I’m not saying it’s perfect and I’m sure the fact I work in that field in recent/’more woke’ years makes a difference but construction people have been overall less sexist than any other field I’ve worked in. Of course this is just my experience and others might have a totally different one. There are certain ideas about the trades that are out of date and others that are overlooked. That specific set of misinformation really leads to women not considering the field and giving people who don’t deserve it a bad wrap. It can lead to unfairly stereotyping the women who work in the trades. You’ll notice in this discussion that I talk about ‘the guys’ around me. I do see the odd lady in my travels but it’s really rare and I’m always excited when I do. Plus generally when we’re discussing sexism that’s where it’s coming from.
Sexism in previous jobs
I’ve worked I’m male dominated industries in the past and those that are staffed by mostly women too. I’ve been a lifeguard, bartender, server, housekeeper, STEM scientist, teacher and childcare worker in the past. Some of those jobs were for a year or two but some went on for decades. I’ve had some larger issues in the past and a couple of minor run ins in this field. Over all though as a lifeguard my physical strengths were regularly questioned, as a server and bartender I was sexually harassed regularly and as a researcher and teacher my knowledge was questioned based on my gender. I’ve had to change my appearance to earn more in the service industry and tone it down to be taken seriously as a scientist.
People still say and do the ‘wrong’ things
I think we have a clearer idea than ever before of how people should act towards women these days. We get that it’s possible for a woman to competently do any job and we all know that that’s how people deserve to be treated even if we might not consider ourselves ‘woke’. That said I still do regularly run into men in this field that say or do the wrong thing. Probably the most common one is how the men around me react when they offer help they soon realize I might not need. Guys at suppliers are often in a rush to load the truck for me, which is really nice. Right after though they awkwardly say something like, “ I’ll put this on the truck for you or you could do it by yourself probably I mean definitely, or I could help, or not. It’s up to you really, so… whatever you want, but I can help.”
I actually think this interaction I have all the time is pretty great. You have to understand that in my province only 3.5% of all tradespeople are women and probably way less than that in some of the places I go. We can’t expect people to react perfectly to something that happens almost none of the time. Sometimes I do get full out mansplained to but typically the motivation behind it really is to help and teach me something that will help me in the long run. I would say that the explanation doesn’t have to start with how a utility knife works but honestly newbies get that level of detail too. Since safety is so important in what we do have to err on the side of caution when giving someone instruction across the board. When I learn something or demonstrate that I got this the higher ups just let me go like they would with anyone else.
There are employees at two suppliers that I do think talk down to me because I’m a girl but… one of those people IS a woman. After hearing a few stories about the ‘bolt guy’ honey decided we no longer had to go there even if that meant less profit going somewhere else. In other words the vast majority of the ‘good guys’ won’t stand for that either. Rarely have I run into a customer that has an issue with my gender but that does happen. Usually it’s just a bit of surprise but every once and a while they will insist on not talking to me about the nuts and bolts of things. In my mind though I can’t hold my co-workers accountable for poor customer behavior and it’s awkward for everyone to deal with.
Different yet capable
In general overall people who work with me and around me in construction will assume I’m capable as a starting point, and that’s really all I ask for. There are guys on site that can carry a 20 ft marine pressure treated 4×8 by themselves down the hill, that’s not me. If I worked at it maybe I could but no one says I have to. I can get that beam on and off the truck by myself though and deliver it to that guy which is still something that has to be done. The young guys carry two bags of concrete at a time easily but I can only do one. Literally no one gives me a moment of distain because I can’t do it exactly the same, doing it well is enough.
Every single 4 inch spiral I hammer into a wharf takes me an extra swing or two but all that matters at the end of the day is that is that they are put in and put in right. I’m not usually the point person on a complicated marine pour but that day I had to step up and make the calls everyone respected those calls and we made it happen. When there’s days of lugging heavy $hit to do they guys don’t tell me I can’t but rather appreciate my help.
