The biggest challenge for a woman working in construction? Bathrooms.
March 26, 2015 12:27 PM   Subscribe

 
From Monica Harwell:

What is your most memorable moment working in construction? Two things. One, the first time I made it to the top of a 45' pole and painted my fingernails. Two, the reference "Linemen" had to be removed from all training materials because a woman (myself) had earned her high voltage title. The new title is Line Constructor.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:40 PM on March 26, 2015 [13 favorites]


The first link fails on my phone, but the others work ok.

The title about bathroom access doesn't surprise me. I work mostly on rural project sites, not urban, but even on projects surrounded by houses and businesses there often isn't a portapottie. Either you are ok peeing next to a truck, probably with people able to see, or you hold it. It's not friendly to women or anyone who wants/needs bathroom privacy (medical issues, trams, etc).
posted by Dip Flash at 12:53 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Funny timing: watching Dragon's Den last night, a woman came on and asked for money to market/expand her line of utility jumpsuits (initially aimed at miners) for women. Best feature: trapdoor in the back so going to the loo wasn't such an annoying undressing process. They leaped at the opportunity.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:21 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


(medical issues, trams, etc).

Fucking autocorrect.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:40 PM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Dip Flash, I was going to offer to let you in to use mine until I heard about the trams. You're on your own there.
posted by Fnarf at 1:57 PM on March 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ha, I saw this and thought, Oh, this would be excellent reading for the woman who was just asking about starting a new career in construction over on Ask! ...oh.
posted by aka burlap at 2:09 PM on March 26, 2015 [8 favorites]


(This is excellent, thanks. Looking forward to reading these!)
posted by aka burlap at 2:10 PM on March 26, 2015


While I like the idea for this series, Ana Tavernas' post isn't about her average day as a construction worker--she's a union rep and has been for 13 years, and she doesn't give much information about what she actually did as a construction worker. The HuffPo "20 Questions" aren't particularly useful if you want to find out what these women actually do--the questions sound like Buzzfeed or some survey put together by an intern.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:14 PM on March 26, 2015


🎵And the Wichita Line Constructor🎵
posted by IndigoJones at 2:20 PM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I worked at hundreds of home construction sites in Pennsylvania over eight years in the '90s and I think that I saw less than half a dozen female construction workers in all that time. Maybe it's changed by now but at the time there were almost entirely white, non-Hispanic male workers building houses. Needless to say almost all of those white guys were massively sexist, racist and homophobic.
posted by octothorpe at 2:24 PM on March 26, 2015


One of these articles (not sure which) says that currently in NYC, 10% of union apprentices in the trades are women, but that's a very new development.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:29 PM on March 26, 2015


I love, love, love working in construction (small scale residential remodeling and electrical, the past few years). It's rewarding, easy to learn, and there are fewer 'office politics' culturally than my office worker friends with similar incomes seem to experience in their white-collar environments. Construction can be a situation where respect comes from competence, and there is a lot of mobility (in certain fields like renovation), so it's easy-ish to leave a situation you don't like (which unfortunately for women means sexist situations).


It's amazing, mind-boggling, that the percentage pf women field workers in construction hovers around 2%- not a typo, that's TWO percent - which is what it was in the EARLY 60's. I can't think of another field where we are so underrepresented in the US (maybe auto repair?) . I keep thinking of the gains that women have made in the military, for example, and am blown away to think that women haven't made inroads into something as simple as house painting or electrical- relatively light construction trades not requiring muscle or height (though few trades really do), nor requiring an apprenticeship that starts with heavy muscle - only labor, as sometimes happens to beginning carpenters for instance.


it's purely cultural - materials and tools have gotten lighter in reent decades, and jobs don't require brute strength, although that tends to be the excuse that sexist employers are concerned with the most.

Most of the barrier to entry consists of young women not being offered those opportunities the same way that we offer them to young men (high school /college aged summer jobs for exemple), and then, sometimes but not always, harassment and assumptions about competence on the job.

