Being a safety advisor in the construction industry isn’t hard enough without having to add you’re a female. A young female at that. This was the difficulty I had to address very fast in an industry which could swallow you up as fast as you could say ‘Im a safety advisor, get me outta here’.
I faced many a challenge, challenges before I even got to enter a site. Seeing me with my long hair and small frame, people assumed I could easily get lost in the industry. And many a day I would be lost. The looks, the laughs behind their words when they answered my questions, the eye rolls, the ‘what would you know, I’ve been in this industry for years’.
Luckily for me, I don’t give up. I also had and have an amazing team who supported and guided me through the difficult day to day dealings. Steve Crockett became my mentor, whether he liked it or not, that what he was and still is. Finding a team member who you feel comfortable with and easy to approach, is a god sent in an industry as tough as construction. Luckily for me, I had Steve to guide me in the right direction with my never ending phone calls.
However, although I had Steve on the end of the phone a number of times a day, he could not help me with the barrier of communicating with the guys. I had to figure that out myself.
The majority of people wouldn’t listen to me at the beginning of my career, how do I get these guys to just listen?
I have always been known to have a quick temper. I quickly realised, in an industry where the culture is ‘what would you know, I have been here years’, my approach was all wrong especially being a female with a hot head. I had to be smarter. When dealing with a difficult situation, people become defensive regardless if they were right or wrong. It is in our human mechanism. We feel threatened, we protect ourselves. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Show respect for the other person’s opinions, never say “you’re wrong”. Understand their way of thinking and why such things happened. Look at the bigger picture before setting a view. The outcome of this will surprise you.
I knew these guys are experts in what they do, so how do I get them to do it another way?
Simple!! They’ve got to want to do it. How do you get someone to want to do it? They have got to see the benefits, otherwise it’s lost. Steve thought me, that if the guys do not want to listen to me, as a female, then I need communicate with them in a way that influences their decisions in the workplace. Be smart in my approach, implant what needs to happen in their minds and let them come up with the ideas and take ownership of it. This has worked effectively on all my Projects to date.
I still face my challenges but I believe with the correct approach and being smarter in our communication with people, we can overcome any challenge.
Oh Catriona, this story couldn't resonate with us more! I know for me when I read it, there were so many parts of my own journey similar to your's. It is also a big part why I started Women in Safety - to connect us all and to find people with similar stories who want to grow, learn and overcome those challenges. Even if we haven't experienced it directly, we want to support, encourage and lift hose who have. Thank you for sharing your challenge and journey with us!
Women in Safety recognizes the importance mentors play and are in the process of releasing a mentoring program. Get in touch if you are interested.