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GWIC and the Journey of Allyship, a Reflection

By Georgia Bergers on September, 9 2020
HammerTech | GWIC

My personal mantra is to advocate for and create access opportunities for underrepresented people and businesses in every role I take on.

I didn’t always think this way.

Particularly when it came to the acknowledging the challenges of being a women in construction.

Fortunately, the first 10 years of my career as a project manager were a really positive and affirmative experience. In many ways, I was protected by allies who worked hard to create an inclusive workplace and provided challenging opportunities to foster my growth. I recall being asked what I thought of a women’s initiatives that was launched at a previous workplace and I responded with “I don’t understand why we are just focusing on women?”.

For the most part, I still stand by what I said. But as I’ve become bolder, I have begun to meet a new resistance for ideas considered to be unpopular by groups and leaders. I have begun to understand the value of a peer network of women who think like me and can be role models for the leader I want to become. The value of women’s networks, like those brokered through events like GWIC help us find inspiration to persist.

At HammerTech and through my work with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), I wear a few hats. I’ve been called a Swiss army knife, another thing I’ve fondly embraced. Firstly, with my field marketing hat on, GWIC was an opportunity to deep dive into the mode of virtual conferences and there are a number of in’s and outs to share around how best to navigate a virtual conference and network.

Secondly, with my partnership and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) hat on, it’s no secret that underrepresented people and organizations hold one of the keys to the industry of tomorrow. There isn’t enough that can be done to echo the learnings from GWIC so I’m going to share some of the biggest takeaways and set a challenge for people on their journey to allyship.

 

A promise delivered.

GWIC delivered on its promise to explore the state of play for women in the construction industry. Without understanding the issues here, we would have missed out on the opportunity to learn from women who hold the keys to the industry of tomorrow.

While I now work in construction technology, I came from the field and have missed being among peers (women) who are like me and “just get it” (urgh COVID!). Particularly those in the field, who are a huge source of inspiration to me – and a reason I moved into the safety space.

This was my first fully virtual conference and my apprehensions about the value of going virtual were quickly squashed when I started to connect in the various roundtables and networking sessions. I will say, it is tough managing your workload and the conference and this was shared by many. It’s not like the good old days when your out-of-office gives you the space needed to immerse yourself. This said – the upside is reduced time and cost commitment.

This is great for those with family commitments and rising stars who need more accessible pricing to convince their leadership. Be prepared by managing expectations with your team and leadership to give yourself the opportunity to create space to learn and connect. I hope to see hybrid versions emerge in the future.

 

Networking – it’s a challenge!

Be open to having ‘virtual coffee’s’ outside of the conference agenda. The upside is that you can contact the exact people you’d like to connect with. Sure, it takes out some of the joy of the happenstance chats. But, seeing the attendee list in advance is great for business development and professional growth. Most virtual conferences have a platform with direct message capability or, use LinkedIn (which was much more successful for me). A big THANK-YOU to all who took a chance and connected with me outside of the sessions.

 

Personal Favorite Panels Discussions:

GWIC1

 

The Director’s Chair: Why Women’s Board Voices Matter

As someone who has recently become a part of a board, I wish I’d received this advice! Voluntary leadership experience is a valuable skill to bring back to your organization and help your career development. I have always been a big believer in having personal-professional hustles. It’s often not possible for your organization to provide you with the leadership opportunities you need to grow – so often, you have to bolster your growth by finding them elsewhere.

Key takeaways for me:

  • Learn what boards do & read their proxy statements – there are great courses out there on this (LinkedIn, Coursera etc.)
  • Know your niche – what can your perspective and skills offer an organization you wish to work with?
  • Let you network know you’re looking for a board position & ASK for opportunities.
  • Build relationships with existing board members of organizations you aspire to work with

Thank-you to: Moderator - Kristina Veaco, Founder and CEO, Veaco Group; Karen Colonias, CEO, Simpson Strong-Tie and Simpson Manufacturing; Danielle Dy Buncio, Co-Founder & CEO, VIATechnik; Director, Ryan Cos. and J.F. Brennan; Margaret Foran, Chief Governance Officer, Sr. Vice President and Corporate Secretary, Prudential Financial Inc.; Jacqueline Hinman, former Chair & CEO, CH2M

 

More than a Diversity Goal: Black Women in Construction

 

GWIC2

 

A hearty thank-you to this panel of accomplished women who shared their experiences and gave us homework.

Relationships, relationships, relationships was a big takeaway for me.

If my network of suppliers and industry folk is not diverse, how could I know what the issues are and help to create fitting opportunities?

It’s on all of us construction professionals to be intentional and seek out opportunities to create diversity and inclusive cultures – no matter your role. It’s like safety, it’s our responsibly to apply the processes and practice. It’s not up to safety managers to make sites safe nor is it solely with diversity and inclusion leaders to create change.

Thank you to: Stephanie Burns, Vice President, Head of Community & Citizenship NYC, Turner Construction Co.; President, Women Builders Council; Sharon Coleman, Owner & President, Coleman Construction Inc.
Cheryl McKissack Daniel, President & CEO, McKissack; Audrey-Jane Morgan, Employment Coordinator, Nontraditional Employment for Women NYC (NEW); Gloria Samuel, Vice President, Retail Construction, Fifth Third Bank

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is intelligent business. It is imperative for a thriving construction industry. Without it, your business will become irrelevant. So, with that firmly on the table, from the perspective of an being an ally, here is my challenge to you:

  • Actively diversify of your network – build relationships with black and underrepresented people and businesses and find ways to mentor and sponsor. Connect with your local trade unions or even some of these incredible women mentioned earlier.
  • Being an Ally – find people who can be in the room on your behalf when you can’t and be that person for others who need access to opportunities. Whether its training, career growth, new business etc., find people who know you and your business well enough means they can advocate for and persuade people on the importance of having you and or your business at the table.
  • Allies of women, ahem, men, I’m calling it. GWIC is an event for you! DEI leaders I’ve spoken with have emphasized that while training is important for addressing bias issues, training is really a standard setting tool. It is relationships and experiences that are most powerful for creating change. GWIC provides an excellent ground for this.

 

 

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- May 30, 2019

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