Sasha is a young woman, shy and polite. I know her from a construction site, and still it’s difficult to picture her in the midst of all that rubble, noise, dust and mess. So I expect tales of struggle and frustration from her experience on the job.
“I never felt discriminated because I am a woman” she surprises me instead “I am very young and I feel it’s more my age that makes people think I might not be competent yet”.
Aliaksandra (Sasha) Kharlan studied Interior Architecture in London and keeps working on her education and qualifications. She works with her father in Kharlan Construction and she feels she’s always known buildings and how they work.
She’s from Belarus and feels that her home country and upbringing was the first challenge for her. “My grandmother did not want me to work in construction, it’s a man’s job, she said”.
Starting from there, she’s always felt that being a woman was more a challenge than an impediment; “It made me work harder for what I want to do”.
Sasha says she never really experienced sexism at work. She uses her technical knowledge and language to set things straight from the beginning and she’s always managed to earn the trust of co-workers and clients.
The only time she felt people were treating her differently because she is a woman was when she did building works at her own place. “Workers would never listen to me and always waited for instructions from my husband” she remembers “but he doesn’t have a clue about construction!”.
It’s one of the few moments in our conversation when she lets her frustration get through.
“New generations are more open, and internet and social media have a big role in opening people to different worlds and new ways of thinking”.
This is also how she contributes to the cause, sharing her experience with as many people as possible, telling her story, posting pictures of herself at work. “If someone gives me a pink helmet when I enter a construction site, well… why not? We shouldn’t overthink and see sexism everywhere!”
Sasha thinks that policies that enforce diversity and representation are a good thing, because there is no better route to equality than proving how good women are on the job.
“Men must get used to work side by side with women; once they see by themselves that their bias makes no sense, things will start to change”.
At first I am skeptical; of course there is a lot that Sasha has not experienced yet and probably she’ll change her mind along the way.
But while we say goodbye I realise Sasha is fierce and strong and knows what she wants. And maybe she is right, things are changing faster than we, the older generation, are able to understand.