4min readPeople 23 July 2019
Heels of Steel follows the journey of Bridget Steele, the Bronx-born, tough-as-nails and sexy construction company CEO, who is determined to be the first woman to get a contract to build a New York City skyscraper. Fighting for her life and career in the male dominated world of the Big Apple's real estate industry, Steele also finds herself falling for her biggest rival, who could impede her rise to the top. In this summer's hottest beach read, Kavovit gives readers a look into the cut-throat business of hardhats and hammers, delving into the sexism, corruption, harassment and how far people will go to land a contract.
In the excerpt below, Bridget has a shot at signing her first major commercial construction project. This job would catapult her career in construction and give her the break she needs to compete with the Boys' Club of the industry. Her first assignment: negotiate with the misogynistic union delegate who shut down the project to begin with. Bridget has to think on her feet to navigate the sexist comments and ridicule that comes with being one of the only women in the business, because if she doesn't, she'll have to start again at square one.
Excerpt from Heels of Steel:
It was odd, Bridget thought, where life takes you. If she hadn't been mugged, her father might not have brought her a model to build, and if she hadn't built that model, she might not now be standing dockside in the middle of a dead construction site, waiting for the union delegate, Sal Delmonico, from the Local 6, to show up.
Once a site bustling with hundreds of carpenters, electricians, and masons all working like ants to build an ultra-exclusive condominium development for the mega-rich, now all that remained were stacks of rotting wood, moldy drywall, and crumbling bricks strewn across the ghost town that had been advertised as the new premiere private community in downtown Manhattan. Bridget shook her head at the abandoned garbage dump this priceless piece of property had become.
"It's a real shame, eh?" said a voice behind her.
Bridget turned to face a man wearing a blue polyester suit and what she was pretty sure was a fake Hermes tie. He was smoking a cigarette and his mustache put Sam Elliot to shame.
"You Steele?" asked the mustache.
"You must be Delmonico," said Bridget. She put out her hand to shake.
Delmonico waited a beat before he took it. His grip was so tight and clammy that Bridget could swear she heard a squelching noise as their hands parted.
"A girl, huh? What's Hannity's game here?"
Bridget shrugged. "No game. I was asked to negotiate a deal so we can move forward and get this project built."
Delmonico stared at her for a moment and then casually spat off to the side. "Let me paint you a picture," he said making a sweep of his arm toward the water. "Women who look like a young Cindy Crawford sitting on the decks of their husbands' 200-foot yachts, which are strategically docked smack dead in front of their condos that jet right out over the river. 360-degree views, floor to ceiling windows, plunge pools and gold plated faucets. Chefs kitchens that actually come with their own personal chefs." He paused to inhale from his Marlboro and then blew the smoke out of the corner of his mouth. "It was going to be a candy land sprinkled with diamonds, mink, big dicks, fake tits, and cocaine."
"Sounds nice," said Bridget.
"It would've been."
"And you ended it all," said Bridget.
Delmonico smiled a big, satisfied grin. "And I ended it all. Kicked `em in their balls so hard that they're still down on the floor crying like little girls. They came whining to me about how they couldn't afford to hire union labor. Wanted to make a deal so they could bring in a bunch of scabs. Said the whole job would go down if they couldn't cut costs. So I pulled the plug. One hundred percent union or no deal, I always say."
Bridget nodded thoughtfully. "How about fifty percent union?"
Delmonico's face scrunched up. "Did you not hear what I just said?"
"It sounded to me like you said you killed the chance for a whole lot of your guys to get some solid work. I wonder what they thought about that?"
Something passed over Delmonico's face and Bridget knew that she'd hit a nerve. "My guys got more work than they can handle."
"Yeah? Because at the very least this is a two-year contract, and if the client likes what your guys and my non-union guys can do, there'll be plenty of future projects for everyone."
Delmonico sneered. "What makes you think there will be future projects for you? I only brought you here to set you straight. You want to work with me and my local? You gotta know the score. Other guys have messed with me and see that river?" He pointed out to the steel-gray Hudson, still dotted with chunks of late spring ice. "That's a real strong current. You'd get sucked right under the ice, if you happened to fall in."
Bridget felt her stomach clench, but she forced herself to laugh. "So now you're going to throw me in the river? Listen, Hannity told me to tell you that it's me, or no one. He's sick of screwing around. If we can't make a deal, he's donating this property to the city to make a waterfront park and taking the tax write off. How do you think your boys would feel about that?"
Delmonico looked at her sharply. Bridget kept her face carefully neutral, but her heart pounded. Hannity had said no such thing.
Delmonico threw the stub of his cigarette and ground it under his heel. He looked back at her. "And what do I get out of it?"
She frowned. "What do you mean? How about none of the guys from your local will be sitting on the bench for at least two years? That's what you get."
Delmonico took a step toward her. "Yeah, but say I agree to your terms—fifty percent union, fifty percent whatever dregs you bring in—what are you going to do to sweeten the deal?"
"Are you talking about a kickback? About money?"
He shrugged and grinned. His teeth were yellow and stained. "Money or…" he let his eyes drop to her breasts. "Whatever else you think might make me feel good about things."
She folded her arms over her chest. "Not if you were the last man on earth, Delmonico."
He laughed and reached for her. "Look at them nice big titties."
She grabbed his wrist and twisted just like her dad had taught her.
"Ow! Shit! That hurts!" he yelped.
She twisted harder. "You know what else I've got, Delmonico? A nice big mouth. You think the press would like to hear the story of the union head who molested the sweet, innocent girl contractor?" She glanced at the ring on his finger. "You think your wife wants hear about that, too?" She threw down his arm.
He sneered at her as he rubbed his wrist. "You're going to be sorry you ever met me, Steele."
She turned to go. "I already am."
Excerpted from Heels of Steel by Barbara Kavovit. Copyright © 2019 by Barbara Kavovit. Use with permission from MIRA Books.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."
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