May 24, 2016
Brute force is not required!
Misconceptions abound about the trades and the people who work in them. Many of these misconceptions date back to a bygone era when there might have been more truth to them.
One of these misconceptions is that the trades involve a lot of heavy lifting, so brute strength is required. It’s true that trade work is more physically demanding that a desk job. If that alone scares you, then maybe you aren’t cut out for the trades. But physical strength is not nearly as important as it was way back before a variety of mechanized material handling equipment got developed to move pipe, furnaces, toilets and other heavy objects. You can find plenty of trade workers of both genders who weigh less than 150 pounds yet manage to get the job done. OSHA and insurance companies pay a lot of attention to worker safety and compel employers to adopt practice that minimize accidents, heavy lifting and repetitive motion injuries.
Another misconception is that the trades are filled with a bunch of sexist Neanderthals who feel that women are out of place on their jobsites and fair game for lewd remarks and harassment. You need to know that nowadays any employer who tolerates that kind of behavior is asking for a lot of legal trouble, and employers all know that. If you do encounter offensive behavior, you’ll likely find a sympathetic boss willing to put an end to it. Anyway, after so many advances by women in formerly male occupations, most of the Neanderthals have evolved into humans! The few who haven’t yet retired tend to keep their mouths shut to avoid getting into trouble.
Decades have passed since women entered various male-dominated fields and the men who work in the trades nowadays no longer think it strange to see female cops on patrol and women piloting airplanes, serving in the military and working at a construction site. They routinely interact with female engineers, inspectors, purchasing agents and sales reps, and if they’ve been around a while at some point they probably worked alongside a female trade worker or two. Women have come a long way in the past few decades in various walks of life. The trades have not been immune to the changes in our society.
Perhaps the biggest misconception is that women are not welcome in the trades. Most contractors in the skilled trades actively seek to hire more women. Finding good people is their number one problem and they can’t afford to discriminate against anyone. Even if they are inclined to discriminate, equal opportunity and affirmative action mandates make it risky for them to do so. Many trade employers have active recruitment programs targeting women and minorities.
Residential service firms in particular welcome women with open arms. Companies that provide plumbing, electrical, HVAC and other home repairs tend to regard female technicians as a competitive edge.
That’s because female service technicians hold significant advantages over males. When a service technician rings a doorbell a female will answer the vast majority of the time. It’s only natural for home-alone women to be a little wary when inviting a male stranger into the house. A female technician puts them immediately at ease and is better able to establish rapport. Moreover, residential service puts a premium on diagnostic skill and attention to detail, at which women tend to excel. They also benefit from the novelty factor. Customers don’t expect to be serviced by a woman and thus are more likely to discuss a positive experience with friends and neighbors.
I’ve known dozens of home service contractors that employed one or more female technicians. Many told me their female techs were their best performers. Company owners love the great word-of-mouth publicity that come from customers talking about the fabulous young lady who tuned their furnace or fixed their broken toilet.
Another factor discourages women from entering the trades. Many feel uncomfortable and socially awkward in an environment where virtually all co-workers are from the opposite sex. This brings into play a vicious cycle. Women are reluctant to work in a field where they would be a tiny minority, but until they enter the trades in greater numbers that situation cannot change.
While it’s true that tradeswomen will likely find themselves working alongside mostly male co-workers, today’s world features numerous support groups geared to women in the trades. The National Association of Women in Construction is a major trade organization that exists to assist women in the trades and help them overcome any remaining barriers, as well as provide networking opportunities. Various cities, like this one in Chicago, also have local organizations aimed at encouraging women in the trades. Check them out.
Increasingly the biggest barrier to women in the trades is the reluctance of women themselves to walk through once closed doors that are now wide open to them.