A Mediaplanet Guide to Supporting Women in Male-Dominated Career Paths
Investing in Women and Girls
Barbie the Welder The influencer shares her love for the artistry of her craft Discover how tech industry leaders are addressing gender inequality Read the exclusive interview with “Queer Eye’s” Bobby Berk
SEPTEMBER 2020 | FUTUREOFBUSINESSANDTECH.COM
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If You Want to Get Noticed at Work, You Need to Go Above and Beyond It’s common to see women keep their heads down at work, but the best way to get ahead is to draw attention to your skills through active problem solving. I often observe women in business being the “worker bee,” and purposely not drawing attention to themselves. These women hope that eventually their boss will notice their hard work and recognize their consistency and effort with a promotion. Unfortunately, this is not a strategy for success. If one’s head is always down, she will be overlooked. The reality is that women must make themselves known in order to excel in an organization. For women who are interested in leading, one way to overcome this hurdle is to identify a problem in their work environment and develop a thoughtful solution. Solving workplace issues requires actively listening to colleagues, testing possibilities, and finding solutions, which is a good way to demonstrate knowledge and skills. When a woman steps out of her normal routine to point out a problem and present a plan of action, it shows management that she has the desire and aptitude to reach up to the next level, and reaching out beyond the current work team means new connections and a bigger, deeper organizational network. Both of these are key factors for helping women move successfully up through an organizational structure. Kerri Hamm, SVP, Client Executive, Munich Re US
The Long Road Ahead to Gender Equality Linda Crompton President & CEO, Leadership Women
ugust of 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote. Since that landmark legislation, waves of feminist activism in the ‘70s, ‘90s, and 2010s made progress in the fight for equal rights for women. Today, in what might arguably be called the “fifth wave” of feminism, the movement has expanded to include more diversity and appears to have more momentum than ever. So, after all this effort, we have to ask: How much progress has really been made after a hundred years? Despite representing 50.04 percent of the American labor force, only 7.4 percent of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women, only three of whom are non-white. For every dollar earned by a male worker, a
white woman still only makes 82 cents, a Black woman 62 cents, and a Latina woman just 54 cents. In the highest earning sector, technology, only 26 percent of computing-related jobs are held by women, with only 3 percent of these held by Black women, 6 percent by Asian women, and 2 percent by Latina women. And what’s more, the Global Economic Forums’ annual Forecast on Equity now states that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years. Another hundred years There are myriad reasons why the United States lags so far behind on gender equality. There has been little progress on the law-making and public policy front that directly affects women. For example, the United States does not grant paid maternity leave, forcing women to choose between starting a family or advancing their career. In addition to policy, there are numerous cultural and systemic barriers to women’s economic progress. Because women still tend to handle the majority of household and child-related tasks, it is more
difficult to apply for an elite job where long hours are expected. Most senior corporate positions and board roles are occupied by white men, and the tendency is to fill open positions at this level with “like candidates,” meaning other white men. Men also benefit from established formal and informal professional networks that generate job leads and early career mentoring. Improving the odds Let’s not kid ourselves — there is still a long road ahead, but women still have opportunities to better position themselves to achieve high-level executive positions and support other women along the way. Number one is networking. Meeting women who have successfully forged a satisfying career for themselves, along with those still striving, is an invaluable way to both spot opportunities and to get your name out there. That network can also provide mentors and advisors who can help you along the way. When you become a leader yourself, don’t forget about your female colleagues. Offer a helping hand, make sure that women’s names (and not just white women’s names) are on the short list when recruiting, and offer advice when asked. Actively create assignments for women on your staff or in your company so that they can shine and be noticed and promote their achievements. And if you can, look for opportunities to introduce women-friendly policies within your organization. Additionally, and it may seem obvious, but support politicians who openly support women and policies that will help in their advancement. We don’t want to wait another hundred years for true gender equality. n
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The Importance of Giving Women a Seat at the Table Senior vice president of Collabera, Dawn Serpe, answers questions about how to support more women on their rise to the top of the career ladder. What obstacles have you faced as a woman within your industry? In the past, I’ve worked at companies where it was a “boy’s club.” In each organization, I’ve had to prove myself and show that I deserve a seat at the table; that I have the experience and a unique perspective as a woman, including empathy and compassion. What would you tell male counterparts regarding the importance of bridging the gender gap? I tell my male counterparts that we need more women in management roles, simply because we bring different perspectives, ideas, and experiences to the table. It’s always advantageous to have a diverse group of people at the table because it allows us to grow and learn from each other. What advice would you tell young women looking to excel within their field? Pursue what you’re passionate about and focus on what makes you happy. You’ve made it when you wake up in the morning and work excites you. A lot of people hate their jobs, unfortunately, but women will excel when they are motivated and feel great about what they do. This has been paid for by Collabera.
