I was delighted to be asked to be a part of a panel at this years Women in Construction Summit held in Dubai. The topic at hand was Gender Diversity in the industry; and wow is that a hot topic right now!

Even after over a decade of design presentations in front of some pretty scary people, I still don’t feel at ease speaking in public. This panel was a group of fellow industry professionals having a casual, off the cuff chat about the topic as it flows……. and let me tell you; I don’t do off the cuff! I have to write down my takeout order before I place the call, I mean what if I forget something!

It’s the day before the summit and I have to travel to Kuwait for a work commitment; so I think, great! I will have the flight to prepare. I made some notes despite having to contend with sitting next to a screaming new born baby that had kindly projectile vomitted in my direction, but how could I be angry with a new born baby, I mean I’m not a monster!

It was the first panel of the day to kick off the summit which was good as it gave me less time to get whipped up into a anxious frenzy about it. I just kept telling myself “just go with it, you have the knowledge, just think of it as a casual chat with friends”….nevertheless the nerves kicked in. The summit opening speech was underway and I was having my mic fitted; which I like to call “getting my Madonna on!” (or Britney I guess!) and I zone out until I hear my name……Gulp, this is it, go time!

The Panel

Just don’t trip up the steps or say anything stupid; I manage to get to my seat without falling flat on my face; so far so good. I settle into my seat as the other panelists are announced and I was repeating my confidence mantras over and over in my head while smiling at the audience thinking…. Please be nice!
Right, just get a grip, smile and relax, you’ve done this before, there are no wrong answers; well unless you say something that really upsets the audience then you are going to have 300 angry women on your hands!

The mediator begins and some how, just like that the nerves melt away and I am finally in my zone. Oh hello confidence, nice of you to finally make an appearance, where the hell have you been hiding for the past 3 hours!
We covered many discussion points; women in leadership and how companies need to be more flexible to deal with the social pressures women face, especially in this region and the importance of positive career role models and mentors.

Unfortunately my Madonna mic didn’t work!

One point I covered was my thoughts on the recruitment process, so starting at the very beginning. Now, I realise that this is a regional thing but in this part of the world you are expected to include a photo on your CV. However that is not the only thing that bugs me about CVs; an employer receives a CV looks at the photo and this gives the opportunity for them to make immediate assumptions about you. You are not smiling enough “oh she looks tough, she won’t fit with the team” or are you smiling too much “oh she doesn’t look like she will take things seriously enough”. Then it’s on to the personal information; date of birth, “oh she is too young she can’t possibly have the skills we need” or “hhmmmm, mid-thirties” (we a know where they are going with that one!). Next marital status, now what can this possibly have to do with your ability to perform your role, basically they go back to the date of birth and see “oh mid-thirties, married, and there’s again the immediate assumption that either you will have children or you will soon want children. You are unfortunately then considered what some companies shockingly refer to as “a bad asset” (I am getting angry just typing this, not sure the keyboard will survive!) Basically marital status should be changed to “commitment” as ultimately all they want to know is how much of your life you can give to them.

So before the employer has even got to the part of your CV that mentions your skills, abilities and experience (if they get past the personal information) they have already made several assumptions about you. Now, most employers will want to know this information or it will be required on an online application but if you are submitting a CV I always open with a personal statement that highlights my key skills and abilities before the decision is made if I am the right fit.

In my opinion (and I am not saying my opinion is right) before a real change can happen, a shift in mindset is needed about the way women and men are perceived differently in the professional environment. Yes as a women in a leadership position I am empathetic and understanding but when it comes to it, I can also be assertive and stand my ground. The issue is the difference in how this is perceived;

Loud and aggressive = powerful and assertive

Women Loud and aggressive = angry bitch (I have been called far worse, Hitler was one of my personal favourites!)

This perception is also quite often how women see other women in the workplace too, (yes we are guilty of this!) there can sometimes be a level of threat, competition or one up-man ship and I never forget a quote that I read recently that really stuck with me “Supporting another women’s success, won’t make yours any less”. This is so true and let’s not forget that no one defines what success is, this is all down to how we perceive success; and I am not talking “movie success” where the women manages a high power job, has a amazing home (that is always immaculate) takes care of 3 kids, and somehow still prepares a gourmet meal, all the while with perfect make up and not a hair out of place…..let’s face it that shit is only in the movies! Success for me is getting through the day without spilling coffee down my white top and if I can achieve that in a day then I am pretty chuffed with myself!

The event was a huge success, full of insightful key note presentations that were truly inspirational, it really was great to see so many professional women all come together to support and motivate each other and share experiences.
Let’s hope they invite me back next year!

Phew I did it!

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