds. Reaching up with one hand, while reaching back to raise others up. Championing women’s advancement. Making space and opening doors – especially those that lead to ‘the room where it happens’. 

Virginia Borkoski FCIOB is program executive at New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a trustee of the CIOB.

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