How to Create Gender Inclusive Cultures Within the Technology Industry Leaders in the tech industry can and should do more to support gender inclusivity in the workplace, and that goes for men as well as women. Creating and fostering a gender inclusive culture is a business imperative. After all, women coexist with men, play a major role in driving innovation, and understand market opportunities. In fact, women control 51 percent of wealth in the United States and 40 percent globally, and they either directly or indirectly influence up to 80 percent of all purchases. In addition, data shows that public companies that have a diverse management team see a 95 percent higher return on equity. In short, workplace diversity is a must for companies that are looking to grow and compete in today’s digital era. So how do you create a gender inclusive culture in the tech industry? Change must be driven at the top CEOs and founders must lead by example and demonstrate that they truly want to build an inclusive culture. They should be an integral part of developing a comprehensive strategy to support a diverse workforce. Make sure they are hiring women
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on boards and the management team is a mix of diverse professionals. Celebrate women in the workplace Saying you have a diverse culture is not enough. It is critical that you constantly show that you want to support and foster your women employees — from allowing them to attend women’s networking events to regularly spotlighting women and their accomplishments within the organization. Empower women to create inclusive cultures Women are often not sure how they will be perceived if they create inclusive teams. Give them clear direction and let them know they are 100 percent responsible for building their team — the more diverse the better. No one should stand alone and there should be no cliques. Encourage men to hire and mentor women Male allies play a significant role in helping women move up the ladder. More men should be championing women and developing policies that are pro-women. Men should be part of the conversation and solution when it comes to gender equality in the workplace. n Carolyn Leighton, CEO and Founder, WITI
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One Teen Entrepreneur Proves It’s Never Too Early to Start Your Business High school entrepreneur Norah Kolb turned an eighth-grade science project into a profitable business with thousands of customers. In a Q&A, she discusses how investing in young entrepreneurs pays off in the near-term and long-term.
What Women Need to Know About the Best Path to the C-Suite There are two basic career paths in the corporate world, but women are too seldom on the one that leads to the top.
Tell us about your product. As a competitive swimmer, I struggled with shoulder and neck discomfort when using a kickboard. To solve this problem, I developed the Ray-Board, an ergonomically shaped kickboard. Ray-Board’s unique shape allows for a bent-arm position which promotes a natural body alignment. How have you been supported along the way? I started this journey through the Connecticut Invention Convention, which is an amazing program to encourage students to design and build inventions that solve everyday problems. From there, I pitched my prototype to CTNext’s Shark Tank, against 10 other adult companies, and won $12,000 to launch my business. I was thrilled that the judges took a chance in investing in a high-schooler. What advice do you have for other young girls? Don’t be afraid to try new things that you may think you are too young for. When I came up with the idea for Ray-Board I had no idea I could take it so far, but all it really took was taking some risk and asking for lots of help along the way.
