a womans place is in construction

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Article about women in construction

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  • Sandy Trainor

    With upwards of 30 years in thebusiness, Sandy Trainor, president ofKodiak Pacific Construction, points outthat the vast majority of constructioncompanies are passed down to familymembers, predominantly males. Portsof entry for most women are emergingsmall businesses, disadvantagedbusinesses, and women ownedbusinesses. "This gives women a smallsector of opportunities in which to besuccessful," she says. Trainor adds thatfor women to last in the building trades,it is not enough to have, "the knowledgeandskills, but also the will, desire, andthe love for the work."

    Kathryn Merritt also runs her owncompany, Great Kate! ConstructionCompany, a full-service generalcontracting firm that employs bothmen and women as well as manysubcontractors. Merritt enjoys hard,challenging, physical work and doesn'tmind getting dirty. "l can't even breathein an office environment. Plus, I amoutspoken, opinionated, and loud," sheadmits. "There are many workplaces Idon't fit in."

    Merritt scoffs at the notion ofa "construction industry cu lture."That culture, Merritt insists, variesgreatly from jobsite to jobsite as itis created by individual companiesand subcontractors. "lf our cultureis anything, it is of accomplishment,getting things done." She lamentsthe condescending perception thatstill pervades most constructionrelated work.

    "0ur culture puts such a negativeperspective on blue collar work. We

    desperately need skilled tradespeople,but our society puts out a messagethat anyone who is smart doessomething else."

    Women who enter the buildingtrades have different pressures andresponsibilities than men, especiallywomen with kids and single moms. Theisolation of being the only woman canbe a burden, Merritt says. "We need tohave someone, at least one person whocan BS with us and help us gei througha tough day. Sometimes we are totallyalone, with no friends or colleagues onour jobsite."

    Merritt also says that women arestill typecast by society. "There's nopopular support for women to be inconstruction. The images of womenin construction in popular media areabsurd; we are surrounded by the ideathat we are aliens."

    But Merritt also says that womenmust assume responsibility for their owncareers and training. "Some women wantto be an electrician or plumber, but theyare waiting for an invitation and a handup. I tell them: 'Get over it and get towork!"'

    Jenny McClatchey

    Some of the same factors that keepsome women out of construction appealto Jenny McClatchey, a sheet metalapprentice for Milwaukie-based HVAClnc. Much of her work is inside, but shesometimes toils in sweltering heat andfreezing rain. Much of her duties arephysical, such as installing ductworkand insulation. lt's not for everyone, shesays, certainly not for all women, but

    she claims it is the best experience ofher life.

    McClatchey, who is a Vietnamese-American, enjoys being the only womanon a crew and says that she's never hada problem asking for help. "lt's a man'sworld and you have to adjust to it andnot expect everyone to adjust to you. Ilove the joking and bantering and beingone of the guys. When they give me ahard time, I give it right back."

    Mersha Kefeyalhu

    Others, such as Mersha Kefeyalhu,also fit easily into a male-dominatedoccupation. Just a dozen years ago,she was living in Ethiopia and neverdreamed of working in the constructionindustry. After moving to the U.S in1997, Kefeyalhu became fascinated bythe HVAC systems, including boilers,chillers, and heaters while working atthe Portland Center for the PerformingArts. She started a new career by takingpre-apprenticeship classes at the 0regonTradeswomen Center.

    Today, she's weeks away fromcompleting her apprenticeship program,to become a journeyman HVACtechnician. Kefeyalhu, who is barelyfive feet tall and weighs less than100 pounds, has worked for Hunter-Davisson, lnc., since April of 2006. Sheworks in the cold, rain, and heat, onrooftops, scaffolding, above ceil ings,and in crawlspaces troubleshootingHVAC systems.

    Although the HVAC sector isoverwhelminglY male, Mersha hashad zero problems fitting in and saysshe would not change even one thing

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  • about her job. She says thai her job isdefinitely brains over brawn as a lot ofthe components are tiny and complex."More women should consider HVAC as acareer," she says. "This is a job a womancan do just as well as a man."

    A certified welding instructorworking in Portland, Kym Halstead tookup the welding profession because shewanted something more exciting thansitting behind a desk. "l preferred tohang out with the boys because manyof the girls seemed phony and catty."Halstead says that it is impossible tosay why more women do not enter thebuilding trades, because it is such anindividual choice.

    "Many women are uncomfortablewith it, maybe even scared to try it.Construction is physical labor and a lotof women may not find that interestingor they may prefer an easier and softerway."

    lf hard, exhausting, dirty work, keepsmany women and men away from thebuilding trades, it attracted carpenterCaitlin Ecklund (page 16 photo, center).She rejects the notion that the physicalaspect deters women from constructionjobs, claiming that socialization is moreoften the culprit. "ln high school, it'sunusual to suggest a girl become aplumber rather than a secretaryjustas it is perceived as strange for a manto teach preschool or to become areception ist."

    While the trades could do more tomake women comfortable, Ecklundsays people also need to realize thatconstruction is historically gendered.

    our deck and tear up our roof, butmaybe he didn't know that," she says."Calling all dads and momslYourdaughters want to help too!" [[!

    Alina Glazer

    While other kids watched cartoons,Alina Glazer's favorite show was"This 0ld House." Now an apprenticecarpenter and employed at SkywardConstruction, Glazer savors the physicalaspects of her job, but she has yet tomeet another female carpenter sinceshe has been in the trades. "Right nowI don't have anyone to relate to or toget advice from. lt can be isolating."Glazer3ays the construction industry ingeneral needs to shatter all of the oldstereotypes regarding women and men.

    "There's a lingering perception thatthe trades are full of criminals, druggies,or uneducated people. We need topromote the benefits and the excitingcareer options to the general public."

    Although she studied architecturein college and dabbled in design foreight years, Virginia Krakowiak (page16 photo, left) was reluctant to enterthe construction management fieldbecause she felt "an invisible brick wall."Yet Krakowiak admits that just as she isdefensive about stereotypes, she caughtherself making assumptions about othersthat were unfair.

    The status quo is changing, she says,but still has a long way to go. "Theindustry doesn't openly say: 'WomenNeed Not Applyj but there are still placeswhere hiring a woman is unheard of."

    Krakowiak is grateful to live in anarea that has many active tradeswomen,but says those numbers quickly declineas you leave the metro area. The answer,she says, is to start including ourdaughte rs in lessons originally reservedfor the boys.

    "l would have loved to have workedon engines and helped my dad rebuild

    Kym Halstead

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    Construction News Update May-June 2009 AW 19