NEW in NYC is a fantastic organization. There are others around the country.
posted by girl Mark at 2:31 PM on March 26, 2015 [13 favorites]


Either you are ok peeing next to a truck, probably with people able to see

Ah! You, my friend, need barchan's Totally Awesome Kinetic Alfresco Portable Integrated System! Or TAKAPIS for short.

I have this problem a lot, too, so I made sort of private potty - I wish I was home so I could take a picture. So what I've done is put together a combination of 2 sets of Ikea curtain wires, sheets, and a cheap-ass tripod. Next, I glued magnets to both ends of the ikea mount hardware and a magnet for each to the tripod. One end of each curtain wire can magnetically attach to my truck and the other to the tripod, thus forming a triangle. (I've attached magnets on the bottom as well and the wires swing down to that when not in use too with a couple of wrap-around, or sometimes I just wrap the wires around if I'm lazy. (The wires were too long to begin with so I prewrapped a good portion of their length around the legs at the beginning and then zip-tied 'em into place.))

On the truck side of the triangle I can attach a small sheet that I sewed magnets into all 4 sides, mainly so I don't have to fuss with which side is up and to act as a counter weight. I used to actually throw a little curtain over each side but now I just throw a big solid colored sheet over the whole thing and duck underneath.

The whole thing fits behind the seats. Perfect for peeing, changing clothes, changing tampons, farting, getting things out of your bra, and checking yourself for ticks. With a combination of something like a GoGirl or a SheWee and a bottle, one can pee in relative peace even in more urban areas.
posted by barchan at 2:46 PM on March 26, 2015 [21 favorites]


How many women though actually want to go into construction? Genuine question. When I was in school none of the girls and most of the guys didn't think about going into construction. That was seen more as a fallback plan.
posted by I-baLL at 2:47 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


People often "don't want to go into" fields that have significant explicit and implicit barriers to entry for them.
posted by Fnarf at 3:01 PM on March 26, 2015 [19 favorites]


How many women though actually want to go into construction? Genuine question.

Wrong question. Right question: Why don't women want to go into construction?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:06 PM on March 26, 2015 [10 favorites]


Hint: boys generally don't want to go into construction either. It's just a opportunity that happens, reinforced by some cultural cachet around manliness, i think, and tons of people do it for a short while and go on to something else. But there is a huge imbalance between the number of young women who get offered these opportunities compared to the enormous number of teens/early 20something men who get to experience a construction environment long enough to figure out that they enjoy/tolerate the job, it's high pay, and other advantages. It's almost a rite of passage to put young men through a construction job sooner or later in their youth. We don't ever offer this to young women.
posted by girl Mark at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2015 [13 favorites]


I found that having a cohort of friends who were all doing it together was invaluable in finally getting me into the trade (we were NYC punks, men and women, and a large collection of our friends transitioned from bike messengering to carpentry at the same time). For women, mentorship and support can be extremely valuable. I started a small private meeting group in the Bay Area in there are last few years for women and trans people doing small-scale construction. I think one could start such a thing in other areas using meetup.com. . There tend to be advocacy groups supporting women in construction, which tend to focus on getting more women into large commercial and union jobs (NEW, mentioned in the article, is am excellent program in NYC, and there is Iradeswomen Inc in California, which has a convention (probably next month?). Some unions try to recruit women when doing apprenticeship classes.
posted by girl Mark at 3:20 PM on March 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ah! You, my friend, need barchan's Totally Awesome Kinetic Alfresco Portable Integrated System! Or TAKAPIS for short.

