Part B: How I Managed Early Construction As A Woman

Photo Credit: Verbally Disastrous on Spotify

Hello Everyone!

Side Note: As mentioned in Part A, I have been busy working on writing out and editing the upcoming podcast content. I have been wrapped up in other things as well. I have loaded the podcast episode that mirrors the work below. This has been split up into two parts: Episode #12: Part A & Episode #13: Part B. Melissa and I teamed up yesterday and did a podcast episode #14. I will share that as soon as I finish editing it. I decided to write about how hard life was like as an apprentice electrician as a woman back in the 1990’s in New York. For more details than what is offered in these two podcast episodes #12 & #13, you will have to go find the book #ConstructionTales on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Audible. Now on to Part B to finish the story.

I jumped into a different job with a totally different vibe the next day.  There was “good” *Larry and a “bad” *Larry on this jobsite.  Good Larry was a kind man, was willing to show me how to do tasks, and somewhat low key.  Bad Larry was uptight, rough around the edges, and quick to bark at me if I didn’t do a task exactly how he wanted.  Often, I didn’t have a choice and had to work with bad Larry.  I wasn’t on my game since it was right when my husband died.  Admittedly, I was showing up very late to work and heavily distracted in this fog for a few months after the accident.  I would come in late and be sat down until the next hour struck.  I recognize now that it was tough love.  At the time, I believe that I felt like I was being punished for my struggle.   Bad Larry used to tell me that I will never make it in this business.  He threatened to write the apprentice director a letter and get me thrown out of the union.  He goes on to torment me and say that I should just cut my losses and let go of the house and move back to Oregon.  This embarrassing rant would go on when we were all sitting for coffee break.  I absolutely refused to take the bait and get emotional. 

Bad Larry was a very moody guy.  At times, he was super critical and then he would be kind.  I would actually get rattled when he would give any form of compliment much less show kindness to me.  Whenever it happened, I knew some negative rant was soon to follow.  It was really hard to deal with a rollercoaster of moods.  This was amplified when I was under stress and very tired from the long hours.  The more he would get critical and yell at me, the more nervous he made me.  One day I snapped and yelled right back at him.  He tried telling me to pack up my tools and go home for the rest of the day.  I packed up and went crying to where good Larry was working.  I asked him if I could work with him for the rest of the day and he took me under his wing.  I was on that job for almost a year until it wrapped up.  I crossed paths with bad Larry years later.  He was very happy to see me and I was cordial.  I learned he lost his house and got divorced.  I still have my house to this day until I sell it to my son.  Life sure works in mysterious ways.  Be careful what negative energy that you send out to other people that it doesn’t come right back to you.

I moved on to the largest job I had ever been seen to date.  There were hundreds of different trades on the jobsite since it was a brand-new building, called a deck job.  There were at least 200 electricians alone on this jobsite.  As an apprentice, you have to get the coffee order for the entire crew.  That process would literally take 2-3 hours each morning.  I used to actually make money off that task and that helped me so much.  I think I used to make $50/day on getting coffee from tips.  This work climate was so different from any experiences to date.  I worked a bunch of overtime hours on this job.  That was so helpful for my situation.  By this point, the guys in my apprentice class started warming up and actually started talking to me.  My classmate who sat either on my left or right had a heavy Jamaican accent.  He would respond to the questions in class and I would interpret for the instructor when he would stare at him like he didn’t know what he said.  It became a regular thing I would do that after the initial laughs.  The guy who sat on the other side of me was a huge party guy who copied off of me during every exam in class.  It got to the point that during break, he would buy me food and drink to show his appreciation.  It was during my 3rd and 4th year of my apprenticeship when I became no longer invisible.  I then started getting invited to go to the bar with the entire class.  I told them I needed to know well in advance so I can make arrangements with daycare and the second job.  To my surprise, I started hitting the strip clubs with them as well once a year.  The guys picked up the tab since it was an expense that I could not afford nor would I even go there if it wasn’t for my classmates.

I moved on from the deck job a year later and then stayed in a small shop for about two years.  For a woman to last that long in a shop is pretty damn good.  I encountered some interesting characters during that time in that shop.  I did write about my crazy coworker antics more in depth in my book #ConstructionTales.  There is one particular character, his name is *Chester, who had absolutely no filter on his mouth.  It often felt like it was Chester’s life mission to torment anyone and everyone around him.  He most definitely challenged me upon our initial greeting.  After I did my signature hard handshake, he said to me, “there’s two things.  There’s no crying in baseball and no women in construction”.  I brushed off the comment and didn’t allow any sign of emotion.  This was the point where I needed to do a lot of brushing off of bad jokes and offer humor in order to mentally survive.  I moved on to a shop that felt like it was a good fit since the crew was very warm and willing to teach me.  Additionally, they had a general forewoman in the shop.  The problem was that I had to go and do residential type work for my last 18 months so I had to leave.  I enjoyed learning how to install audio visual racks and projection screens during what is known as my “MIJ” period.  That is the last 18 months of my apprenticeship.  I worked with a really good crew.  Looking back, the hard part was leaving each shop.  Not because I got emotional or missed anyone.  It was because I dealt with a fresh batch of new faces to work with and prove myself all over again.  It is not until you have been in a few years where you build a good reputation and it precedes you to where you don’t feel like you have to start from scratch each time.

