Thanks … We’ll just wait for your husband
Late last year, I posted on my Facebook and Instagram, an experience that had just happened to me in that moment. It went something like this …
I just had the funniest thing happen … we’re having a pool fence installed at home (the pool at this house didn’t have one when we bought it). The two tradesmen turned up. I came out to greet them. They asked for my husband (he’s been the one conferring with them). I said he wasn’t home yet. They said, ” We were told he’d be here soon, so we’ll just set ourselves up and by the time he’s here, then we can get started”. I said “would you like me to tell you where the fence is going?” – to which they replied – “no it’s ok, we’ll just wait for him”. Righteo.
At the time, I went back inside and made a cup of tea, and watched them get set up whilst I drank it. As I finished, I came back out and told them that I’d be in my office above the garage if they wanted to get started before my hubby got back – to which they replied (in surprise) “Oh, do you know where it’s going do you?”
Know? … aah yes … because I worked out where it was going, and then hubby rang you to organise all the quotes and the job … because I’m trying to run my business, and he runs the property.
So, with a wry smile, I told them I did and then walked them through it. They got started, my hubby got home 15 or so minutes later, and all was well with the world.
Remembering my ‘why’ …
I was away this weekend at a business conference with other female business owners operating their businesses online, and I shared this story. Other women always have a similar experience they can recount – either their own story, or a female relative’s or a female friend’s. It really reminded me why I started Undercover Architect, and got to the heart of my mission with the work I seek do in the world, and the difference I want to make.
That is … to educate and inform homeowners – and particularly women – so they feel confident, empowered, guided and supported in getting it right when it comes to designing, building and renovating their homes.
At the time when I posted this on my social media, it went gangbusters. Countless women sharing their own personal stories of similar experiences.
Seriously – in this day and age – where women are supposed to be able to be mums, and business women, and everything in between … where research shows that women make 80% of the purchasing decisions in pretty much every industry, including home building and renovating … we are still dealing with tradespeople and builders who want to ‘wait to speak to our husbands’.
I may have a baby on my hip …
I grew up with a single mum who was a serial renovator, and she is only 5 foot and half an inch tall. She tells countless stories of tradespeople refusing to quote, or asking to speak to the ‘man of the house’ (at which point she’d show them my little brother).
And I remember the most confronting experience of it for me, was when I first went on maternity leave with our son in 2007. We were starting our renovation of our second property, and I was at home with this small baby boy, dealing with tradies and contractors.
I had gone from being an architect working for a big development company, managing massive projects worth millions of dollars, and dealing with tradespeople and builders every day, who listened to me and followed my instructions … to …
A mum. With a young baby on her hip. And I was fighting to be listened to.
For the first time, I got a small insight into what my private female clients, renovating and building their homes, had been dealing with all these years.
The thing was – I was in the industry! I could say – “Hey, wait a minute – I have an idea about what I’m talking about. Don’t try to bamboozle me. I may have a baby on my hip, but I still know what I’m talking about. And I’m paying your bills, so please listen to me.”
And any time they sought instruction from my husband, he would just say “Mate, she’s the one who knows, speak to her.”
I wondered – how on earth do the women, who are not professionals in this industry – navigate their home building or renovation projects? Just how do they make sure they’re listened to … know how to speak up and be heard?
For the first time, I had my eyes opened wide to the experience that most women contend with when it comes to designing, building and renovating their homes. It was confronting, I didn’t like it, and I wanted it to change. I wanted to help change it.
Let’s create the change
What I found too – it was actually a rare occurrence that these male tradespeople were being deliberately chauvinistic or sexist. And that was definitely the case with the contractors putting in our pool fence. As I walked away from their “We’ll just wait for your husband”, I silently smiled, because it reminded me that this tradie was just doing what he always did. Assuming that my hubby was the only one who knew. He was about to be re-educated.
Other women spoke …
A lot of the women who commented on my social media post, made comments along these lines …
“We had a guy do this to my mum, gave a quote for fascias with an added, “when should I speak to man of the house regarding the quote? I assume there IS one?” Mum smiled sweetly and closed the door. Sometimes it’s the only option“
“I once had an earthmover come to give me a quote on the extensive works I wanted done. He asked where my husband was, and told me “I DONT DEAL WITH WOMEN!!!” That’s ok I said “I don’t deal with sexist morons” and I showed him off the property AND GOT SOMEONE ELSE TO DO THE JOB.”
“I have had this happen a few times too! Hubs comes out of the house and they start to talk to him, and then he just points to me and says “Ask my wife, she’s the one who knows what’s happening around here!” Shakes his head and leaves.”
“I caught landscapers building a wall not square to the house, blind freddy could have seen it, made them fix [it]. If they’d waited for the man of the house, mud would have dried. Needless to say I was demonised for my insistence.”