I'm a guy who doesn't have any problem peeing in public, but your invention sounds awesome, especially for tick checks. If construction was 70 percent women, I can guarantee every truck would have one of those as mandatory equipment.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:34 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


it's high pay, and other advantages.

this is a pretty sfbay-centric experience. elsewhere it's low pay and debilitating injuries.

the thing is that IMHO either you are running a crew by the time you are forty, you've gotten into real estate or you are painting and drunk or just drunk.

the construction industry physically chews up young men just like that and the only way you get ahead is by selling jobs rather than working them (outside of union/skilled trades and very high end work.)

and the other thing is, outside of bubbles like SF or manhattan, the going wage is more or less determined by how many people are willing to do a job and can get driven brutally low in places where all the men are out of work. so more workers (i.e. women) equals lower wages.
posted by ennui.bz at 4:06 PM on March 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Right. It's important to note that the women in these interviews are all working in NYC and are union members.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:12 PM on March 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


I did this in the small-town South as well, during a couple of economic downturns. It's not as well compensated as it is in big cities, but it still tends to pay better than other jobs available in the area. Which I know from having done a few non-construction jobs in those areas, too- factory work and retail and restaurant work... Certain kinds of construction jobs pay about twice what any of the above pays.
posted by girl Mark at 4:18 PM on March 26, 2015


I spent some time, during the construction boom of the early aughts, working on the very lowest tier of the construction industry. Well that and landscaping and occasionally clearing seaweed on a geoduck farm whatever kind of work that is. We would show up at the Labor Ready™ office, sign in, and wait to be called up to the desk for a job. No leaving your number and waiting for a call - we had to sit there and be present when the work got called in.

There were some women, more there in the temp office than you would see out on the site (the real laborers with full time jobs, the lowest of them a class above dirty temps like us). Often they were either just coming out of prison or scrounging enough money to pay for a shitty ass motel for the night. Sometimes it would be someone still looking for an old man that would let her shack up, in an arrangement that always looked a little more desperate and opportunistic than your typical hookup. Sometimes I would find out that they weren't particularly interested in this manual labor stuff, but were willing to get dirty if the alternative was prostitution. These definitely were not typically people who would readily find a food service or clerical job if the temp labor option wasn't available.

The environment was, even in a progressive Pacific North West community, beyond bigoted. Like, not only was bigotry the norm, but basic liberal ideas were as taboo there as blatant racism is in polite society. This was definitely not polite society. Somehow I occasionally made friends anyway (often with the feeling that I needed to wash my hands not just from the filthy work I was doing, but from the filthy attitudes I was tolerating). As a random example of how hostile these environments would be for women, there were literally break rooms with porn magazines stacked for casual reading.

As hard as it was for me to find my place in that kind of environment, hella props to any woman who survives that kind of atmosphere with her sanity intact, not to mention the possibility of making some change.
posted by idiopath at 4:31 PM on March 26, 2015 [8 favorites]


I worked at hundreds of home construction sites in Pennsylvania over eight years in the '90s and I think that I saw less than half a dozen female construction workers in all that time. Maybe it's changed by now but at the time there were almost entirely white, non-Hispanic male workers building houses. Needless to say almost all of those white guys were massively sexist, racist and homophobic.

You are right about that. But to qualify: new construction making monster homes in the suburbs; foundations, framing & roofing: yes, that's the most macho zone in the industry.
posted by ovvl at 4:35 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not sure about general laborers, but skilled trades (in my case, electrician) is definitely a well-paying job, especially after the apprenticeship period.

New construction is definitely a macho zone, and a young person's job at that. I mostly know folks doing old-work and renovation and plant services. When I was doing it, we were a heavily queer cohort of tradespeople (since you often end up working with the same folks since people recommend each other and all work for the same general contractor on larger jobs) with a heavily queer clientele, so the homophobia and sexism was a bit less than in general in the 1980's. I did like the time when I was busily at work while my boss was talking to a new-to-us carpenter and he commented that he wished he could get people who worked as hard and I just piped up with "Hire women" and he just sort of blinked.

One metaphor I saw from an older woman who was an electrician was the difference between pioneers and settlers. You don't just need people to show up and join - you need to keep them there.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:42 PM on March 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm a woman & I've been in the construction industry since 1986. Still am. I love construction! I love the smell of dirt, & freshly framed houses, and I love that it changes every day right before your eyes. I love that I can ask other people working on the same project about their tools, or what boots they like best. I always learn something from someone on every job.

