Is It Difficult To Be A Female Electrician?
If you are 1) a female, and 2) interested in becoming an electrician, you probably have a few questions. The trades are known for being a male-dominated workforce. What will your work experience be like? Will you be treated fairly? Will the physical nature of the work be an issue? Will the men you work with be complete jerks?
We surveyed female electricians from a number of different locations, and picked their brains.
The bad news? There are not that many women electricians.
The good news? The experience of the women we interviewed has been largely positive.
Here are some questions you may have on your mind, with some answers.
Will It Be Difficult To Get Training?
You should be able to find training without any difficulty. In fact, you may have an easier time finding an apprenticeship than the men in your area, because trade unions want to employ a diverse workforce, and many actively recruit women and minorities to join.
That doesn't mean you'll definitely be accepted—you'll still have to go through an interview process and take a few tests—but it definitely means that you should have an advantage over other candidates.
You still may have to wait a little while to get an apprenticeship. The New York Times ran a quick bio of a woman from Brooklyn who had become an electrician. Her experience was largely positive, but she also had to wait about a year before she was able to take the union test and get accepted into the apprenticeship program.
One interesting note from that article: there is an organization called "Nontraditional Employment for Women" (NEW) that helps women get jobs in the trades. The organization is based in New York, but there may be a similar organization in your area. Use your favorite search engine and see if there are similar programs in your area.
How Will I Be Treated?
According to the women we've talked with, they were mostly treated like anyone else on the job. The women reported that as long as they did their job, the majority of the workforce treated them no different than anyone else.
There were some old-timers who gave them a hard time, but one woman reported that most of the older guys just treated them like daughters.
One woman even noted that she had worked in the corporate world before she became an electrician, and the treatment she got from the executive types was much worse than what she got from other electricians. Other women have said that whatever sexism they faced was similar to the sexism they faced as waiters, office workers, etc. Mostly, it seemed the women we surveyed had positive work experiences.
That said, there were a few potential issues that the women noted:
- Women who thought they should get special treatment for being women had a hard time. The women who reported high work satisfaction said they made an effort not to be treated any differently than any of the men. One woman explained that when the rest of the crew felt like she was there to work and wanted to be treated like everyone else, she earned the crew's respect.
- Many women reported that guys would offer to help the women do the work, or do some of the women's work for them, because they thought they were just being nice. One woman said that it was very important to know when to accept help, and when to refuse it—and that it was important that she refuse it MOST of the time, because it would mean that they would lose the respect of the rest of the crew.
- A few other women spoke about favoritism. One spoke about a foreman who had a female member of his crew sit in the front seat of the truck, and made a few senior members of his crew sit in the back. The senior members didn't appreciate the idea that the female had gotten special treatment, and the woman said that the workplace environment was more difficult after that. Basically, she experienced favoritism (which was not quite her fault) and then the other workers resented her for it. It can help to know that some team members may treat women with favoritism, and that it is almost always best to stop any favoritism that occurs.
- Many women said that it was a bad idea to become romantically involved with a coworker, and others noted that it was best for women to dress appropriately for work, and not worry about "looking good."
Can I Actually Do The Work?
Of course you can. There is some heavy lifting—up to fifty pounds or more—but not as much physical exertion as in other trades, and you'll get fitter the longer you're there. Here's a great video of female electricians in Oregon at a worksite:
I Don't Weight Very Much; Is That A Bad Thing?
No. In fact, that can be an advantage. Electricians often need to fit into crowded or small spaces, and a petite frame may allow you to get to places that a bigger frame could not get to. You may get asked to do an unfair share of work that requires a smaller person and smaller hands, but keep in mind—the really big guys also get asked to carry more than their fair share of the heavy equipment. If anything, your smaller size may give a special role on the team, where you are able to make a contribution that the men are not able to make.
Also, remember that you'll get stronger as you gain experience. Most apprentices are a bit scrawny when they start, and develop very specialized muscles are they move through their career. The same will be true for you. The jobs that you find physically difficult will become much easier as you figure out how to do them.
Is There A Place Where I Can Talk To Other Lady Electricians?
Yes, there is! Reddit.com is a site that brings like-minded people (and some not-so-like-minded) people together. There is the front page, which is a random collection of the day's most interesting stories, but then there are "subreddits" where people talk about a specific subject. There are subreddits on sports, knitting, crime movies, you name it. There is also a subreddit for electricians, and also a subreddit for women who work in the trades. It is called "Blue Collar Women". If you have questions, join Reddit (it's free) and start asking questions. People who go on Reddit are (for the most part) willing to share their experiences and ideas.
You can also try ElectricianTalk.com, and while that is a fantastic site, it is not a site that has an area specifically for females.
If Somebody Actually Does Give Me A Hard Time, What Can I Do About It?
Here's the bottom line: racism, sexism, discrimination, and/or harassment has NO place on the job site. If you are experiencing any form sexism (or any other kind of marginalization) contact your apprenticeship leader, crew leader, or other authority figure. Many unions have a specific phone number you can call, such as this one for Local #3 in New York.
Remember, there is a zero tolerance policy for unethical behavior. If you are being mistreated, contact the authorities.
If you're a female and you're interested in becoming an electrician, you should DEFINITELY go for it! The pay is great and the U.S. needs more female electricians. Make it happen!