In a lot of ways defining my success or worth on site as always being able to do what the guys do is a different sort of sexist and I guess what I’m saying is that doesn’t happen either. Sometimes my skills and ideas are even the ones that save the day and when that happens I get credit where credit is due.
I can totally be me
In serving and science especially there was a certain way I was expected to look if I wanted to be successful. Makeup and certain outfits really dramatically raised my tips and income when I worked in service. Those same actions got me snide remarks when I worked as a researcher so I stopped wearing makeup and cute tops when I worked in the lab. In the trades I always wear a full face of makeup and wear pink regularly and it’s never so much as gotten me a second glance. In the heat of the summer or on marine jobs a sports bra or bathing suit doesn’t ever raise so much as an eyebrow. If I draw attention to it the guys I’m working with will just comment that I should be comfortable too.
I’ve never felt like how I present myself has in impact at all how I’m treated, my pay or the level of respect I get on site or in that world. In the last two years I’ve even started my own company and the people I work with are impressed, but not too impressed, with that fact. When I’ve worked in male dominated fields in the past the expectation is that it’s fine that I’m there but if I’m going to be there I have to ‘act like the men.’ If you’re going to be treated like a real scientist than leave your personal life at the lab door and act serious. Honestly all through grad school I never really mentioned my relationship and it wasn’t until I was graduating that my supervisor knew I had one. To be clear no one told me I had to do that but the vibe was there early on.
I don’t know if it’s just the circle of people we work with or not but we all know everything about what’s going on in each other’s life. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone get in trouble for having to dart off to deal with a family matter. For the most part the people we work with regularly are long time friends, even the subs. But then again when it comes to someone new when we’re all chatting while taking a break people are usually chatting about personal stuff. That’s an environment that makes it pretty easy to explain what’s up with you on any given day and feel comfortable dealing with family stuff.
I think we all think of the way the construction industry is portrayed in movies and on TV seeps into how we view it as a whole. I don’t think we actually believe that workers in orange reflective vests are sitting on streets catcalling every single woman who walks by anymore but that image still colors the industry. The reality is that the industry is one of the last places where you can do most of your learning on the job while earning a living wage and being well rewarded for it financially as you go. The labour shortage is long lasting and far reaching in the field and more people are doing less for themselves than they ever have before. If you lose a customer or a job you can be confident that you’ll have another by the end of the month. That means if you show any degree of professionalism or knowledge you’ll probably do very well. It also means you’ll be very busy and busy people that are crushing it at work with lots of job options and customers have choices. That means you can easily start your own company and become a real boss (even boss babe) if you want. If you own the company or work in a small one with lots of oversight it doesn’t lead to a lot of bad behavior. On the flip side if you want to prioritize your family you can work a steady job with good pay and have lots of time with your family. You might even be able to have another parent stay at home. That combination means the higher ups appreciate the staff they have working for them because if they aren’t happy with you they can have another job real soon. If you want to keep the people you have you have no choice but to treat them well. The workers for a company I think generally realize that we are all pretty lucky and if we find our situation toxic, too stressful or not rewarding enough we can change it. So after a few moves we tend to love where we work.
It’s not to say that its a utopia and I have in fact heard more ‘your mother’ comments than I care to admit but we do work closely with each other. Pretty quickly we get to know each other and become friends with the people we work with. It’s also a more collaborative environment than you might think it is. That all leads to a lot of respect. If a customer happens to treat someone on crew poorly I can tell you everyone notices and after you leave we’re all telling our co-worker we’re sorry and that person was out of line. But with more colorful language because we do like to swear a lot. It might not seem that way but that all adds up to an environment where there isn’t a lot of space for sexism and missogeny.
I hope that this got the point across that I was hoping to make and that this industry doesn’t work the way you might think, that there isn’t always a widespread issue with sexism and that often it’s often an environment where there is a lot of respect for everyone. I think there are many industries where what we think about them doesn’t line up with reality. While not everyone will have the same experience as me I think it’s important to speak up to dispel myths on both sides. Do you work in a field that unfairly gets a bad wrap? What outdated stereotypes at work do you think it’s time to let go of? Leave it in the comments below!