A common question I am asked, when people learn I have spent almost my entire professional life in the construction field, is, “What was THAT like?”
Women especially ask me this; both out of curiosity of choice and wondering if it was a nightmare…
It was not.
What I am about to share is MY experience in the field; it is not meant to represent all women’s experiences. Let me also caveat that I count myself lucky, because I am sure there ARE nightmare stories from women who actually had to work on real job sites, just as I did. But my experience was one of respect and fulfillment.
I was a lighting specifier for Atlantic Electric Supply for over 20 years. I was a “boots in the field” designer- I did not work from a showroom. I worked with both electrical crews and construction crews. Generally, it was my electrician client who brought me to the job, but sometimes I was there via the builder. In the latter case I needed to establish a good rapport with the electrical contractor.
I can honestly say that I was only treated with disrespect in one instance, and that was by a custom home builder’s foreman. It was a rainy day, and his trailer was down about a half mile of muddy “road”. I was delivering a straggling light fixture to finish one of the homes in that community, and though at the time I drove a small truck, I did not want to get stuck down that road.
I grabbed the box and walked it in. This was a fair size box, and I am 5 foot nothin’, so…it was a bit of a chore.
When I reached the job trailer, there were several awkward cinder block “steps” to climb- he was in the trailer at a desk, and simply said, “Been waiting for that.”
I hoisted the light up, got myself in, and pulled the manifest out of my coat for his signature. He looked at the manifest, signed it, then looked at me and said, “ My wife doesn’t have to work.” Then he went back to his paperwork.
I left. I certainly never forgot that moment of rudeness and stupidity. Why on earth did he feel it was important to say such a thing to me?
I was never trapped in a job trailer feeling unsafe. I never met a guy at a job site and felt ill at ease, nor was I hit on, nor did anyone ever touch me inappropriately. In point of fact, most companies I interacted with also had bold signage in their job trailers that swearing would not be tolerated.
An atmosphere of civility was put in place and generally tightly followed.
Almost all of the men I worked with in construction and in electrical were gentlemen. They are better educated than the public understands. Most have a minimum of four years, and many eight years, of formal, specific education under their belts in order to do what they do.
This is why your houses don’t fall down and why your lights and appliances work- they’re professionals.
I was challenged to do my job, to bring solutions, and at the best price I could. I was challenged to help my clients with their margins, so we all could make money. I was never challenged to do something unpleasant, or listen to unsavory comments.
I am quite confident that if such a thing had happened, and I reported it, every company I worked with would have reprimanded or fired said individual. They simply didn’t tolerate ugly behavior. Period.
Fun fact, about ten years after that rainy- day delivery, I was wrapping up a meeting in a Maryland builder’s office- he asked me if I recognized the name ________. He was interviewing him as a foreman. I said I did, but had not had a pleasant working relationship with him. The builder wanted the details; I gave them to him.
I passed ________ going into the building as I came out. He gave a short nod, and then one of those looks when you’re struggling to figure out if you’ve seen that face before….it had been awhile.
Perhaps he remembered when he didn’t get the job. I’ll never know.
And that’s OK by me.