How to feel empowered when dealing with contractors, in a male-dominated industry

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Women dealing with contractors in a male-dominated industry
(Image credit: Future)

Whether you're new to the world of home renovation or not, there's no denying that until recent years, it has typically been a male-dominated industry, whereby 'traditionally', it would be men that took the lead on renovations...

However, this is the 21st century, and more women than ever are taking on all manner of home remodeling and DIY projects, inspiring others to do the same. But even so, that is not to say that misogynistic traits don't still trickle through when you find yourself working with contractors. Far from it...

In our house, I lead on the renovations and my husband is the chef. Naturally, I have encountered my fair share of awkward encounters and poor communication with others in the industry.

I know I am not alone and it shouldn't be that way. However, as we wait on even bigger shifts in attitudes within the industry, I have been able to learn and grow from my past experiences so that I always feel empowered doing what I love, so that I don't lose faith when I'm working on a passion project. No matter who I have to work with...

This is my story: 

Spotting the signs

It can take a while to find a home builder, but eventually, we’d found some that we thought would be reliable. They turned out to be terrible... The frustrating part was that throughout the whole tender process, it had been me, not my husband, that had led the project, been the main point of contact, asked all the questions and given them the decision that we would actually take them on.

As it would have been clear in any other business scenario, I was evidently the lead, and key decision-maker if you will, on this one. Yet for some reason, the builder was clearly struggling with the concept that a young (I think I can still get away with saying that) female could be the one employing him. Not to mention, that she might actually know what she is talking about...

If you've ever experienced anything similar, you'll know how uncomfortable it can be – mostly because it is so brutally obvious what is going on.

This person always addressed my husband, on email or face-to-face, and it was him that he always called or asked about any decisions (which, let’s be honest, I was going to make). I’d ask him a question and he’d respond to Chris, it was almost funny. Almost.

Tips for dealing with contractors

So, what did I do?

Well, after I naturally got a little cross, and swore a few times under my breath about the situation – in private – I took back control, and you can too. Here’s what I’d recommend:

1. Set yourself out as the main contact from the outset

If you’re the one taking the lead, making all the calls and basically calling the shots, it should be obvious that you’re the one that the contractors should be communicating with. But you know what they say about assuming… 

So lay your cards on the table at the outset; be really specific about the fact that you’re the lead, that you’ll be the decision-maker and that if they go around you, it’s going to cause delays because they’ll have to go full circle! And that you won't stand for it when you're project managing the renovation, extension or other home improvement project.

2. Present a united front

If, like I was, you’re renovating with a partner, parent or friend and you’re having problems being ‘seen’ then make sure the person you’re renovating with is in your corner. So when the contractor keeps asking them questions, Guess what?! They’re not going to answer them and instead, they’re going to redirect them all to you. 

The message should land pretty quickly; every time the builder asked my husband a question, my husband’s response was 'Mate, she’s the one who knows, speak to her', he got tired of being shut down pretty quickly.

3. Knowledge is power

Never a truer word spoken; not only is knowledge power, it will give you confidence and make you feel empowered. Read up and get informed. Whether you're extending the back of your home or remodeling a bathroom, there’s a ton of information out there to ensure that you are clued up and confident.

You can even find simple courses on renovation and the like, so have a look at what is available, seek the knowledge, support and guidance you need to be stronger and claim your rights.

4. Choose carefully

If you've got an attractive quote from someone who seems like they know their stuff, but the way they’re engaging with you is setting off alarm bells, don’t go with them. Unless you truly feel you can have a frank conversation to change their attitude or approach then it is not worth it.

You need to be able to work with your builder or contractors day in, day out; you’re entrusting them with your most valuable asset and you need to be able to work hand in hand, not against each other, so go with your gut and make sure you gel with the people you choose.

5. Be direct

If you’ve tried to play nicely and it hasn’t got you anywhere, then don’t be shy about putting them straight. You don’t have to be rude about it, you can say it in the right way but it’s your money, your home and to be honest, you’re employing them so your way is the only way.

6. Be fierce – you've got this!

Confidence is king, who cares if you don’t know what an architrave is or screed to start out with?! In any industry, no one knows every detail and there’s an element of fake it until you make it, if you get asked a question and you aren’t sure, but you don’t want to fess up, that’s ok! Play for time by saying you need to think about it, and get to know your stuff in the background, Google all of those things you aren’t sure about and ask for advice to get to a decision but outwardly, back yourself and give it some swagger! 

7. Be unapologetic

Don’t apologize, don’t feel uncomfortable, stupid or unheard in your own home. If you want to ask questions, ask questions, if you have opinions, say them out loud; you may not be in the building or design industry but it’s still your home, and it's your right to own the fact that you want more from it.

Women account for 80% of the purchasing decisions in pretty much every industry, including home building and renovating, we’re doing it all; being mothers, business women and everything in between! We don’t need contractors who will only talk to our husbands, we’re worth so much more than that and it’s there for the taking!

So let’s be the change because it’s the 21st century! Women are (always were and forever will be) beyond capable of running the renovation show and it’s your right, your responsibility to go out there and own your home improvement project!

Kate Sandhu
Real Homes Blogger

I’m a DIY and renovation expert from a family of renovators; it's in my blood! Renovation is my passion and I love sharing my knowledge, either through my Instagram renovation tips or my renovation course. I love seeing how it helps others build the confidence to create their dream home without it costing the earth!