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n 25 years of advocating for women’s success in business, I have found that most women are on a career path that does not lead to the top. In a 2019 study, the National Association for Female Executives learned that just 15 percent of the women executives surveyed had detailed information about the two basic career paths for corporate employees. Moreover, only 14 percent of women say they were encouraged to consider one of the essential jobs that lead to the top. In order to contend for positions at the highest ranks of a company, including CEO, women need a better understanding of the difference between line roles and staff roles. Line roles are responsible for revenue generation, and this experience is essential to becoming a CEO. These positions are
commonly known as profit-andloss (P&L) responsibility. Staff roles serve an advisory or support function for those who generate revenue. Human resources, finance, legal, and communications departments are all examples of staff roles. Employees in these departments may reach the C-suite as direct reports to the CEO as general counsel, chief human resources officer, or chief financial officer, but they won’t make CEO without proven profit-generation. Experience in both line and staff roles builds a strong resume for the CEO position, but historically women have faced difficulty moving from staff to line jobs. Learning the basics of P&L responsibility can help women start their careers on the most advantageous path. An executive in a P&L position is accountable for the
profitability of her business and for driving revenue results, which includes monitoring the net income after expenses. A common first job on this career path is in sales. Those with P&L jobs enjoy autonomy, deciding what products the company makes or services it delivers. They have direct influence on how company resources are allocated and deal directly with customers or clients. A common fear is that P&L responsibility is about math, but these jobs require a minimal amount of financial acumen and always come with support from the finance department. With a thorough understanding of the paths and options available to them, women can better position themselves for jobs at the top. n Betty Spence, Ph.D., President, National Association for Female Executives
Apprenticeship Helps Women Enter, and Advance in, the Skilled Trades
Why, For Me, Welding Is a Pure Place to Be
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted industries and hurt workers. But through the turmoil, new opportunities are emerging for apprenticeships in skilled trades for women.
Women stepped into the workforce during WWII and proved not only were they capable of raising a family and caring for a home, they were also capable of manual labor and working with their hands to build and create. This brought women like me great personal fulfillment and pride, and so women honed their skills and became craftsmen. Today, more and more women are finding that same fulfillment and pride in the welding industry, not to mention excellent pay and benefits. The welding industry has always honored a skilled craftsman regardless of gender but has been predominately male throughout its history. As modern women share their experience with the craft on social media, in magazine articles and blogs, and through word of mouth, others are finding their way to welding schools and fabrication shops all over the world. Women are sharing that careers in welding provide so much more than great income and benefits. The physical aspect of creation is therapeutic. Bending metal to your will through heat and pressure makes you feel like a superhero, and as you improve, each new learned skill brings a sense of gratification and boosts your self-esteem and confidence. For me, welding is a pure place to be. I flip my welding hood down, strike an arc, and the whole world goes black except for the glow. As the weld puddle forms, I begin to
PHOTO: KEEGAN BEARD
As a welder, I’m passionate about sharing my love of the craft with others, and especially with other women.
rhythmically dip the filler rod into the puddle as I slowly move along my weldment. I weave my torch back and forth in small movements, creating crescent moons, and watch as my weld takes shape. When I finish my weld, I hold my torch over it for a moment, allowing the gas to protect my masterpiece, and find a moment of Zen. I lift my hood up and it’s magnificent! Welding is an art and a fabricator an artist — whether it’s creating a small bracket or a bridge that spans raging waters. A skilled welder can teach you how to weld very quickly, but the joy of welding is the time you spend perfecting your skills throughout your career. Exploring the different welding processes, working with a variety of materials, and learning how to fabricate takes thousands of
hours of practice, but once you begin to really master it, it will change you forever. Welding is also a diverse field that offers a wide variety of career options and will keep anyone from getting bored. Welders work inside and outside, underwater, in small fabrication shops, solo, and in teams. They create small weldments, structural buildings, or giant ships across a wide variety of industries like automotive, aerospace, natural gas, construction, and art, just to name a few. Welding can be a demanding career and we pride ourselves on our ability to overcome any obstacles put in our way, and we show respect for our welding brothers and sisters who do the same. n
