On August 9-12, 2023, I attend my first National Association of Women in Construction (“NAWIC”) National Conference in beautiful Portland, Oregon. What is NAWIC, you ask? NAWIC originated as Women in Construction of Fort Worth, Texas and was founded in 1953 by sixteen women in the construction industry. Knowing that back then women only represented a fraction of the construction industry, the founders organized to create a support network for women to work in a male dominated field. The organization has grown by leaps and bounds and now consists of 115 chapters throughout the United States.
NAWIC’s core purpose is to “Strengthen and amplify the success of women in the construction industry”.
I joined this organization in December of 2022 at the suggestion of my law partner Jason Feld. Before Jason’s suggestion I had never heard of NAWIC. I joined the Orange County chapter and attended my first meeting in December and did not look back. In NAWIC I found a group of women kindred spirits in whom a found a commonality of interests, experiences, and goals. This is an organization that provides support, encouragement, education, and advocacy for women in all aspects of the construction industry. It also provides an outlet to share ideas, network and build relationships. I am happy to report that on September 12, 2023, I will be installed as one of the directors of the Orange County Chapter.
Although my profession does not require me to literally swing a hammer, for the last 27 years of my career I have worked in the construction industry and have represented general contractors, developers, and subcontractors in pre-litigation and litigation matters and I am the chair of the construction defect practice group at my law firm. The practice of law like the construction industry is still a male dominated profession (yes folks still today sometimes I am the only woman in the room – perhaps in other areas of law that is not the case). I find when speaking and listening to my fellow NAWIC members that their experiences as engineers, technicians, estimators, managers, carpenters, electricians, contractors, and subcontractors are not very different from mine. We have all experienced at one time or another different treatment from how our male counterparts are treated simply because of our gender. Although great strides and changes have been made both in the construction industry and legal profession in the last 70 years to make both industries more inclusive to women and minorities, more change is needed and it is through organizations such as NAWIC and its members that these industries will grow to be more inclusive and accepting of women and all minorities.
But back to the National Conference. . . . As a first time attendee, I did not know what to expect but attended with an open mind. I am happy to report that my expectations were exceeded! I found that the speakers and presenters were extremely intelligent, articulate and provided content that was useful for women (and really all persons) of all ages, backgrounds, education, titles, and stages in their career. From my perspective and based on the presentations that I attended, the major themes that I came away with are as follows:
- DO WHAT YOU LOVE (OR AT LEAST LIKE)
We spend more time at work and with our co-workers than at home with our loved ones. If we can find work that we enjoy and people that we enjoy working with, our work and home life will be richer. We do not have to love everyone we with work with all the time and we do not have to love every single day of work. After all, working in the legal or construction industries can be challenging and stressful. The goal, however, is to surround ourselves to the extent possible with people that we respect and who respect us in return. There will be good days and there will be bad days. Let’s have more good days than bad ones!
2. THERE ARE MANY SEATS AT THE TABLE
There are many seats at the table. We need to support and celebrate those who got a seat at the table before us and who paved the way for us. We in turn are tasked with paving the way for those that come after us. We do not have to all blaze our own trail and reinvent the wheel every time. Isn’t better for us to follow the trail that has already been established by others and make it wider?
Everyone has a different journey. Everyone has their own ladder to climb. Some people may get to the top faster but that does not make our journey less valuable and impactful. Climb your own ladder and be happy for those as they climb theirs. Women specially need to celebrate and encourage the successes of other women as their success benefits us all. Encourage, assist, and support other women in their ladder climb. Their success takes nothing away from yours.
If the first woman attorney to be admitted to practice law had said: “Yeah! I made it! Now please do not admit any more women”, I would not be here today. I am here because of the sacrifices and challenges that other women faced and I am grateful for them. I in turn hope that I can inspire and support other women to enter the legal profession and construction industry.
In case you were wondering which of course why would you not, the First Female Lawyer in California was Clara S. Foltz who passed a three-hour oral exam on September 4, 1878, to become California’s first female lawyer. Thank you Clara!
3. HAVE A PLAN
Determine what you want and what you need to do to achieve it. Hard work will only get you so far and for a lot of women and minorities hard work is often not enough. Goal setting and strategic planning is key to achieving any goal in our professional and personal lives.
4. PEOPLE CANNOT READ YOUR MIND
If you want something speak up. People cannot read your mind. Do not assume that your professional wishes and desires will be magically known to your superiors, supervisors, mentors, managers, or bosses. If you want a promotion, a different position, more training in a particular field, more responsibility, less responsibility, tell someone at your company about it and ask them for assistant, support, and direction on how to achieve it. If they cannot assist you ask them to refer you to someone that can. Often, we sit back and assume that others know our heart’s desire or should know our heart’s desire and when we don’t get what we want we tend to blame others for not valuing our efforts.
5. BE AUTHENTIC, VULNERABLE AND CREATE YOUR OWN BRAND
Observe and learn from others but eventually you are unique and need to develop your own style and your own brand. What do you want to be known for? Does your behavior, work product, actions reflect the brand you are trying to create and portray? Be genuine in your interactions with others. Be open to constructive criticism. Highlight your accomplishments. Often women and minorities are taught to shrink themselves and are told that highlighting their accomplishments is “bragging” and not polite. Let your light shine and toot your own horn! If you don’t do it who will!
In summary I am thankful for those women that came before me. I am looking forward to continuing my journey as a woman practicing law in the area of construction and hope to support and inspire others. I look forward to my tenure as a director of the NAWIC Orange County Chapter and look forward to next year’s conference in Houston!