The Prompt: It’s a man’s world

The Prompt: It's a man's world

It’s a man’s world

As a woman who worked in the construction industry for almost twenty years this is a phrase I have heard more times than I care to remember. It by turns irritates, depresses and amuses me.

Irritation at the notion that a job can still be viewed as gender specific. Depression that after twenty years in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) career this attitude is still endemic. Amusement at the ridiculousness of the statement.

I wrote a post a while ago on the topic of Pink is for Girls. For all that I am an engineer and construction professional, I am also a girl. And a girly one at that. But, I don’t believe that the two are mutually exclusive. Nor do I think that they should be.

In as much as we seek to address the very real issue that men still have the upper hand in (some, most?) work environments, we also need to stop belittling women for choosing to be, well, women.

As we work to achieve balance and flexible working; to break down gender stereotypes; to ensure that women aren’t penalised in the workplace for having children; we must also acknowledge that it’s not all bad out there, and applaud those doing great things to change perceptions and shift the reality of working life.

I never, in almost twenty years in the construction industry felt that I was being marginalised for being female (even after having children); maybe I was lucky, but really I was just good at my job and respected as such; and was probably too busy to notice it if it did happen. And, I wore dresses.

I like to bake and craft. I liked designing intelligent building facades. I like to decorate cakes. I liked to be on a construction site overseeing the installation of ductwork. I like to dance around the living room with the kids. I liked to chair meetings and discuss challenges and fix problems.

I don’t mean to sound flippant, because I truly hope that my daughter will grow up in to a world where this debate is no longer necessary; but I have spent twenty years very much being a woman in a man’s world (according to many!). Women don’t need to change, and to be fair I don’t think most men do either; the environment needs to change.

I know that I was lucky. The company I worked for had excellent maternity benefits and genuinely welcomed me back and accepted my request for flexible working. This is still not the case in many workplaces; however it is far too easy to tar all companies (men?) with the same brush, and this is equally unhelpful.

There are many wonderful woman doing amazing things, just as there are many men doing wonderful things. Put simply; we all deserve the opportunity to be the best we can be.

Following the Women’s Voices in the Media debate at BritMums Live, there was quite a heated discussion on the nature and place of feminism. I was slightly surprised at the number of women who said that they were not a feminist. That the negative connotations of the word had become so severe that they were choosing not to associate with it.

While I can understand this, and many of them made very good points about why they choose not to call themselves a feminist; feminism is about equality. And ultimately with equality will come a day when it’s not a man’s world, but everyone’s world.


You can find this weeks #ThePrompt linky here. I do hope this topic inspired you; I look forward to hearing your views.

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18 thoughts on “The Prompt: It’s a man’s world”

  1. PottyMouthedMummy

    I’m glad that you have not experienced any sexism and that you have proudly worn your dresses :) I don’t have a daughter, but I don’t want H growing thinking it’s acceptable to consider a woman any less of a colleague or person because of her sex. My husband’s family are all very “traditional” shall we say, when it comes to what roles men and women should play so I definitely have a battle on my hands. It’s been a really thought provoking prompt this week! x

    1. I know I’ve been lucky, but I’m also quite bloody minded, so I suspect I’ve simply ignored more subtle references! I think that it’s just as important to teach our sons and it is our daughters, it’s the only way true change will ever happen x

  2. I think you’re right, a lot of women don’t like being called feminist anymore because it somehow has elitist connotations on it. I always shy away from it too and always use “equality”. I am lucky in that i work in a very male IT environment but its a good non sexist environment and the benefits for women are really good too. I’d love it if there were more women at the top though. There’s still a bit of a glass ceiling type feeling for mums especially.

    1. At the BritMums debate one of the speakers talked about women self selecting out of the workplace; not just being forced out or not progressing to where they wanted to be, but making a conscious choice that other things were as/more important to them, and I thought that was very interesting. I’m kind of reclaiming the word feminist, it’s all about equality and we shouldn’t be ashamed to call ourselves a feminist, my husband is a feminist if you simply use it in it’s basic meaning!

  3. My dad’s an engineer and he seems to have had quite a few female colleagues.

    Professionally, I think the main bastions to broken down are Finance/banking and IT. My impression is that they still have an active undercurrent of anti-women machoness – if you can’t take the heat etc.