As the global economy adjusts to the new realities of life during a pandemic, workers must begin developing new skills to meet the new challenges industries will face. To gain these skills in short order, workers will need high-quality and proven employment training opportunities like apprenticeships. An apprentice learns a job by doing it, and receives high wages and a comprehensive package of benefits while working toward a formal qualification known as an “industry-recognized credential.” People who complete apprenticeships earn more over their lifetimes than those who haven’t participated in apprenticeships. It’s a win-win for workers and for their employers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, people who complete apprenticeships earn an average annual salary of $70,000 — and 94 percent stay with their employer after they have finished the program. However, there is work to be done. This rosy data belies the fact that women and people of color do not receive the same benefits from apprenticeship that their white male peers do. For instance, apprentices are a key talent pipeline for the skilled trades, but only 2.2 percent of apprentices in the construction trades are women, according to the National Women’s Law Center. But we can change these outcomes through intentional and coordinated efforts. n Myriam Sullivan, Director, Jobs For the Future
Barbie the Welder MEDIAPLANET
Mayim Bialik Tells Young Girls Not to Be Timid About Being Smart
HGTV’s Mina Starsiak Doesn’t Need Your Help at the Hardware Store One half of the mother-daughter duo on HGTV’s “Good Bones,” Mina Starsiak talks mansplaining, skills women bring to a construction site, and her hopes for the next generation. What advice would you give to women looking to break into the industry? I really think that you have to approach it with a stubbornness because it’s something that unfortunately is new and different. Even when walking through the hardware store, if I’ll ask, ‘Where are the plumbing crimps’ and the man helping me is like, ‘Oh, well what project are you trying to do, maybe I can help you, do you need this’ and I’m like, ‘No, no, I know what I’m doing.’ So, I think it’s just like a lot of other things, getting people used to a different norm and in the meantime, you’re probably going to have to put up with some shenanigans. In what ways do you think women play a vital role in the industry? We can pay someone to be strong — it’s harder to find someone to be creative and intuitive, a good planner, and multitasker. And I do think men definitely have that skillset as well, but I think for some women it comes a little more naturally because of other norms, of how we’re raised we tend to juggle more and see things through a different lens. What does the future of the workforce in your industry look like to you? When I was growing up it was all men doing construction shows or anything like that. So the norm for [the next generation] now is going to be, ‘Oh, well there are all of these talented women that are also in the construction industry.’ Hopefully, it will just naturally be a different situation and we have the opportunity to present that to them now.
“The Big Bang Theory” actor explains why it’s so important for young women who want to work in STEM have other women as role models to look up to. “I love encouraging young women to embrace the sciences,” said actor Mayim Bialik, who plays Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist, on “The Big Bang Theory.” Bialik has a Ph.D. in neuroscience of her own, and is a role model for young women interested in pursuing a future in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. At an early age, girls may be discouraged from participating in STEM subjects, but providing young girls with the encouragement and access they need to succeed in these fields will
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help reduce the gender gap that unfortunately still exists. “It’s an incredibly enlightening way to view the world once you’ve been trained in STEM,” Bialik said. “It’s a smart career choice and it’s a creative and exciting lifestyle to be a scientist.” It’s important for young women and girls to see other women represented in these technical fields in order to be able to see themselves in these roles too. Bialik said her inspiration started on the set of “Blossom,” where she played the lead character back in the ‘90s. The actor’s on-set biology tutor at the time was a dental student, and Bialik said she was the first person to inspire her love of science. “She’s now a surgeon and mom of four; she’s my inspiration! It only takes one person to build a young girl’s confidence
and inspire her to believe she can do it too.” Parents, guardians, and teachers of young girls can inspire a similar love for STEM by empowering their curiosity and inviting questions. Activities like going to science museums or after-school programming can facilitate growth and interest in these subjects and build the confidence girls need to pursue STEM fields later in life as a career. There still aren’t a lot of examples of professional women in STEM, so it’s especially vital for girls to see someone like them to look up to. “It is so important for girls to see real role models who aren’t timid about being smart and pursuing a career in STEM,” Bialik said. n Bianca Bharti
Building The Next Generation Of Stem Leaders Among Young Women Of Color
Women of color make up a rapidly rising percentage of the U.S. population. If our country is to remain a global competitor with a robust STEM workforce, young Black and brown girls need inspiration, equity, and STEM education, now.
f we fail to fully equip and empower girls of color, a fast-growing demographic of capable, untapped talent to be among the next generation of innovators and business leaders in science and engineering, our nation cannot realize its full potential of economic growth. Underrepresentation in STEM by all girls in the United States is deeply rooted in their historic socio-political marginalization, and Black girls disproportionately so. Achieving scientific and technological literacy, logical thinking, and mathematical skill sets has been especially difficult for young women of color because STEM fields have long been perceived as the province of white males, and they have lacked equitable access, incentivization, and mentorship from an early age.
