How can you successfully integrate female employees with the manly men on your crew?

Last month, I showed you techniques for maintaining a proud and productive female workforce. Those techniques were not just for the ladies. You should keep my cost vs. results decision-making formula in mind with each and every situation. This month, I'll use a familiar analogy to further emphasize the importance of a positive workplace for women and all your employees.

I suggest your foreman and jobsite supervisors assume a high school football coach's mentality to train, mentor and determine exactly which position each crewmember can fill. Why? A coach will extend every effort to help his team succeed, which satisfies his primary goal - a winning season.

You must rely on two critical personality characteristics: WILLING and ABLE to do the work. If your employee (male or female) is not both willing and able, your efforts will be in vain.

Those who were involved in high school football realize that coaches do not dictate which player plays in which position. They train them! In this training, each individual who is willing soon determines if he is able. Coaches find many players who can fill multiple positions as well as those who can fill only one. They also determine the first-, second-, and third-string based on each individual's physical size, God-given ability, and his personal ambition and effort. You can see how this very same coaching philosophy will help you build and maintain a profitable and winning male and female construction team.

It is very easy for any foreman to prove that a female cannot "cut it" if that is his objective. But by using the following suggestions, I hope you will find a willing coach who is able to prove that a new, female employee can be a first-string player on your winning team.


First, assign a compatible mentor to orient, train and counsel every new employee on negative peer pressure, or "man's work" chauvinism. A Gold retiree or semi-retired craftsman, foreman, or contractor is especially effective for just such counseling.

Once the team is unified, begin matching the job to the individual. A football coach places a slower, heavy player in the center of the line, while the faster and generally lighter-weight players usually become ends, running backs, defensive line backers and safeties.

Our jobs require physically strong individuals to lift and carry heavy pipe, fittings and equipment. We also need employees who can handle and climb ladders, scaffolding, scissor lifts, snorkels and man lifts. We can use light-duty employees to do welding, program your plasma cutter, pre-fab bench work, rough-ins, layout, trim work and start-ups. Those of you who do your own excavating can also use a light-duty individual to operate any of your equipment. We've always called this "putting square pegs in square holes and round pegs in round holes."

You also need to pre-train and pre-certify each employee for the task you want them to perform. When one of your foreman leans on that worn-out excuse that "she doesn't know how," you simply need to respond, "Why didn't you show her how?"

You can use critical path man-days schedules to predict your specific skill needs far enough in advance to provide ample lead time for proper training. This pre-certification for one specific task can be accomplished on the job after quitting time or in the morning before starting time. You may also have access to vocational or apprenticeship hands-on training facilities. Regardless of where or when you teach a task, you should always include in your training, the following elements:

  • Tell them. Explain what you want done, how to do it, and why. You must also explain that a craftsman never improves on his quality; He must begin with quality workmanship and then improve on speed.

  • Show them. Do it yourself, or have someone else do it and let them watch.

  • Help them. Hand over the tools and the plans from the instructor and help them do it themselves. This is called role reversal, which is where the learning actually happens.

  • Watch them. At least one time, watch them do it alone. Now you can certify them in your skill inventory and no one can say "they don't know how!"

Going along with training is providing the proper tools. Make sure they are sharp and in working condition and demonstrate how to use them safely.

Motivate and measure your team. Help them produce a good day's work and remember, Coach, keep score! Anyone who wants to be good wants to be measured - and they want that score to be reflected in their paycheck.

You also need to measure and keep score of your foremen's orientation, training, motivation, discipline and promotion record of newly hired, male and female employees.

Color-track and date each day's productivity on your jobsite plans and specs. Help each new employee to color what they actually saw and did in three dimension off the plot plan, floor plan, elevations, sections and specifications. This creates very positive one-on-one communication along with teaching them how to read your blueprints. You can do this each morning, during lunch break or after work, whichever is most convenient.

Don't hide the playbook from your employees. Let them do all of the jobsite paperwork. In addition to relieving your foreman of a tedious and undesirable, although very important, responsibility, you again create that valuable one-on-one communication. Your new employee will need to learn and understand all of your documentation in order to advance to supervision. Most of our younger employees are already quite advanced in today's computer skills.

To help instill pride in the team and pride in work, furnish attractive, professional-looking uniforms to enhance your company's image and prevent any possibility of inappropriate attire by male or female employees.

Preventing Fumbles

Openly discuss sexual harassment with everyone on your management team and with each individual employee. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Court battles involve lost time and dollars, and create a very negative roadblock to contractors using females on their jobsites.

You can negotiate a partnering agreement with each female employee to provide an effective grievance procedure to immediately resolve any negative situation. She simply agrees to report to you, her mentor or your human relations director whenever anything unpleasant occurs.

Even with written agreements, though, there is always a possibility of an unpleasant jobsite situation. If you should sense a potential problem, or are fortunate enough to have your employee relate it to you, you have several options:

  • Meet privately with each individual involved and discuss the problem, along with feasible solutions.

  • Separate quarreling individuals. You may be able to put them on different jobsites, or assign them to work closely with a different foreman or in a different crew.

  • There is safety in numbers. As much as possible, try to have at least two ladies working together or as part of a crew.

  • Closely monitor employee behavior to ensure that no form of harassment can exist.

But most of all, as a coach, make it fun! By maintaining a "happy camper" atmosphere on your jobsite, you will definitely enjoy more productivity and find the other trades to be more cooperative.

Your female employees (and male also) probably face unfair hardships and disappointments in their personal and social lives. Your foreman's friendly smile, warm greetings each morning, a thank you for a job well done and helpful counseling will cost you absolutely nothing, yet it will help your team make it through the daily "drills" a jobsite demands. With such little effort, you can make your employees proud to come to work, and anxious to bring in their friends.

I hope these time-tested tricks of the trade will help you attract and maintain a proud and productive workforce, both female and male. Next month, I'll discuss where and how to find and recruit enough "willing and able" females to offset your labor shortage crisis and build a profitable winning team.