Myth #5 about trade work: it’s for males only

Service firms in particular clamor for female technicians.


Okay, this myth is admittedly hard to refute. Most estimates peg females as only about 2% to 2.5% of all skilled trade workers. That’s probably doubled since the rise of feminism in the 1960s, but progress has been at a snail’s pace. It would be ridiculous to argue that the skilled trades are not male dominated.

Except let’s distinguish between the status quo and opportunity. Women are under-represented in the trades because of social and cultural traditions that discourage women from pursuing trade careers. But those who choose to ignore tradition will find numerous opportunities available to them.

The trades still harbor some Neanderthals who feel that women are out of place doing this type of work. And ugly stories still crop up on occasion about jobsite sexual harassment and discrimination.

But the Neanderthals are rapidly fading away. Among those that remain, their influence has been undermined by affirmative action and equal opportunity laws that weigh heavily in favor of women who wish to enter the trades.

Compared to the bad old days, relatively few contractors would turn their backs on qualified women. In fact, many trade apprenticeship programs devote a lot of effort to recruiting females, as well as minorities, if only to comply with affirmative action mandates. A rule dating back to the 1970s requires 6.9% of work hours to be set aside for women on contractors’ federal or federally assisted job sites. That 6.9% average remains the current goal, although records show it has never been met nationally, according to ENR magazine.

Home service firms in particular are welcoming to women. I’ve known dozens of service companies that employed one or more female technicians. I’ve never heard any employers complain about their performance (probably because women need to be exceptional just to get a chance), and many told me their female techs were their best performers.

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.

Unlike construction work, brute strength seldom comes into play on residential service calls. There the premium is 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.

Various organizations exist to assist women in the trades and help them overcome any remaining barriers. Increasingly the biggest barrier is the reluctance of women themselves to walk through the doors that are much wider open to them than in a bygone era.