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Survey: Sponsorship, not mentorship, the answer to advancing women in construction

Angela Gismondi
Survey: Sponsorship, not mentorship, the answer to advancing women in construction

What women really need in order to advance in the construction industry is sponsorship, not mentorship, a new study finds.

Building Better: A Women in Construction Study is a collaboration between Ambition Theory and the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

About 770 women from across Canada and the U.S. completed the survey which provides “a comprehensive view of women’s experiences across the industry.”

“Mentorship is really about advice and preparation and sponsorship is about opportunity and exposure,” explained Andrea Janzen of Ambition Theory, which provides leadership training and professional coaching for women in construction. “Mentorship is when you ask that senior person, ‘Can I have some advice?

“How did you get to where you are? What should I be learning?’ And the sponsor will be like, ‘you should read this book, you should learn this skill’ and then at the end of the day it’s up to the mentee, that junior person to be like ‘OK, I gotta go find the opportunity.’”

While mentorship is important, it has not been successful in accelerating women into leadership positions, the report states.

Sponsorship is different, Janzen said, but women receive sponsorship only half as often as they receive mentorship. The survey results confirmed women are aware of the need for sponsorship and a lack of exposure and opportunities is holding them back.

“It’s like someone bringing you along to that meeting, someone advocating for you to go on a bigger project when you are not in the room,” Janzen said.

“The interesting thing about it is that we call it all mentorship. It’s part of the culture of how people advance, but men are typically sponsored so they are given that opportunity. Women are typically mentored.

“Women are encouraged to prepare for the next opportunity. Men are thrown in and they get to learn as they go. They have the person that put them in that position that kind of has their back and makes sure that they succeed.”

About 76 per cent of women reported they understand what it takes to advance in their careers.

“A solution to advance women is a mindset shift from preparing the woman for the opportunity to throwing her into that situation and ensuring her success,” Janzen noted. “We’ve been doing a lot of speaking engagements around it…the biggest ‘aha’ moment for people is this shift from mentorship to sponsorship.”

According to the report, when asked what type of support they need to help them advance their careers, women said they wanted to “be invited to the same meetings that their male counterparts attend, expressed a desire for more opportunities to do bigger work and wanted to be trusted to handle more complex projects.”

“Women are expected to know how to use every piece of machinery, do every job, know every aspect of the project before they are promoted to that next level but that is not usually the requirement for men,” Janzen said. “When will women have the opportunity to lean into their strengths instead of trying to learn every single technical skill before you can advance?”

According to the survey, the number one thing women said they want in a job is work-life balance.

“(If) it’s a snow day and my kids can’t go to school, feeling like there is a process for that and not feeling judged or like you’re going to be reprimanded for doing that,” Janzen stated.

When asked how do you decide what job you want to take, women with less than one year of experience said money and for women with more than one year of experience it was a clear path to advancement.

“So money gets people in the door but if you want to retain women it’s about what is that career path and how do we get there,” Janzen said.

“We asked women do you want to be in a leadership position at some point in your career and 88 per cent of them said they wanted to or they already were in a leadership position.

“The reason they would take a job is they want to see that clear path to advancement but then when we asked people how often have you had a woman manager or supervisor…72 per cent said they never or rarely had had a woman supervisor or manager. Women want to be in leadership positions, they want to see that clear path to advancement but they’re just not there.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.

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