I started in an office doing drafting & design. I hated it - hated coming to sit at the same desk & work with the same people every day. Never got to go to jobsites much, until I started my own company in 2007. Now I can get out & see new spaces & meet new people, work with them for a couple of months & then move on to the next project. It's awesome.

I ignore the asshole guys & just do my job. If somebody pokes fun, I poke back. Usually they smile, which means we're ok & we look after each other after that. They just want someone to play with. Maybe talk shit about their football team - good natured jabs.

I guess I'm lucky that I haven't run across cat calling harassers. I'm usually only on a jobsite for about 4 hours at a time (I design & install kitchen & bath cabinets), and I own my business, so I can set my own schedule & call my own shots. I can see why someone would get jaded if they felt trapped in construction but had no other way to earn a living. I get that - it's the same as me hating the office job.

It's nice to work with a bunch of people on a project - there's authentic comraderie (sp?) I haven't found in any other setting. People loan each other a screwdriver or some painter's tape when you've forgotten yours. More than once I've loaned someone my drill when their battery died. I've given 3/4" wood screws to people who ran out & didn't have time to pick up another pack.

In my experience people generally look after each other out there. I fell on my butt in the dirt a few weeks ago and 2 of the guys pouring concrete a few feet away rushed over to help me get up! People share their lunch, or buy it for someone who doesn't have money that day. They trade favors.

I can't imagine doing anything else & being happy.
posted by yoga at 5:43 PM on March 26, 2015 [20 favorites]


My job is to introduce middle school boys and girls to construction. I've been doing this for about 6 years - I've worked with about 1200 kids. I developed a program where I go to schools, usually during afterschool programs, and spend 8 weeks letting kids do site work, concrete, carpentry, electric wiring, pipefitting, caulking and insulation, drywall, and painting. In the summer we have a 3-week camp where we build a garden shed.

Lots of kids come alive during my programs. They've been sitting at a desk, getting further and further alienated, for years. When they get a hammer or a drill in their hands, they love it. Some of the math they have been resisting - like adding and subtracting fractions, angles, the Pythagorean Theorem - has a context, and they get it.

I see more interest from boys than girls, but every once in a while, a girl will just exhibit a natural problem solving ability, or she'll get hold of surveying equipment, or have a passion for how things work. Among the contractors I bring in to work with the students are female carpenters, painters, and even welders. I encourage all the kids to ask about how much money the contractors earn. Nobody ever talks frankly with them about money, and I think it's important that they know that they can make $20 an hour in an apprentice program straight out of high school. It might be their best shot at success.
posted by tizzie at 6:59 PM on March 26, 2015 [15 favorites]


There are a LOT of organizations helping women in the blue-collar trades. They have an annual, usually West Coast conference. Here's the flyer for this year's, "Women Building the Nation" May 1-3 near LAX.

I took some time off from IT deskwork to become a Marine Outside Machinist apprentice (A/K/A "mechanic") at a US Government facility through Washington's Women in the Trades. My apprenticeship was accelerated due to my existing skill set (thanks, dad!) and I ended up as an International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Journeyman on a civilian transportation project. Then I realized schlepping 75lb loads on scaffolding and dealing with bigots all day long was not for me. I went back into IT, but now with experience working with digitally-managed physical systems (everything from PC devices to ginormous hydraulic systems and turbines).

I also was able to parlay my trades experience into a marketing gig for my favorite work/bike boots, Wesco Boots/West Coast Shoe Company of Scappoose OR. AFAIK, they are the only US company making full-custom safety (safety toes, fireproof, electrical hazard, puncture-proof soles, logging caulks) on women's lasts. And the company's CEO is a woman, too!
posted by Dreidl at 11:02 PM on March 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


> The environment was, even in a progressive Pacific North West community, beyond bigoted. Like, not only was bigotry the norm, but basic liberal ideas were as taboo there as blatant racism is in polite society.

idiopath, I think you need think about what you're saying here, and the evidence you're providing for it. You're saying you don't think it's appropriate for women to work in construction trades because you worked for a temp agency and sometimes got assigned to unskilled labor jobs on construction sites, plus you can recite a bunch of stereotypes about what those kind of people are like.