“I managed all our renos and dealt with trades … Have had some of the funniest conversations ever. Glad to have learnt a lot from a builder friend who I can check with if I think they’re trying to fleece me. With knowledge comes power!”
And that last comment pretty much nails it. With knowledge comes power.
Actually I like to take it further … with knowledge comes empowerment.
The Oxford Dictionary gives a great definition for empowerment …
“Make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.”
That’s it. That’s what this is all about. That’s my mission, and why Undercover Architect exists.
Power vs Empower …
See, “knowledge is power” (in my mind) implies that you’ll be the authority, the main influencer in a situation.
However, when it comes to creating your home – be it building or renovating – it is much more of a collaborative effort. And the best forms of collaboration actually draw on the skills and expertise of all involved, driving towards a shared vision of giving you a great home.
And to be actively involved as a key collaborator in this process, well, you need to be empowered.
Stronger, more confident, and able to claim your rights.
So you might not be the ‘one in charge’ – but you’ll need to make decisions, ask and answer questions, and be directing the journey overall.
When I stood there, with my son on my hip, and said to these tradespeople “Excuse me, I may have baby on my hip, but I still know what I’m talking about”, it gave me the confidence to claim my rights in that moment.
Seriously – even if you’re not in the building or design industry – it’s still your home, and I strongly suspect you have an opinion on how you want it to be.
So how can you get this confidence?
The trick is this …
If you don’t understand, ask questions.
Be the one who gets listened to.
Be the one who knows what’s going on.
Don’t worry what they think.
Don’t worry about getting it wrong or not knowing the terminology.
It’s your money.
It’s your job they’re doing.
Most importantly – it’s your home.
Seek the knowledge, support and guidance you need to be stronger, more confident and claim your rights.
So next time that tradie or builder wants to speak to your husband, you can put them straight.
“Sure”, you’ll say. “You can wait to speak to my husband … or you can talk to the person who actually knows what’s happening … me.”
Have you had your own experience of dealing with tradies that frustrated you? Where you felt you weren’t being listened to? I’d love to hear about it – just pop it in the comments below. And if you know someone that this post can help, please share it or forward it on.
Lynne Brown says
We built our house three years ago and have renovated previous houses. I am in my late sixties and have always managed renos, found trades and designed kitchens etc entirely on my own. I listen to tradies and learn as much as I can (knowledge truly is power). When we built our house I found that, once tradies realised that I knew what I was talking about, their attitude changed. If my husband answered the phone when the head carpenter or site supervisor rang with an issue or question, they would chat briefly then ask to speak to me.
I have found ageism more of an issue than sexism. Our building designer came up with a good floor plan that followed my brief, although I used a lot of red ink on tweaking the plan to better suit our living style. The original front elevation design was boringly conventional because it was assumed that this suited people in our age bracket. They eventually used my suggestions for a contemporary design and came up with a design that my son and I altered radically and it is gorgeous! Three years on and we still see people pulling up outside and taking photos of the house.
We are planning to build again – this time on a smaller, more manageable block. I envisage an urban, contemporary, low maintenance design that will suit us for many years. I’m so glad I found your website and will definitely call on your expertise.
Amelia Lee says
Hi Lynne – thanks so much for your comment, and sharing your personal experience. I know my mother would also agree with you about ageism vs sexism. She still renovates her existing property (she can’t help but keep improving things) and finds that tradies are usually surprised that a woman who is almost 70 likes contemporary finishes, fixtures and colour schemes. She just keeps searching until she finds the right people to work with. Having a team that can support you, and use their expertise to expand your vision is essential in creating a home that you will love.
I’m so glad you found my website too! I can’t wait to help you in your journey of creating your next home – your plans sound really exciting! In the meantime, I hope you find lots of useful guidance and support here – Amelia, UA x
I’ve found great readies to work with on our home reno, and being able to communicate was definitely part of the brief. Where I got mad, it was the conversation at our local timber yard where I’d ask the questions, but the answers were repeatedly delivered to my husband…
Oh that is frustrating Karly! I’ve had that experience too. You feel like jumping in front of them and saying “How about you look at me when you answer my question!!” Glad you’ve been able to find good people to work with, and have been able to communicate well with them,
– Amelia, UA
I am so glad to have found this blogpost! We are coming to the end of our home renovation and I feel very bruised. We have experienced quite a few problems with our builder and regardless which of us has dealt with him using the same approach, I am demonised as the difficult woman whilst my husband is considered a nice guy. Disheartening. I am happy with the finished renovation, but it has not been a pleasant experience.
That sounds like it was super challenging – and it definitely does battle scar you! It’s great that you’re happy with the finished renovation, and I hope it can all be a distant memory for you soon!
– Amelia, UA