#MeToo: Signs of Disrespect

Women are still treated like amateurs in the boys’ construction club—and it’s enraging

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Growing up in the Bronx, my father instilled in me a passion for building that I never grew out of. He encouraged me to hold a hammer instead of a Barbie doll. He gave me Lego sets instead of teddy bears. No tea parties, but he taught me to nail two-by-fours together to build a bunk bed. So it was only natural that I would end up in this business: producing and directing major construction projects and orchestrating project managers, field supers and scores of subcontractors to transform new offices that provide infrastructure for financial, technology, fashion, media and various sectors alike.

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I may have climbed the ladder of success, but to this day, I still feel like a fish out of water. If you think Hollywood or politics are upside down you should try being a woman in the New York City construction industry. Let’s be real, I’m not exactly Salma Hayek, so if a man squeezes my ass on a jobsite, who am I going to tell? I could get mad, kick and scream; but oh, wait, I better be careful not to be considered “emotional” or too aggressive. If someone cancels lunch on me for the sixth time, I have to take it nicely or I’ll be tarred as “difficult.” I have to be better, faster and smarter at what I do and still play by rules that no man in the industry even knows exist. Making my way to the top in this business was like taking a toothpick and breaking through a block wall—almost impossible—but somehow I got it done.

Some people would simply prefer for me to go away. On one, memorable occasion, I presented my company to be considered as a construction manager for one of the largest projects of my career—a large commercial project on multiple floors. It was a long shot and I had my doubts we would get it. But then, the phone rang. It was the owner representative, letting me know that my company had been awarded the project. I was thrilled! But in his next breath, instead of congratulating me and letting me enjoy my hard won success, the rep went on to say that he had to be honest, he really hadn’t wanted to make the call because, frankly, he didn’t want me to get the job nor did he think I was qualified to build this project—never mind everyone else who did. I felt like I was at the Oscars when they gave the award to La La Land then took it away and gave it to Moonlight, instead.

On another occasion, I was giving a reporter a tour of one of my jobsites for an article she was writing about me. I introduced her to my field supervisor—a man I had interviewed and hired myself—and asked him to review the details on the drawings of the site. I still don’t know what he was thinking; maybe he just wanted to make himself look big by making me look small, but he spread out those drawings on the table and then, right in front of that reporter, and everyone else present, looked me in the eye and asked me—a seasoned professional and the owner of her own construction company—if I understood what I was looking at. It was like asking a farmer if he knew what dirt was. I fired him the next day. I can smell it when a man can’t accept a woman as his boss, and I work too damned hard to put up with that kind of disrespect.

The truth is, the construction industry will probably never be easy for a woman. It’s a good old boys’ network, and there will always be egotistical men who make it almost impossible for women to enter, exist and thrive in this world. There will always be men who think that women don’t have the brains to build and ought to just stay home and set the table. There will always be men who are threatened by a woman when they feel them stepping into their territory. Well, I got news for them: I can build, I have an incredible eye for detail, I know how to push a project, and I care greatly for my client’s schedule, budget and recommendation letter that said, “Job well done!” I do it better, faster and with more heart. Because honestly? I want it more.

Sorry, fellas, but I’m here to stay, and I’ve got an endless supply of toothpicks.

Barbara Kavovit is the CEO of the New York City-run Evergreen Construction and the author of a soon-to-be-published novel by HarpersCollins due out in late 2018.