Equity in STEM To nurture a “STEM identity” in young women of color, Broadcom Foundation sponsored Design_CODE_Build for girls at the Computer History Museum. However, it quickly became apparent that seismic changes in the number of Black and brown girls pursuing STEM will only occur when greater numbers of women of color are business leaders who mentor and grow future STEM talent from among their ranks. As Vikki Shepp, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Orange County says, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” “Throughput of our nation’s STEM pipeline will not grow if our goal rests on simply adding employees,” observes engineer Nicole Washington, member of the Angel Capital Association and former director of innovation and
growth for OCTANe. “To achieve race and gender equity in STEM, we need pathways to entrepreneurship for women of color — funding and championing them to build their own STEM companies. These are the people who will create much-needed jobs in the very communities they live and who will become role models for those who, for far too long, have gone underrepresented in science and technology.” STEM now Developing confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit in young women of color is as equally challenging as imparting STEM skills — it requires creating incentives for them to believe in their power to excel and lead as scientists, engineers, innovators, and entrepreneurs at an early age, just as is done
with young males. Lifestyle-driven STEM education programs that provide mastery experiences help build the confidence that is critical to becoming a future leader in STEM. All-girl programs like Afterschool Studios, and Black Girls CODE, and STEAM enrichment programs through all-girl organizations like the Girl Scouts reinforce essential team building and leadership skills among peers, which are equally important for long-term career success as acquiring STEM expertise. Taking this principle into account, United States Senator and Democratic candidate for Vice President Kamala Harris introduced the 21st Century STEM for Girls and Underrepresented Minorities Act of 2019 that could drastically change how grant money for science and technology training is directed, reduce racial and gender bias in low-income communities, and, importantly, implement more afterschool STEM clubs. It is critically important that we keep front-and-center the long-term goal of creating a vibrant, STEM-driven economy as the nation strives to reconfigure STEM education under the economic and socialization constraints of a global pandemic, and after-school programs like Black Girls Code are forced to go virtual. Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant is calling on software developers in Silicon Valley to help reshape and sustain programs like hers to prevent Black and brown women from being frozen out of STEM opportunities. Young women of color are a precious national resource for future innovation and addressing their potential to become leaders in STEM must be factored into shaping education policy. n Paula Golden, President, Broadcom Foundation
To achieve race and gender equity in STEM, we need pathways to entrepreneurship for women of color.
An Expert Weighs in On Careers in HVAC for Women Leslie Gildea of ServiceTitan, a platform for independent contractors to sell and promote their services, discusses what makes HVAC a rewarding career, and why she encourages more women to consider the industry.
What is the biggest misconception regarding a career in HVAC that you’d like to debunk for our readers? When people think of HVAC, they tend to think of an industry that will offer jobs but not careers, when this simply could not be further from the truth. There are many different types of roles in HVAC, ranging from engineers and field technicians to project managers and marketers.
What advice would you give to women on breaking into the HVAC industry? I would encourage women thinking about working in HVAC to dive in headfirst and learn as much as you can. Set up informational interviews with both men and women in the roles you’re interested in to learn what skill sets are required and get some tips of the trade.
Can you speak to the importance of gender diversity in the skilled trades today? Since women currently make up such a miniscule percentage of the workforce in the trades, it is critical that we create career pathways for this untapped labor pool in order to ensure the future for so many industries, including HVAC. More importantly, studies have shown that more diverse workforces produce better outcomes. This has been paid for by ServiceTitan.
Mike Rowe Explains Why Jobs Are Not One Size Fits All
got a call recently from a magazine editor who invited me to weigh in on their annual list of “The Top 100 Jobs.” I politely declined. He asked me why, and I said, “Because I don’t think you’ll print my answer.” I get it — people love lists. They’re fun, and if someone invited me to discuss The Top 100 Films, The Top 100 Books, or The Top 100 Songs, I’m in. But ranking movies and songs is harmless. Ranking careers and colleges is not. I know for a fact that a great education can be found at many affordable schools that will never appear on someone else’s list. Likewise, I’m personally convinced that career contentment has nothing to do with someone else’s perception of a “good job.” A couple years ago, I was dropped into a 60-foot prospect shaft about the size of a manhole, somewhere in the Australian Outback. I was profiling a jolly pair of opal miners and getting a taste of what their work was like day in and day out. As they lowered me further and further into the narrow tube, my focus
