ina Gottesman of Altus Metal Marble & Wood in Smithtown has confronted the challenges of being a leader in the male-dominated construction industry (Photo by Bob Giglione)

When Lina Gottesman and her husband opened their construction supply
business nearly 30 years ago, she drew plenty of industry attention, none of
it wanted.

“There I was, a young woman wearing high heels walking around construction
sites,” Gottesman recalls. “I heard lots of catcalls, wolf whistles and lip
smacking.”

Three decades before #Metoo, she reacted from the gut.

“I had to prove to them I was one of the guys,” she says. “I’m a pretty feisty
person. I pointed my finger at them and said loudly: ‘F*** you! Get back to work!’”

The aggression eased up. A few days later the Smithtown business owner tried getting friendly.

“I had bought a supply of logoed windbreakers for my employees and brought a bunch to the construction site,” she says. She handed them out and the men – catcallers included – started wearing them to work.

“Now when I visited my client I’d see 20 guys outside wearing ‘Altus Metal Marble & Wood’ on their backs,” she says.

The gesture turned into free advertising. Women entering the workforce, starting companies of their own, applying to universities or seeking access to public services have long complained of unequal treatment. Their grievances include bosses and coworkers making unwanted advances; clients and prospects making lewd comments; glass ceilings; and much more. The pushback, often voiced over social media, has become successfully disruptive.

“All business owners face certain challenges, but women often have unique obstacles to overcome because of their gender,” asserts the Long Island Center for Business and Professional Women on its website, LICenter.org. “Their male peers are less likely to encounter these issues.”

One of the major challenges to women is handling expectations. Negotiating, whether it’s for a salary, an equity stake in a partnership, or division of labor in a household, is where many women struggle most. Men who roar at the bargaining table gain fame, wealth and admiration.

Women who assert themselves get called aggressive or pejoratives. Fear of being labeled deters many females from acting in their own best interests at work, in the home, or during divorce proceedings, said Rebecca Zung, a Los Angeles attorney. Zung recently leads online negotiating seminars for women. Her latest event was sponsored by the Ellevate Network, a global women’s networking group with an active LI chapter. Her program: “Essential High-Power Negotiating Skills for Women.”

Based on years of experience representing “thousands of clients going through divorces,” Zung concluded that men and women negotiate differently.

“The biggest difference is that men can compartmentalize everything,” she says. “In a divorce, they put aside the loss of the marriage and focus on the financial picture – what’s best for them. They can approach the divorce from an unemotional point of view.

“Women, on the other hand, tend to think erroneously that they can win through emotional argument,” she continues. “A man will lead with facts and figures. If he wants a raise, he’ll show that he adds value to the company. A woman will make the argument personal, saying, ‘If you appreciate me, you’ll give me that raise.’”

Not every woman buys into that.

“I remind women that they’re equal to the men they’re negotiating with,” says Mary Hauptman, an owner of Hauptman Realty Management in Melville and president of the Long Island Center for Business and Professional Women. “I encourage them to find out about the customer, go to their website, and try to strike a chord” based on commonality of interest or background.

“Most importantly, come to the negotiating table armed with facts.”

And if men still treat you boorishly?

“You try to work it out,” Hauptman says. “If not, fire them.”

Warren Strugatch is a partner at Inflection Point Associates, a marketing, public relations and management consulting firm in Stony Brook. Online at InflectionPointAssoc.com

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