Why I Used To Avoid Other Women Initially While Working In Construction?

Author: Leslie M. Jasper

The electronic narration is above ^ with the “Listen On Spotify” icon. Right below is S1, Episode #11: Why I Initially Avoided Women In Construction? podcast episode where I narrate it myself for The Verbally Disastrous Podcast With Leslie M. Jasper & Melissa Polito on Anchor:

S1, Ep11: Why I Initially Avoided Women In Construction- On Anchor

Hello Everyone!

One of the topics that I promised to discuss, as per podcast Episode #2 Upcoming Podcast Topics, involved my old strategy of avoiding other women with bad work reputations. This was back when I worked with the tools as a woman in construction here in New York. I have around 28 years, including the military, worth of experience as an electrician in construction. I started my career as an E1 Constructionman Apprentice at 17-years old in the U.S. Navy Seabees. I opted to request to leave the military after marrying my husband and following him to New York. Unfortunately, my husband passed away about two years after leaving the military. The topic of becoming a widow and managing life in the aftermath is a topic of itself. I will carve out time to discuss that at a later time. I joined the electrician’s union about six months before my husband died. My first year as an apprentice was rough as a young widow! I didn’t really touch on that in my book #ConstructionTales. This is partly due to the desire to speak about my journey becoming an electrician and not so much about my personal struggles. In my opinion, the story of a woman breaking into construction was more important to get on paper as opposed to my personal struggles as a widow. Perhaps I am wrong on that approach (shrug my shoulders). Perhaps I can expand on that journey a little in Construction Tales: Volume 2: My Illuminated Path Continues… I worked with the tools for about 22 years before going into the management side of the business. In hindsight, within the first 15 years, I wanted to establish my reputation and avoid the “sins” of other workers.

For the most part, I would try to avoid socializing with other women in the beginning of my career. It was not that hard of a task since there were very few other women. I would be even more drawn to avoiding some women who were perceived as either using the trade to find a husband or a lazy worker. I didn’t particularly like lazy men either. I still don’t like lazy workers. I feel like it is even more frustrating to deal with lazy workers once you are in management. I get my drive from my father. No one was tougher on me than my dad who had a crazy work ethic. Apparently, I passed that down to my sons (more so my eldest). My eldest son Tom said that no one has pushed him as hard as I have to work hard. As I have gotten older, I have softened up my approach. I feel like I have a bunch of work to do to instill in my son Johnny a strong work ethic. That comes in time via introducing tasks for him to complete. When I am at work, I get to rely on my foreman to make the call and I get to support the decision. After all, it is his job and his decision. This method has indeed taken the pressure off of me. I am learning, over the years, to not be such a hard ass. Being a hard ass has given me back problems that I cannot escape and must manage. One must ask, is the risk of health problems worth the strong pull to get the job done quickly? That has been my painful lesson learned in my life. The boss gets his job done, makes his money, and moves on. I made my money as well. Yet, I ended up with inheriting multiple bulging discs. It is indeed a balance one must strike within their career.

When I first started in this business, hardly anyone wanted to interact with me. My classmates, as a first year apprentice, used to not even want to speak to me. I refused to let that bother me. In construction, your reputation precedes you. When people know you are coming onto a jobsite, they call around to their fellow peers to get a sense of who you are as a worker beforehand. I learned early on to use a lot of humor and let any zingers sent my way get met with equally sharp retorts. Once you do that, the guy who wanted to break your balls will back down. I describe in detail, in my book, quite a few of those scenarios. My objective was to establish a strong work reputation that mirrored my father’s work ethic. In my mind, I could not afford to surround myself with other women who didn’t share the same mindset. I refused to follow lazy minded folks no matter how tempting the discussion or acts were at the time. On many occasions, I was the person who continued working while I had a group of men gabbing behind me. Either a fellow coworker or I used to joke that a grenade would take out the entire crew in an effort to break up the gossip party. I remember working for a few general foremen who came around expecting to catch me idle. A few would be rather direct and joke that I am not meeting their expectations. I would retort back that once I see them heading my way, I would jump into action like the “professional slacker” that I am. I would then go back to work after sharing a brief laugh. One general foreman, back in 2008, gave me the nickname “Fabulous Moohlah” after an incident on the jobsite. That story was intense and it indeed belongs in Volume 2. It is safe to say that I earned his respect after that incident. Despite my consistent behavior of working hard, there were people who just could not accept the fact that I had a strong work ethic. However, the bulk of my peers would see my efforts- thankfully!

I was sometimes super frustrated to get teamed up with a slacker!! Especially as a partner where you have to do most of the work. It would absolutely get under my skin if the lazy male partner was ever perceived as the worker and I was the slacker. Thankfully, I don’t think that was ever the case since a person’s lazy reputation also preceded them. If I was teamed up with a lazy woman, I would lose my damn mind!! Every one around me somehow knew that I was not fond of other women that were in the business posing as a bum worker. Just to be funny, they would team up a lazy female with me so I can show her what needs to be done. Behind the scenes, I would get teased that I needed to, “help a sister out Lez! Take her under your wing”. I am sure I had my choice words that were met with great laughter. At some point, I would get a break and they would put the female with someone else. All is fun and games until someone loses an eye! Years ago, we had this woman who earned the nicknames: “Joker”, “Crusty The Clown”, and “Construction Barbie” to name a few. She would get passed on to shop after shop. Legend has it, she was eventually blacklisted from working with a large list of contractors. I never knew if it was true or the many stories much less. I heard about her taking a very large reel of wire off the truck- say 4 feet in height. She didn’t chock the reel and it went flying away from her. She was seen running frantically after the wire reel so it didn’t absolutely destroy either property or a nearby vehicle. I heard about her wrestling a 2 ft x 4 ft light fixture for a hung ceiling while standing on a ladder in the space where the light was supposed to be landed. She was on a deck job going back and forth using a Dixie cup filling boxes with sand before a concrete pour instead of finding a large container and doing it in one trip. I can go on and on about the Construction Barbie stories. I believe she quit the business either as an apprentice or not long before becoming a journeywoman. Now a woman like this, I didn’t want to be caught dead working with her!!