shifted from looking for opals to not losing my mind. The claustrophobia was palpable, and by the time I got to the bottom, the sky above me was just a blue dot. I yelled up to the men far above me, “Do you guys really love this?” They yelled back in unison, their voices faint but clear, “Best job I ever had!” Building a successful career I’ve asked the same question to hundreds of people over the years — roughnecks, crab fishermen, welders, roustabouts, plumbers, lumberjacks, truck drivers, soldiers, blacksmiths, electricians — and they all answered the same way. And yet, none of those vocations appear on anyone’s list of “Top Jobs.” How come? Right now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 3 million jobs are available for those who are willing to learn a skill that’s in demand. The vast majority of these jobs do not require a four-year degree; they require training. Fortunately, many excellent training facilities exist all over the country. And yet, none of those schools are ever
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included in the “Top 100 Colleges in America.” Why? The perks of skill-based education Last year, my foundation sent dozens of people to trade schools that most parents have never heard of, to pursue skills that few guidance counselors affirmatively encourage. Many of these jobs lead to six-figure salaries quickly. I’ve partnered with several companies that assist potential employees with vocational training. Caterpillar has a program that will train you for free to be a dealer technician. Categorically, I can tell you that these people love their work. Many have gone on to start their own businesses. Too many great opportunities are falling through the cracks, and too many people are being influenced by someone else’s notion of a “good job.” Job satisfaction is important, but from what I’ve seen, it has less to do with what you do, and more to do with who you are. And character, I’m afraid, isn’t something you’re going to find on any list. n Mike Rowe, Host, “Dirty Jobs”
Why Working in Construction As a Woman Is Worth the Struggle I know firsthand how hard it is to work in the skilled trades as a woman, but I also know how personally and financially rewarding this career can be.
worked construction for 25 years. I worked in ditches, high-rises, refineries, and factories. I made good money, supported my family, and I am still proud of the work I did. My work provided healthcare for my family and a retirement pension and I didn’t need a college degree because my training was a multi-year apprenticeship where I learned at a paid job from my male coworkers. Although I left working with the tools 20 years ago, I still consider myself an electrician and proud member of IBEW. It wasn’t all easy. I was in the first wave of women to enter the construction trades since the Rosies of World War II. I endured significant
discrimination and harassment — conditions that still exist in construction as well as many other industries and jobs. And even though women are now around 50 percent of the workforce in the United States, they still make up less than 4 percent of the nation’s trades construction workers. Yet these are real opportunities; there are more women working in construction than there are women doctors. Making good money The skilled trades are a path to economic success. For example, skilled trades pay an average wage over $30 per hour in California, and more in many specialty trades. Entry apprenticeship wages
start at $20 per hour with paid healthcare and pension. These are family-sustaining wealth-building careers and a tremendous opportunity for women from lowincome families. Additionally, skilled trades offer these high wages without the necessity for a college degree or burden of student debt. Trade workers are trained through apprenticeships, operated jointly by unions and employers, to provide employers with a skilled workforce. Apprentices learn skills through paid, supervised, on-the-job work and supplemental classroom hours and employers recognize apprenticeship graduate certificates nationally. And barriers to entry are low. All
that is required is the physical ability to do the job, willingness to learn, a drug-free lifestyle, and to show up for the job every day. Women can physically do this work Women in the trades come in a variety of shapes and sizes, just like men. Women now enjoying their pension after 40 years in the trades can prove it. Not everybody is physically cut out for a career in construction, but many more women could do it with some information and motivation. In fact right now, women in the workforce do lots of minimum wage jobs requiring strength and endurance. Women in the service sector, for example, are on their feet and moving
all day, performing physically demanding tasks requiring strength and stamina. Hotel maids flip mattresses on a grueling schedule. Nurse’s aides move patients on and off beds. Housecleaners wash and wax floors. All these women use the same strength of body and mind needed for construction work. Trades work can be satisfying and fun for women too. If you like to work with your hands, be outdoors, be independent, work hard every day, and if you don’t mind getting dirty and working around men, then you can love this work. You gain a sense of satisfaction, self-respect, and a decent paycheck every day. n Meg Vasey, Executive Director, Tradeswomen Inc.
THE FUTURE OF
How “Queer Eye’s” Bobby Berk Is Empowering Women in Construction Bobby Berk, best known as the home designer on Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” struggled in his youth and early career, but he always persevered. Now, he’s sharing his story hoping to inspire others to believe in themselves, too.
