With her long blonde hair pulled up in a topknot hidden beneath a hard hat, and a pair of size 12 coveralls concealing her curvaceous size 8 body, it is almost impossible to tell that Lisa L. is not one of the boys wielding a hammer at the Oberlin Bridge construction site.
Lisa is one of a growing number of young women choosing a career in a nontraditional occupation (NTO); a fruitful area of employment that has been largely ignored as a career for women for many years.
Over sixty years ago, during World War II, women were lauded for leaving hearth and home for the first time in American history to take over jobs traditionally held by men. As more and more men left for the war, women laborers were used to build bridges, ships and aircraft. They drove trucks, worked as auto mechanics, and in clothing, candle and munitions factories.
Women did so well in these jobs that songs and slogans were written about their skills and abilities. With this positive acceptance of their effort, they hoped to remain in these positions after the war, but the structure of American society and the dominant view of a "women's place" in it would not support this hope.
For the next thirty years few women were hired in nontraditional jobs. Although the Equal Employment Act was passed in 1972, and the success of women in nontraditional occupations during World War II was widely known, it has only been in recent years that steps have been taken to train, encourage and promote women to enter NTOs.
Today high schools, vocational schools and junior colleges offer courses tailored for women in nontraditional occupations. Trade unions offer apprentice programs and NTO-support groups are recruiting. Not only is the training necessary for an entry-level job available, but workshops on how to cope with discrimination and sexual harassment on the job is part of the curriculum. What has sparked this sweeping change in the concept of women choosing a career in nontraditional jobs?
One of the most attractive and prevailing reasons for women choosing to enter male-oriented fields of employment is the difference in pay. Jobs in which men are traditionally employed typically pay 30 percent more than traditionally female jobs and because more women are the primary wage earner in families, higher earnings are more significant. Women are discovering that a career in a male dominated field can quickly lead to economic security.
There are many other benefits of working in NTOs; job benefits are usually better than traditional jobs on the same level. In addition to higher earnings, and better benefits, women may also experience an increased sense of job satisfaction in a nontraditional field. Success in a male dominated field can contribute to a sense of accomplishment and a greater sense of self-worth.
There is an extensive list of jobs that are considered nontraditional, and women are training and acquiring a great number of them. Construction, auto mechanics and truck driving are a few.
Construction work is an umbrella that covers many job specialties. Construction offers the opportunity to work outdoors, to be physically fit and to work with your hands. Choosing the right specialty, such as carpentry, welding, masonry, or plumbing can lead to a satisfying and rewarding career. Marvis McAllister, Community Outreach Worker for the Carpenter's Union, started work in construction after being employed in several other unsatisfactory occupations.
She began in an apprenticeship program and has worked on bridges throughout California, receiving promotions along the way. She has nothing but high praise for her field emphasizing
that all the workplace barriers can be overcome with hard work and determination. Brian Tracey of the Iron Worker's Union reports that he is very proud of the Union's women members.
He states that ironwork is a physically demanding job, but women are some of their best workers.
The work of automotive service technicians has evolved from simple mechanics to high-tech diagnostics and problem solving. Just like many other nontraditional job training programs, automotive service technician and mechanic training are offered in many high schools, community colleges and vocational schools. Various automobile manufacturers and their dealers offer 2-year associate degree programs. The demand for skilled auto-mechanics is high and is expected to increase well into the next decade.
Auto mechanics are employed in many areas of the automobile industry such as new and used car dealers, auto and home supply stores, automotive repair shops and gasoline service stations. Morris Parker, auto-mechanic instructor at Charles A. Jones Skills and Business Center in Sacramento, states that there is definitely a place for women in automotive repair. He cites that women make better service writers (the one who makes note of the work order) because customers trust them more. This is the same reason that women are perceived by some to make better car salespeople.
LaVerne Bell, an auto-mechanic student at CAJSBC, whose dad is a mechanic and her role model, has been working with cars for many years. She loves working with her hands. She tried office work, and worked as a medical assistant for several years, but she feels that her true vocation is working with cars.
La Verne is the only female in her class and smiles as she relates how respectful and helpful her fellow students are. She is looking forward to graduating and beginning the career she has always wanted.
Anna Chapman, a student at Charles A. Jones in auto body, loves to paint and hopes to open her own body shop one day.
She says that the men in her class are very helpful. Anna, a single mother of three, knows that her career choice will afford a decent living for her family.
Women make up 5.3 percent of the workers in the truck-driving workforce. Although it can be physically demanding, many women are drawn to it because of the autonomy that the job offers.
For those individuals who prefer to work in a position with less supervision, truck driving offers the ideal situation.
Two popular driving occupations among women are light or delivery-service and driver/sales workers. Driver/sales workers sell and deliver their company's product, maintaining an established route. Robbie Wilson, director of the Truck Driving Academy in Sacramento says "while women make good drivers, many do not like the loading and unloading requirements of the job." He states, however, that 20 percent of his students are women and that securing employment after graduation presents few problems.
While there are many advantages to nontraditional careers for women, there are also obstacles to overcome. There are still pockets of discrimination in some industries and although it is getting better through education and training, sexual harassment is encountered.
Entering a male dominated work environment requires more than exceptional job skills; it requires determination, a sense of humor, the ability to accept criticism, and the concentration to focus under sometimes difficult and stressful circumstances. For those females ready to accept these challenges, it can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience.
Visit these sites for more information on topics mentioned in this article:
- tradeswomen.org - Tradeswomen, Inc. is a nonprofit grassroots organization whose purpose is to promote and support women in nontraditional blue collar jobs.
- work4women.org - information to help introduce women and girls to nontraditional jobs. Site features workforce development professionals and educators working on women's behalf.
- hardhattedwomen.org - to empower women to achieve economic independence in nontraditional careers through education, support, advocacy, job placement and advancement.
- jobs4women.com - a free subscription mailing list for professional women interested in receiving job announcements in e-mail from employers with openings in the Bay Area of Northern California.
- workplacesolutions.org - Resources and services designed to help employers and unions recruit, train and retain women in high-wage nontraditional occupations and apprenticeships.
- careerwomen.com - a job-search site with resources for women.
- womensjobsite.com - another career resource for women.