What Women Want

Dec 03, 2001

No, I’m not talking about the Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt flick, although it was pretty funny. I am referring to what women working in design and environmental firms want out of their work environments. I think this needs to be discussed because the data still clearly show a dearth of women in the upper management ranks for firms in this industry. And anecdotally, I can tell you that many of the women I talk to don’t feel that all is well with their employment situations. I did some informal research with women I know, young and middle-aged alike, before tackling this issue. Here’s some of what I learned women really want out of their design or environmental firm’s workplace: Freedom from sexist comments. Let’s face it, there are still people who, although they should know better, make inappropriate comments to female co-workers. If you have someone like this in your firm, rein him in. He’s going to get you in trouble. Women talk to each other at work (as do men). And while many just disregard inappropriate remarks, not all do. Truly equal opportunity. This means that women are given the opportunity to go on travel assignments just like their male counterparts are. Equal opportunity means that women can become shareholders in the firm, and it’s not just a “gentleman’s club” at the top. It also means that women have an equal shot at management jobs, and the fact that men will report to them is not seen as a problem. Female mentors. It’s hard to have female mentors for the younger women in the workplace if you don’t have equal opportunity. But good role models are so critical to the process of adjusting from a school environment to a work environment, and there just aren’t enough of them. Take a look at our latest Principal’s Survey of A/E/P & Environmental Consulting Firms, and you will no doubt see that women are far less represented in the principal ranks than they are in the overall firm ranks. So if you are a young woman in the workplace, who do you want to be like? Recognition and acknowledgement. Everyone, male and female alike, needs to have their good work noticed. But if the firm is set up in such a way that the all-male principals and project managers are like gods, the team members who are not yet there aren’t likely to get the recognition they deserve. This will drive away the best young women who won’t wait around long enough to get into the queue for the top jobs. The firm will keep pumping in talent at the bottom, but will not hold onto them long enough to promote them. Flexibility. Again, I can’t say flexibility is a need exclusive to women, particularly those with children. My belief is that in the 2000s, with information technology being as good as it is, flexibility about when and where someone works will become one of the most critical factors in job satisfaction. The fact is, flexibility is the key for working women who do have kids in a society that traditionally places much of the child-rearing obligation on the mother. I was talking with a woman friend of mine who is a principal in a leading firm, and the loyalty she feels for her company stems directly from the flexibility they have given her over the years to meet all of her responsibilities on a schedule she can manage. There were a couple of other things that came up, too, ranging from properly equipped ladies’ rooms to well-lit parking lots. So if you aren’t happy with the progression of women in your firm, maybe it’s time you took at look at how you’re doing things. Maybe you could gain a competitive advantage for your firm by addressing the needs of the women in your workplace. Originally published 12/03/2001.

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