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hese days “Queer Eye’s” Bobby Berk has a full-service interior design and creative firm, as well as a furniture line. His website bobbyberk. com is a lifestyle destination for design, food, fashion and more. But that success didn’t come easy. Berk didn’t finish high school and left home at 15. “I left home because I knew I needed to come out and coming out at home wasn’t really an option. Not just at home, but even in my town,” he says. Berk moved to Springfield, Missouri where he couch-surfed, lived in his car and on the streets before getting a steady job as a telemarketer. He moved to Denver a few years later. He calls the experience a, “come-to-know-myself time in my life.” Looking back, he remembers his friends supporting him and advises other people starting out: “Find your tribe, find people that will support you. You know, nobody can do it on their own.” Saying yes When he was 21, Berk moved to New York City with just $100. It took him three months to find a job. He worked retail and later ran a furniture company’s website out of his NYC apartment. When that company filed for bankruptcy, he was out of a job. That’s when he decided to start his own online company selling furniture, Bobby Berk Home. “Back then I was one of the only stores online selling furniture,” he says, explaining it was tough at first but he said he was a success within a year. Soon he opened a store in New York’s SOHO neighborhood. While Berk didn’t have a high school diploma, college degree, training, or professional experience starting out, he always had vision and believed in himself. His motto was to always say “yes” to a project and never take “no” for an answer. “I never focused on my skills because I didn’t have any,” he says. “I’d go into an interview and I’d sell myself, I’d sell people on wanting to work with me.” For his first design job in 2015, Berk was tasked with designing show homes for the International Builder Show. The
project involved construction details, like title layouts and electrical plans. Even though he’d never done anything like that before, Berk did lots of research and figured it out. By 2018, he was the designer on Netflix’s “Queer Eye” which has catapulted his brand. He encourages people starting out to work for someone else and find a mentor. “You need to learn how to take those gigs because if you take a big gig, and you’re not prepared for it, that can be it,” he says. “You know you can ruin your name and your brand before you even get going.”
The next time a female contractor shows up to your house it’s not, ‘a female contractor,’ it’s just, ‘oh, a contractor.’ Gender disparity in the carpentry industry Even though carpentry is male-dominated, Berk is starting to see more women in the industry. He’s happy about that change. On “Queer Eye” seasons one through four, the respective heads of construction were both female. Even though the women weren’t on camera often, Berk wanted viewers to see them in the background. “I wanted to make sure that I was having the world see that visual, because the more you see things, the more it becomes normal, and you don’t even think of it,” he says. “The next time a female contractor shows up to your house it’s not, ‘a female contractor,’ it’s just, ‘oh, a contractor.’” Berk says it’s all about breaking the gender norms: “Anyone can do any job, it doesn’t matter what gender you are.” n PHOTOS: LUKE FONTANA, COURTESY OF BOBBY BERK
Kristen Castillo MEDIAPLANET
What One Industry Leader Wants Women to Know About a Career in Manufacturing Wanda Richardson is the director of manufacturing at Brasscraft Manufacturing Company. In a Q&A, she answers questions about climbing the industry ladder in a male-dominated field. What is the biggest misconception regarding a career in manufacturing that you’d like to debunk for our readers? We leave work every day knowing what we do matters. There is a perception, however, that you need an engineering or technical degree to pursue manufacturing. I have found strong communication skills are more important, plus a willingness to engage and learn. What advice would you give to women on breaking into the manufacturing industry? Be willing to listen. Admit what you do not know and ask questions. Surround yourself with a team that complements your skillset. You must realize that it is a journey which requires just as much learning as teaching. Can you speak to the importance of gender diversity in the skilled trades today? All aspects of diversity are critical, including gender. A team with a variety of backgrounds and experiences allows you to more thoroughly assess the current state and increase the visionary options for the future state. Everyone’s lens is slightly different, which is a tremendous benefit and advantage to identifying improvements. This has been paid for by Brasscraft Manufacturing Company.
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This Plumber Is Breaking Down Barriers for Women to Work in Skilled Trades Plumber and tradeswomen activist Judaline Cassidy is empowering young women to pursue and thrive in traditionally male-dominated careers. Judaline Cassidy is passionate about her job. After working as a plumber for more than 20 years, she still looks forward to going to work each day. “I really love plumbing,” the Trinidad native said. “It’s like a puzzle. The way my brain works, if I don’t know how to solve something, I exhaust everything until I figure it out.” Realizing her potential Cassidy wanted to stand out in whatever career she pursued and knew that working as a woman in the traditionally male-dominated trades industry presented an opportunity for her to do just that. From there, plumbing seemed like a logical choice. “I figured if I do plumbing, I get wet, if I do electrical, I get shocked; so plumbing here I come,” she said with a laugh. Cassidy was one of the first three women selected to study plumbing at the John Donaldson Technical Institute of Trinidad, and she later immigrated to the United States and was accepted into the New York City plumbers union’s five-year apprenticeship program. The move marked the beginning of a remarkable career.
