Working in an industry where females comprise only 3% of the workforce can be rough, especially in a blue-collar town like Buffalo. I see behavior and overhear conversations everyday that show me society’s stereotypical female and male roles are very much alive and kicking.
Yelled from below while reroofing my aunt’s porch:
“All women crew? Where’s your man to do that?”
From a foreman on another crew:
“A girl in charge today? You’re too pretty to get dirty! You should be in a nice office somewhere, not here supervising dirty boys!
This is 2011. And yet, as a woman in construction you have to get really good at replying with a witty comment to shrug off the very obvious stereotypes. “All women crew? Heck yes! We hired the man, and when he did it wrong twice, that’s when the women came in to finish the job!” Often these stereotypical exchanges come from a deeper rooted idea that women can’t pull their own weight in physically demanding construction jobs, that they are much better suited for the office life. Well, physically we may be built different, but that simply means we may have to think our way out of pickle rather than use brute strength.
I have the lucky fortune to have grown up in a family that hardly distinguished between genders; whatever you wanted to do or whomever you wanted to be when you grew up was encouraged. I remember vividly when I began questioning my career in the construction field and my grandfather sang me the lyrics of his favorite song:
Do what you love, love what you do.
Don’t sit and wait for your dreams to come true.
Give it your all, all you can give.
And sing your own song as long as you live.
Though my family perhaps not so secretly wished both my brother and I would choose stable careers in medicine, they embraced that my brother was destined for Hollywood and that I wanted to go into construction. I try to live by the lyrics my grandfather gave to me, and often share it with other women struggling to be recognized in such a male-dominated field, because for others it is not so easy as it was with my family. Fighting against stereotypes day in and day out can grow old, arguing with your family about the merits of a job in the trades becomes daunting. Being on guard for the next comment or constantly ready for someone scrutinizing your work makes you feel as though you have to try harder than anyone else in the crew to prove your worth.
In the time I’ve been working with ReUse Action, I have had the pleasure to work with Iris, a woman who has definitely proven her worth and is a walking example of how women can pull their own weight in the construction arena. Cliff, ReUse Action’s newest employee, has said that while Iris was apprenticing with us, “she worked harder than most of the guys on the crew!” and I have to agree. She consistently moved 700lb tubs, was always on time to work and was known to stay late to see a job finished. In the past few weeks she’s had significant struggles with discrimination because of her gender, and it amazes me that she continues to push forward, seeking to change the stereotype that follows.
It gives me strength and hope that women can earn a place in the construction field not because we’re women, but because we do a job and we can do it well. Iris is currently in pursuit of a job, so if you know of any job openings for a reliable, strong-willed woman, be it in construction or in another field (unlike me and my brother, she wants to eventually pursue a career in medicine, ha!), please let us know!