My own experience working in carpentry has been very different from what you're describing, and I'm from the southeastern US, where, according to stereotypes held by most MeFites, we're all a bunch of inbred bigots. I've worked with female carpenters and with guys who've said privately that they disapproved of women working in construction. But those guys usually kept their mouths shut about that outside situations where they were just yacking with male coworkers. We work in a field that requires constant, minute-to-minute coordination with fellow crew members and fuck-ups can be dangerous or costly. Being shitty with coworkers does not mix well with that.

I'm male and so what I've said should be taken with a grain of salt. I've worked with female carpenters, but I don't know what it's like to be a woman working in a construction trade (though I'd advise reading the links in the OP and comments women have made here). I'm not saying sexism isn't a problem in construction or any other male-dominated field, but I'm not sure construction is worse than programming.

The issue I have with your comment is that you're trying to dissuade women from entering an occupation based on your own stereotypes about class and gender, while a lot of people who work in those trades have a more "progressive" view of this than you do.
posted by nangar at 11:24 PM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think he's saying it's inappropriate that women end up in that kind of job, he's just pointing out that 'damn, it's gotta be tough for you women if you deal with this kind of experience'

I have to say that the situation he describes really depends on the environment, and in construction, once you're past the very beginning stages and have some self-confidence, the 'mobility' of the field means you don't have to stay in a bad situations. Some communities of the US seem to be more full of prejudice than others, and, unsurprisingly, you can't predict that based on stereotypes (South, Pacific Northwest). Everyone likes to blame their home town or home state for havin the worst 'rednecks' but it's really far more complicated than that. I had a far harder time in NYC when I was starting out than I did in small towns in the Bible Belt.

I did the homeless-shelter-LaborReady-worker thing quite a bit before I became a carpenter- in North Carolina, Denver, Minneapolis, and other random places while I was a traveling gutter punk in the early 90's- and I sometimes had an OK experience . I once had homeless shelter LaborReady guys standing up for me once when management didn't want to send me out on a demolition job that all the guys got to do, and we prevailed. There's a fair amount of comraderie that people in labor situations can immediately come up with, and more of it when you're skilled at something (not the case in the temp work)
posted by girl Mark at 12:46 AM on March 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


So, what about women butchers?
posted by breadbox at 12:51 AM on March 27, 2015


Best and fastest butcher I've met was a female chef I used to work under. Actually, she's flat out one of the most technically proficient and holyshitfast chefs I've seen in action.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:14 AM on March 27, 2015


nangar: no, I wasn't trying to dissuade anyone. I'm just relating what it's actually like at that rock bottom level. I'm sure it's much better if you're skilled and you have your own tools.
posted by idiopath at 3:38 AM on March 27, 2015


dreidl thanks for the tip on those Wesco boots! I just got a pair of these from Georgia Boot and so far I like them a lot. Waterproof, comfy & supportive. And built for a woman's foot - yay!

tizzie that's so terrific about working with middle schoolers. Is that a local thing or are there national efforts as well?

I've only worked with girl scout troops so far in that same age group, so I don't know what working with boys is like. We built a Little Free Library last year & I saw that same spark in some of them. Making the connection between physical things and math, and also figuring out how things relate & what order stuff should happen in.

From what I've seen most women aren't terribly interested in construction. I've never asked why, maybe I will.

In my case I was so happy & curious to see what was behind the finished product I didn't care that I was the only female there. Most people are more than happy to answer questions, I've found.
posted by yoga at 8:39 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


From what I've seen most women aren't terribly interested in construction. I've never asked why, maybe I will.