    Good post overall though, really impassioned, and it was great hearing about your successes in a so-called male world.

    1. Thank you Denise x I think you’re right about finance and banking, although my husband works in IT and it doesn’t strike me as being too bad; he certainly has several female colleagues, but perhaps it depends on the particular industry that the IT is associated with?

  4. I always thought of myself as being rubbish at subjects like maths and science and finding them boring. But now I wonder if my school wasn’t subtly pushing the gender roles on as. I was never engaged in those subjects and the teachers weren’t remotely bothered. Maybe if they’d been a bit more passionate about enthusing all their students and not just the very bright ones, or the boys, then things would be different. I only ever found English teachers to be really passionate about their subject.. Back in March Dr Brian Cox spoke of the importance of engineers to – well, everything really – and the fact that there is a worldwide shortage of people going into the career. He wants more women to be engaged and inspired to take this path because he sees women and what we have to offer – beyond all the gender stereotyping, as an untapped resource. Interesting.
    On your point about feminism – I couldn’t agree more. My own husband uses the word with utter disdain (in a half-joking way), often saying “you’re not becoming one of those ‘feminists’ are you?” to which I always reply “you’re not becoming one of those ‘chauvinists’ are you?”. It’s just as Denise described, he doesn’t even realise that there is a social order which gives him the freedom he has, but question that freedom, or suggest a little more balance and he doesn’t like the implication… Hmmm!!! :-) Great Prompt!

    1. That’s interesting, my science teachers were very good, but you’re right that English teachers were more passionate, as were my Art teachers. Engineers really are involved in everything :) I haven’t practiced as a designer for quite a number of years (moved ‘upstream’ into project management?!), but I do still miss the creativity. I always describe engineering as the creative application of science :) I think it’s really sad that the word feminist has become so misused; and Denise’s comments were very insightful indeed.

  5. I have to say I’m really surprised by your experience as my husband and I had an HVAC company back in England and I found it extremely difficult to be taken seriously by others in the industry. Based on your experience I’d like to think I was just unlucky and engineering isn’t a man’s world after all!

    1. I suspect part of my luck was working on the consultancy rather than contracting side of things. I assume that you will have largely dealt with contractors? I think being the consultant on site probably afforded me a certain amount of protection, having said that I was always pleasantly surprised by the guys I dealt with on sites. But, I do recognise that I was perhaps lucky!

  6. This subject intrigues me and always leaves me in despair. Perhaps it is just ignorance that causes the issues and it’s re-education that we need. What still makes me passionately angry is that (to my knowledge) in some jobs, men still get paid more than women for doing exactly the same job (no difference in physical strength needed). Sadly crazy…

    1. There certainly does still seem to be a pay divide; which is so wrong. I think the whole working environment needs to change for their to be any real difference, perhaps our children will make the changes that we need x

  7. As I get older, I feel more and more responsibility, as a female, to challenge any negative attitudes or stereotypes about our gender. I feel it even more so as a mother to two boys. Like by standing up for my gender, I’m also standing up for theirs – because men do have a great deal of power, but they are equally affected by stereotypes and gender associations. They are constantly harrowed to be strong and successful and powerful, which can be equally negative. It’s so great that we can discuss and debate about feminism and gender divisions, because it is so, so important.

    1. I think you are absolutely right, and I think that’s partly what I was trying to say – that it worries me that we automatically ‘blame’ men and that is an awful thing to do. The societal context that we live in has been generated by years of stereotyping and it’s difficult to change, but it’s that context that needs to change and hopefully by discussing it and teaching our children differently, it will change x

  8. You may think you’ve been lucky, but there are many excellent employers out there who recognise the contribution of a motivated, flexible, hard working and loyal workforce. It makes business sense to welcome parents and grant requests for flexible working because it makes a company more balanced, inclusive and therefore successful. I’m so saddened to read some of the posts for this linky – I’d hoped as a country and world, we’d moved on from such divisions :-(

    1. You’re right, it shouldn’t be viewed with such surprise and seen as luck. I haven’t had bad experiences at all, and I’m sad to read of the experiences of others too. Sadly it does seem that we still have a long way to go.

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