Attitudes have turned around.
Most estimates peg females as only about 2% to 2.5% of all skilled trade workers and the percentage is not going up significantly. That’s too bad, because most skilled trade employers would be happy to hire females if only more would apply for trade jobs and apprenticeship programs.
What’s in it for women? For them the trades offer the same advantages they do for men. It’s a chance to pursue a rewarding, well-paying career that’s always in demand and cannot be shipped overseas — without going tens of thousands of dollars into debt financing a college education. Even if you already have a college education, the trades offer better pay and more opportunities than many of the liberal arts fields that most women pursue.
So why don’t more women pursue trade work? It doesn’t take a genius to identify the obstacles, just a brief conversation with a few women asking them that question. Typically answers will include:
- Women are not welcome in the trades. It’s considered man’s work!
Oh, there are still a few Neanderthals around who feel that way but they are mostly older men and rapidly fading from the scene. Employers are more influenced by affirmative action and equal opportunity laws that weigh heavily in favor of women who wish to enter the trades. Residential service firms in particular are anxious to hire qualified women, because their service technicians encounter more women than men when they ring the doorbell. Female technicians put such customers at ease and have an easier time establishing rapport. You’d be surprised at the number of companies that would jump at the chance to hire or train capable female plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians.
- The trades require a lot of heavy lifting and women are too frail.
Some women are stronger than others, but regardless, modern trade work relies on material handling equipment and power tools more than brute strength. You see some pretty tiny and frail men working in the trades!
- The work is dirty and dangerous.
No way around it, you do tend to get your hands dirty doing construction work. Not nearly so much with the service trades. Top-notch service firms tend to provide company uniforms, which often include white shirts. As for safety, both construction and trade service firms are under pressure from their insurance companies to reduce workplace injuries and top companies in the trades devote a lot of time to safety training.
- Sexual harassment runs rampant in the trades.
It would be foolish to say this never occurs, but I think it’s less prevalent in the trades than with office jobs. That’s because in the trades both men and women have to be more focused on the physical demands of their job than their co-workers and nobody dresses to impress the opposite sex. Also, because female trade workers are so few and highly valued, their employers tend to be very protective of them and lay down the law on proper behavior to male co-workers. In any case, laws against harassment are just as stringent for the trades as any other field, and penalties are severe.
When all is said and done, women are under-represented in the trades because of social and cultural traditions, not because of any real barriers. Women with a mechanical aptitude who choose to buck tradition will find numerous opportunities available to them.