For me at least, the thought literally never crossed my mind or was presented to me as a realistic possibility. I didn't think about it and decide "nah that's for dudes," I just literally never considered it at all. I knew from a young age I was going to work in an office. No one specifically told me so, but when every adult you know works in an office, you will most likely go on to do the same. My middle school had shop class and my high school had masonry, but frankly I'm pretty sure they only tracked kids with poor grades into those courses (they were never presented to me as options at all), and I never saw a girl doing masonry at all.

It wasn't until someone challenged me to think what I might like to do if I couldn't work in an office ever again that I began to consider the trades to be a legit possibility for me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:31 AM on March 27, 2015


So, what about women butchers?

Plenty of women do the dangerous and low-paid work behind the scenes in industrial abattoirs and meat processing plants; that it is usually a man working the counter at your local butcher's shop is purely social custom.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2015


When they get a hammer or a drill in their hands, they love it. Some of the math they have been resisting - like adding and subtracting fractions, angles, the Pythagorean Theorem - has a context, and they get it.

I will always be grateful to my (all-girl) high school for having a full and complete set shop, and offering theater tech both as a weekend option for building sets and as coursework. I wish they had thrown in "practical carpentry" and maybe even "pipes, how do they work" but even though I had grown up with power tools and been encouraged to use them, it was so awesome to just have at with a tilting arbor saw or power drills. For what it's worth, our brother school never had as many guys interested in it, and it was a little frustrating when fathers (it was always fathers, sorry) would come in only for set strike and boss us around, as if we hadn't built the whole thing, but it was fantastic fun and I miss it. I love that there are programs for high schoolers and Girl Scouts encouraging kids to be comfortable with tools.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:06 AM on March 27, 2015


There's stuff like this: http://rosiesgirls.org/camps/locations-dates/
posted by girl Mark at 11:37 AM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I recently found out that Scandinavian school systems have "craft" (sløyd in Danish and Norwegian, slöjd in Swedish – basically a combination of woodworking, textiles and metalworking) as a required part of their curriculum. They've been doing this since the 1870s. It's supposed to teach reasoning and problem solving skills, and, yeah, applied math.

In the Swedish school system, everybody has to take a combination of textiles, woodworking and metalworking from grades one through six, then pick a slöjd specialization for grades seven through nine. After that, they can opt for vocational or college-preparatory courses. (Kids start the first grade at age seven, so stuff that might not seem appropriate for first graders is actually intended for kids a year older. The same goes for asking kids to decide if they want to go college or not at the end of the ninth grade.)

My impression is that having this as part of the curriculum does make a difference, and that an almost complete lack of practice with reasoning or problem solving is a problem for graduates of our educational system (unless they pick up that kind of thing outside of school somehow). But pervasive attitudes about class in our society would probably make it impossible to implement any kind of a similar program here in the US or any other English-speaking country, regardless of the benefits it might have, even for students who don't go into a skilled trade. Reasoning and figuring out how to do stuff is a generalized skill, not something that should be limited to knitting and construction.

> My middle school had shop class and my high school had masonry, but frankly I'm pretty sure they only tracked kids with poor grades into those courses ...

Yeah, one of the ironies of our tracking system is that most people who end up going into skilled trades were assessed as being too dumb to take geometry and trig; those classes are reserved for college-bound students. But math skills, specifically skills taught in classes that kids assigned to vocational track aren't allowed to take, are critical in a lot of trades, so we end up having to teach people on the the job. Fortunately, a lot of people who were assessed as being too dumb to take geometry and trigonometry in school turn out to have an aptitude for it. If they didn't, nothing would ever get built.

(This rant is a bit off the original topic of gender and construction. Sorry.)
posted by nangar at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


plus you can recite a bunch of stereotypes about what those kind of people are like.

Yeah, but, there are places where if you expressed the kinds of platitudes which are fairly normal here on metafilter, everyone would just be blankly staring at you like you had two heads. Stereotypes aside.
posted by ovvl at 7:18 PM on March 27, 2015


Yoga, I was going to mention Rosie's Girls, but someone beat me to it. Here are some pics and info from our summer camp last year.
posted by tizzie at 8:36 AM on March 28, 2015


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