I was a forward thinker during my apprentice years.  I thought about my reputation in both the work manner and as a woman amongst a pool of men.  I felt like it was important to try to avoid any meaningless encounters with my coworkers.  If my two sons wanted to enter the business, they would feel the wrath of my wrongdoings.  As it turned out, my eldest joined me into the business.  There are plenty of coworkers with no filter who would have shared my reputation, via a humorous jab, if it existed.  I warned him ahead of time on the possibility and how to handle the situation.  He tensed up while I was giving him the warning.  He was advised to laugh it off and make a joke out of it.  I feel blessed that any journeyman who has crossed paths with my son has been a positive experience.  As much as I tried to avoid any romantic interactions with my coworkers, I had a moment of weakness.  I stumbled upon a man that I perceived would be a great family man.  He pursued me heavily, I relented, and it lasted 11 years and produced my second son.  You can’t totally avoid smack talk when parting ways from a failed relationship.  As the woman I am today, my goal is to avoid men in construction.  I would say that I have a good rapport with my brothers and sisters in my union.  It started out rough with the silent treatment.  It evolved over time when I let my hair down and learned how to use humor to deflect most hairy situations.  I even went as far to make fun of myself to diffuse any bombs sent my way. 

When you lack those skill sets to counteract the dribble from nasty coworkers, I can understand how a woman entering the trade would feel intimidated.  I can also understand why a woman would not want to even pick up a trade.  I get it why there are only 6% of women in construction.  I learned how to focus and turn off distractions around me while working in my trade.  It can be overwhelming if you allow the eyes of others to distract you.  It is an absolute fact that most any guy on a jobsite can tell you what the female on the job is working on.  Hopefully, that has changed over time.  I chose my path based upon my father believing in me and telling me that I could do it.  He knew it far ahead of the time that I discovered it.  I have been taught in my trade by some of the best journeymen that I know.  I have made many friends in this business while some serve as a brother or father figure to me.  I have also since bonded with some good sisters in this business as well.  Even my son has snagged some good mentors in his four years in this trade as well.  If I could go back in a time machine with my current knowledge, I think I would choose the same career path.  Perhaps I would not take on so many tasks, that even men don’t do solo, that have given me bulging discs over the years.  Just because I can throw a stick of 4” rigid on each shoulder, doesn’t mean that I should.  I would often work on things solo since my pride got in the way and I didn’t want any help.  Those are some painful lessons that I cannot erase.  I would recommend to any woman coming into construction to incorporate a sense of humor into their personality.  May God bless you if you show up on a job and just focus on the downsides to the environment and relentlessly complain.  You have to remember that a man sees a woman on the jobsite, his knee jerk assumption is that she is here to collect a check and find a husband.  Each hard working woman can evolve that collective thinking over time.  Hell, I am even guilty of thinking that!  If you focus, listen, and work hard, people will make the exception for you.  It may even change the person’s mind to be open to the next trade sister who comes along behind you.

I thank you for taking the time to hear about my overview on how I handled my early years in construction.  For more details, via the different jobsite encounters, go check out my book that is entitled, Construction Tales: Volume I: A Woman’s Journey To Becoming An Electrician.  It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Audible.  What do you think about my journey as an apprentice?  Is your journey as a woman in the trades the same?  Or is it different?  Would you have been able to do it?  Do you think you could endure the jobsite conditions?  I would love to hear your feedback.  No matter where you are in the world, thank for checking out my journey as a journeywoman electrician from New York.  You have many options to read and you chose my specific sequence of letters jumbled all meshed together.  I wish you a good hump day Wednesday and a good week that is left!  *Names have been changed to protect my coworkers involved in this story.

This wraps up Part A and Part B, Episodes #12 and #13 on “How I Managed My Early Days In Construction As A Woman”.  Feel free to head back over to the podcast platform of your choice and look for Part A to hear the beginning of the story if you missed it.  For more information, head over to our website at www.ConstructionTales.com.  Thanks for listening to us here at Verbally Disastrous and have a great day!

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.  Other platforms include: Acast, I Heart Radio, Listen Notes, Overcast, Player FM, Pod Bean, Podcast Addict, Podcast Gang, Podchaser, Stitcher, Tune In.

-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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