Still a Good Old Boy’s Club?

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Robison Wells

While there is the ever-present labor shortage in construction and skilled labor, the industry still lags in attracting women to the workforce. In an industry that has been dominated by men, female representation in construction has only increased 3% since 2007, according for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Whatever the reason—sexual harassment, lack of bathrooms, being the only woman on the job—the fact is that women are underrepresented. Here are a few women who have made in-roads into the industry, and how they’ve made things work:

Jeune Christine “Jaicee” Ross has worked in construction for eighteen years, but made her entrance into the industry because of a lack of employment in the fashion world. She arrived on the jobsite looking for a job dressed up for a fashion job interview and was told she needed to dress appropriately for the job—and was passed over for a position. But she came to the jobsite every day for the next two month, now in jeans and a hoodie, and watched the workers to learn the trade. Eventually she was given a job.

But her story doesn’t end there. While she still holds onto her passion for fashion—she owns 30 multi-colored hardhats—she has had to change her outfits to rebuff sexual harassment. She started wearing baggy clothes to de-emphasize her body.

“That construction area is like a man-cave,” Ross told NBC news.

Another woman in the job field, Kristin McBrinn, a 41-year-old electrician says that she’s had to adjust to the industry as well: she says she overcompensates.

“You don’t blend in, you don’t fly under the radar,” she said. “You’re kind of definitively an outlier.”

She says that she’s dealt with harassment again and again: “Sometimes it’s a lot to take,” she said. “It can make you scream at somebody that doesn’t deserve it because he’s just the 100th guy that’s done that thing that they always do and usually it just brushes off and for some reason, the 100th time, it bothers you.”

But she overcompensates by making sure she is not just as good as her peers, but better. She takes on jobs that her coworkers can’t do.

“I work through it,” she said. “I figure out how to do it, and I do it.”

Jillian Lifson says that even her name sometimes undercuts her in her attempt to find work.

“When somebody sees my female name on the slip, that they’re getting me, I don’t know, how do they feel about that?” Lifson said. “It’s clearly a woman, my name, Jillian.”

Still, Lifson says that things are getting better for her and for the industry as a whole. For example, her card now says that she’s a journeywoman where, for years, it had called her a journeyman. And though she says that there’s still a long way to go, she’s in it for the long haul.

“I love my job; I can do it for 40 years,” she said. “The struggle is worth it.”

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