Inspiring women, exceeding expectation

LAST month, I attended the Women mean Business event organised by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce. I came in thinking it was such a great topic, women in business, especially in a city organised around a male –dominated industry.

I have to admit when I saw the sector highlighted was Construction, I was slightly worried we would be presented with “alpha-women”, women who had made it in a man’s world by behaving like the men - who not everyone in the audience could relate to. Or perhaps the whole audience was going to be made of these characters and I would have to sneak out at the earliest opportunity?

The first presenter introduced herself. She explained how, after being pushed into studying literature with a view of teaching it, she broke free from the mould and pursued her passion for building. Being constantly asked if she was an engineer or an architect, she always answered “I am a builder”. She explained the importance of storytelling for inducing change, telling us the story of this bridge in London which was built entirely by women during WWII (the men being busy fighting) and her campaigning for making women in construction visible and successful.

She asked the audience to think of something fantastic they had achieved in the past 3 months, something we were proud of, and to raise their hands and share it with us. She spoke of the importance for women of helping each other out and of the fact that the corporate ladder is far from being the only way to the top of her profession, the most successful women having in fact set up and grown their own businesses.

The second speaker came from a background of social sciences and had an early career as a social worker before moving on to construction. She became passionate about how well designed buildings can positively affect people’s lives (something I never gave much thought about but am now convinced of) and talked about her various projects.

What struck me was her slide dedicated to the 3 women who made a difference in her life: her 3 role models. One of them was a teacher and a single mum who fought for tenants’ rights. Another was the CEO of a construction business who she worked with and who always gave her advice and coaching everytime she went for a new job or project, sometimes over Skype. Incidentally, this CEO worked part-time and had two children.

If I was to summarize what I took away from this event, it would be to forget about our biases, you can be a woman, act like a woman, have a family life (like our first speaker who had 3 children), be a part-timer, have your own business - or not, and have a tremendously successful career and a lot of influence in a male-dominated sector or in fact any sector. It is essential for women to support and celebrate one another.