As I got older, I began to soften up my approach on dealing with lazy men or women. This was after quite a few years of building my own reputation. I worked for a shop for five years where all we did was power distribution work, four inch rigid conduit in a ditch, setting parking lot lights with a bucket truck, man hole work, and railroad platforms. For a woman to work consistently for one shop doing heavy work, that was quite an accomplishment. During that time, I even worked with the tools while pregnant. My close friend Donny, who is a brother to me, knew immediately that I was pregnant. I made him swear that he would not speak on it. During that time, I was spinning a lot of four inch rigid conduit. Each ten foot section weighs about 89 pounds or 40.4 kilograms. I had never felt so tired in my life or so cold as winter approached. Most of our work was outside in ditches, railroad stations, airports, parking lots. Light duty was not an option. That was especially true in that particular shop. I did get lucky and got to work for a few months in a nursing home to do some inside work. I wanted to work as long as I could so I could take care of my son at home for a decent block of time before returning to work. I made it to the five month mark before I had to confess. Some of my coworkers wanted to KILL me when they found out!! I was climbing extension ladders and everything. All things you should not do while pregnant. At the time, I don’t know if I was proving to myself that I could do it? I was most certainly trying to be strategic about my pregnancy plan. Those details will be more in depth and in Volume 2 when I find time to keep writing it. Once I crossed that threshold of accomplishments (yes, as crazy as that sounds), perhaps that is when I opted to try to serve as more of a mentor to young women and minorities coming into the business. I have spoken up quite a few times, over the years, if I saw a minority being treated unfairly.

By 2011, I got tapped, by the Apprentice Director, to serve as a writing coach/instructor for Empire College. While at Empire College for about eight years, I either worked as a writing coach or taught Principles of Trade Unionism or OSHA. Empire College has a labor studies program where all of our apprentices must earn an associate degree in Labor Studies. I believe my son Tom is graduating from the same program either this year or next year. I must ask, since graduation is two months away, if it is this year. Once I came on board part time at Empire College, I was approached more and more about offering advice to female and minority apprentices on a wide variety of situations. I somewhat morphed into that role where I was the person giving guidance on handling sexual harassment, mean journeymen, ball breaking general foremen, or some sticky situations. I believe that this was my turning point on my approach. I went back to earn my bachelors and masters in business between 2009-2013. Perhaps earning my college education evolved my way of thinking as well? I believe I may have now determined my evolution while writing out this topic. After having a significant amount of years in this business coupled with being tapped to serve as a coach and instructor, I slid into the role of serving as a mentor. My demeanor helps make me approachable during a one on one discussion. Even on the job, I had people approach me quietly about how to tackle a task. I took that vote of confidence, in my mind, very seriously and went with it. I was approached around 2012 to come on board as an apprentice instructor. I turned it down since I was earning my MBA at that time and I was tapped out with my schedule. I am sure that I will pick up teaching part time again in the future as a retirement gig. I have a busy mind and I cannot imagine shutting down 100% once I retire.

In summary, I evolved from that apprentice that few wanted to interact with to becoming a college level instructor who serves as a mentor to many apprentices. By my last year of my apprenticeship (which is 5th year), I was quite tight with my class. I have even hung out with them socially on many occasions. There are quite a bit of very funny situations that came out during those social functions. If you would have asked me, as a first year apprentice, if I could have imagined some 25 years later. I could not have guessed the degree of change in my career path. Despite earning some aches & pain along the way, I would not trade my path for anything. I have enjoyed working on projects and taking great pride in the tasks my hands have created. I have learned about the power of sharp retorts that have stopped a jerk right in his tracks. I relish in those memories. I have learned to let negative banter run off my back like water. Never penetrating my soul as it was the intended target. Humor is a mighty tool that I recommend highly! I have learned to try to be softer on people who are learning. It can be an intimidating process. Oftentimes, I had to learn by watching since few people wanted to take the time to explain. I even had people hide what they were working on. They didn’t want me to learn. They tried to get me to fail via withholding information. I have seen guys hide prints and take them with them to put in the trunk of their car. At times, it is indeed a cut throat industry. On the other hand, I see it as the brotherhood & sisterhood of my trade family. Many people look out for my son on my behalf. Tom has been taken under the wings of some fine journeymen. He values that tremendously since he grew up without a father figure. I have bonded with quite a few journeywomen who have varied levels of skill. I am not proclaiming to be the best female in my trade. I just take a lot of pride in my work and put forth a tremendous amount of effort to do my best. I have shaken off the notion that a fellow trade woman’s reputation will seep onto mine quite a few years ago. I have dived into the Safety Manager role that is different in nature yet still has a mentor approach to it. Hopefully, my last 15-17 years left in my career can have at least as much or more of a positive impact on my trade brothers & sisters as what I have accomplished to date. In an abyss of content from around the world, I am grateful you have stumbled upon my writings that are also now in audio form. I wish you a great hump day and the rest of the week!

Cheers!

Leslie M. Jasper

-Author & Host of the #VerballyDisastrous podcast now alive on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Deezer, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Radio Public, Soundcloud, Spotify, and YouTube.  I will announce more platforms very soon.

-The Audio Blog: Verbally Disastrous Podcast & Construction Tales Blog. Now available on: Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Breaker, Deezer, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Radio Public, and Spotify.  I will announce more platforms very soon.

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