Refusing the status quo Honored to be part of a profession that’s crucial to maintaining public health and safety, Cassidy has forged a path for equality after battling discrimination and sexual harassment. She recalls stepping out of her Jeep on the first day at a new job site. “All the men were looking at me,” she said. “You could see the laughs, and snickers, and disbelief on their faces. “That happens a lot. Sometimes it breaks your spirit, like you’re not capable of the job, but I’ve continuously proved them wrong. All the years of excelling at my craft started taking away some of the objections.” Inspiring others Cassidy was one of the first women accepted into Plumbers Local 371 in Staten Island, New York. She is equally proud to serve as president of the Croton Sisters of Plumbers Local 1 NYC. In 2017, Cassidy created the non-profit Tools & Tiaras, with the goal of mentoring young girls and women about pursuing unlikely trades, like construction and firefighting. “They’re so amazed by the tradeswomen we introduce them to, and they’re unstoppable,” she said. “We’re creating a squad of princess warriors who are going to change the world.” n Cindy Riley
What It’s Like As a Woman in Truck Driving A driver for DriverSource, one of the largest woman and minorityowned commercial truck driver staffing companies in the United States, offers her thoughts on being a woman in trucking. Have you faced any unique challenges as a woman in a male-dominated industry? When I was a rookie, before working for DriverSource I was harassed, bullied, and did not know how to work with men in this field as they had a different mindset. The work was also more physically demanding than I previously was used to. What do you love best about being a professional driver? The job is in demand and is fast-paced. I love to keep the wheels rolling because that is the way money is made. Do you have any words of wisdom for other women that are considering driving as a career? If you want to do it, you can! Go to school, get your license, be ready to work hard but it is worth it. This has been paid for by DriverSource.
Carrying on the First Woman Truck Driver’s Legacy 90 Years Later The first woman in the United States to get her truck driving license faced a lot of opposition, but while the job and the times have changed, gendered misconceptions about truck driving are still here.
illie Elizabeth Drennan applied to the Texas Railroad Commission in 1929 to obtain her commercial truck driver’s license. The examiners felt she was a safety risk due to hearing loss she suffered from a spell of scarlet fever, but she told them, “If any man can beat my record, I’ll just get out of here.” Not only did Lillie drive a truck, she also started a trucking company with her husband, and went on to be the sole owner for over two decades after their divorce. Drennan Truck Line hauled everything from soft drinks to explosives and oilfield equipment. Lillie wore a
ten-gallon hat and khaki pants and work boots and carried a loaded revolver when she drove. Many folks felt Lillie shouldn’t be working in the trucking industry. That was over 90 years ago, but some gender bias in the field still remains, and not just from men. In 1929, women weren’t encouraged to become truck drivers because of its image as a “man’s job.” Despite changes in the job and the skills required, this misconception is still commonly held today. So many of these presumptions are no longer valid. People often assume that truck drivers need physical strength and
stamina. That may have been true years ago when the wildcat drivers were expected to load, secure, and then unload their cargo. Today, when you see a recruiting ad touting “no-touch” or “drop and hook,” freight, it means that the driver does not have to physically load or unload, and they’ll often just drop a trailer and hook on to another one instead. There’s one more misconception to address, and that’s whether women are wanted and valued as professional drivers. Years ago, carriers claimed they just wanted the best driver and weren’t concerned about age, gender, or ethnicity. That’s no longer the case.
We’ve learned that women are actually safer drivers than their male colleagues. The American Transportation Research Institute found that male commercial drivers were twenty percent more likely to be involved in a crash than women. For this reason, women are often the focus of recruiters looking to hire more drivers. The trucking industry has changed dramatically since Lillie Drennan had to prove herself before receiving her professional license. And it’s time misconceptions about the job changed too. n Ellen Voie, President & CEO, Women in Trucking