New Job

My general foreman and superintendent amazed me by honoring my request to rotate out of “the big job”. They could have easily laid me off or sent me to a different big job. I am now working for the Service Department of the same electrical shop. My job sites are more varied and at times, I feel like I’m in over my head. I miss my old crew fiercely.

So far, I’ve gotten some residential wiring experience through tenant improvements/remodels at a retirement community. Most residents there openly stared at me. “Oh! Isn’t all that wire pretty?” remarked one as I was wheeling a heavy wire cart to the elevator. True: just about every color was hanging on the rungs and it was pretty. “You came back!” exclaimed the security guard, in an attempt at small talk. I suspect most of these people, if they’re around the age of 60, grew up in the post-Rosie Riveter era, during the age of atomic promise and John Wayne and white picket fences and housewivery as a sole occupation – punctuated with lots of tranquilizers. My fellow tradesmen, however, were in their mid-30s to early 50s. The carpenter flat-out asked me what it was like to be a “girl” in the male-dominated trades. (What is so intimidating about using the word “woman”?) He didn’t get it when I replied that I don’t miss the twenty-something percent pay deficit. The HVAC guy never acknowledged me in greeting or gaze. He talked over me or around me when he needed information. The other electrician asked me what made me choose to get into this trade, and after that never offered up much warmth or small talk. It’s exhausting at times: the cumulative microaggressions and the burden of being so different. Why do I have to explain my desire to work a job that is dominated by kinetic and mechanical abilities? And even if I explain it, why do most men seem skeptical of what I’m saying?

The plumber, along with my journeyman, were the only cool people I worked alongside. They were able to relate to me in an authentic human-to-human fashion. We laughed; I learned. And my journeyman was super patient in answering my questions, explaining things in depth, letting me wrestle with things on my own, and offering feedback on smarter/better ways to getting our installations done. He showed me how to use a circuit tracer and helped me find a balance between speed and perfection. Residential work is much different from the industrial environment I had gotten comfortable with! The pace is much faster and it’s more important to get the circuitry right than it is to make things look good.

I appreciated the progressive and positive company of my journeyman. One of the first things he told me, though, was, “Hey, you should know our foreman is pretty religious. So watch what you say and don’t be surprised if you see him praying before eating.” The foreman was polite yet we never talked much in depth. I’ve worked with religious men who had no qualms explaining to me that their bible says women should be wives and homemakers. And they weren’t kidding. I couldn’t figure out if the foreman was this variety of religious: the noble breadwinner and head of household who feels uneasy working with women because it might somehow taint him. At the end of the week, despite a busy push for our electrical work to be done by month’s end, he explained he didn’t have any work for me the next week. The other electrician didn’t want to be responsible for an apprentice, my cool journeyman was going on vacation, and he – as foreman – had too many other tasks to take care of, so he wouldn’t be able to work with me.

Now I’m with a different journeyman/foreman and I’m back in a more industrial environment. We’re a crew of three: two wiremen who have company vans, plus me in my personal car. Despite my disappointment in not quite clicking with the entire previous crew, I feel lucky to at least have had the chance to work alongside the people I did. My new crew is great, and I feel like we have a good rapport. However, underneath all the reasons I have to celebrate and be appreciative, is a feeling of mild unease. I worry my new foreman will drop me with no warning and no logic: similar to what happened with the religious guy and similar to what happened at my last electrical shop. Last week, as we were cleaning up, I asked my new foreman if I should keep my tools on site and whether I’d be working with him until the end of the project. He said, “Of course! Why wouldn’t you?” And with that, I smiled a big smile of relief to myself. For now, I am still lucky indeed.

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