March 25

Women in the Trades

How gender diversity is rapidly changing the industry landscape, vaulting this career path to the top of the list for aspiring females

As the world evolves, society continues to break through the chains of gender bias in professional roles.  The workforce is shifting from gender inequality to gender diversity, opening the door for women to pursue careers that a fast-shrinking minority still mistakenly deems unconventional for females. 

At Manhattan Mechanical Services, representation for women continues to strengthen, proving that success is attainable in a male-dominated industry. We recently spoke with three women in different roles at Manhattan Mechanical to get a comprehensive view of the benefits and rewards of a career in the trades, as well as why women should consider the construction industry a top contender in vocational opportunities.

First, let’s dive into the history of women in the trades.

The trades then

During World War I, men were summoned to the battlefield, abandoning their professional roles in society to serve their country. Helping to produce the materials and machinery used in the war, women took the lead, stepping into what was then considered unorthodox manufacturing roles wherever a dire need was present. 

In the skilled trades, manufacturing of machinery needed for the war was crucial, allowing women into positions in electrical, welding, engine repair, assembly, etc. 

In World War II, the “Rosie the Riveter” campaign encouraged women once again to fill in for men fighting overseas. The Rosie icon symbolized working women whose contributions to these war efforts was undeniable. 

Although vital to the home front in times of desperate need, most females in the skilled trades lost their jobs to their male counterparts as the latter returned home. History, however, has not repeated itself in recent years. A woman’s role in the trades has transitioned from necessity and obligation to personal choice, with women stepping up to help create an equal playing field. 

The trades now

As more women navigate their career paths, past gender bias often fosters a common misconception regarding the constraints of a career in the trades. The fact is, the opportunities available for men are equally accessible to women, with no boundaries to growth and success. 

The trades offer numerous advantages, such as higher starting wages and increased job security, due to the urgent need to fill gaps in the workforce. Training programs and apprenticeships provide the foundational skills, education and experience to secure a successful career. Meanwhile, avoiding the heavy financial investment in a college degree blessedly shortens the length of time needed to achieve financial stability.

Furthermore, advancement through a company like Manhattan Mechanical Services depends on performance and merit, and is not hindered by gender. According to training coordinator Tracy Sheetz, all it takes is the drive, confidence and willingness to learn. 

“It’s exciting to see female representation at Manhattan Mechanical and I am a firm believer that women can stand right next to a man and can do the job just as well. We have the proof right in front of our eyes.”

Tracy Sheetz, Training Coordinator, Manhattan Mechanical Services
Women in Trades

More than just 9 to 5

As for working mothers, in addition to financial security, the variety of shifts offers women the opportunity to choose whatever schedule is conducive to a work-life balance. 

“The beauty of this industry is that different shifts are needed on-site,” explains Manhattan Mechanical human resources coordinator Natoshia Ramsey.

Women in Trades

“We offer day shifts that also give availability on nights or weekends. Depending on location and circumstances, other shifts can be available as well. When the opportunity presents itself, women can position themselves so that they’re present and involved at home, but still flourish in their career.”

Natoshia Ramsey, Human Resources Coordinator, Manhattan Mechanical Services

Quality technician Jennifer Nelson believes that the trades align careers and job roles with motherhood.

“If you move into a quality control position, you travel locally to different locations during your shift,” she explains, “but you’re home every night.”

“If you move into a quality control position, you travel locally to different locations during your shift,” she explains, “but you’re home every night.”

Jennifer Nelson, Quality Technician, Manhattan Mechanical Services

The choice is no longer between career or motherhood. The trades allow women to explore and choose both.

Women in Trades

Limitless opportunities

With skilled trades growing in popularity, so are the opportunities. As long as trainings and apprenticeships are completed, accessibility to careers in the trades, such as welder, boilermaker, etc., exists for both men and women, eliminating gender discrimination.  

As Chicagoland’s premier merit shop contractor, Manhattan Mechanical encourages each employee to harness their true potential.

“Manhattan Mechanical offers opportunities to advance your career,” explains Sheetz. “This company invests as much in individual growth as it does in company growth. There’s an emphasis on training, so, for example, you can come in as a laborer and progress to welder.”

According to Ramsey, advancing at Manhattan Mechanical relies heavily on ambition and drive, not gender. “We have the classes, courses and training available,” she says. “If you are willing to learn more, and if you take advantage of what Manhattan Mechanical offers, endless opportunities are at your fingertips.”

With change comes challenge

Although the winds of change are favorably impacting female roles in the trades, challenges still exist. Preconceived notions of gender stereotypes can present a peculiar environment. Chivalry may not be dead, but need not always be applied. 

“There can be a misconception that, just because we are female, we need to be helped,” says Sheetz, recalling a past role with a previous employer. “ The truth of the matter is, we can hold our own. We are competent. We can do this job.”

From Nelson’s perspective as a team member currently in the field, the challenges women face apply to men as well. Those challenges lie solely in your skills and knowledge and your confidence in using both.

“In my experience at Manhattan Mechanical, women don’t go out into the field with the sense of having to prove their worth because they’re female,” explains Nelson. “We are proving that we can perform a skill safely and with expertise. That’s across the board for any employee.”

Awareness attracts ambition

As far as recruiting females to the industry, representation is key and not just for the field positions. While society promotes the traditional, higher education route for the next generation, shedding light on the opportunities and benefits of the trades can show the way to a successful career path without the requirement of a college degree. 

Female presence at career fairs is imperative. “At the last job fair Manhattan Mechanical attended, the local high schools came through, and young females approached our booth with a legitimate interest in a career in the trades,” exclaims Sheetz. “You can see how gender no longer plays a role in their career choices. We have to show them it’s possible.”

Promoting women in the trades is not restricted to job fairs. Incorporating images of women into advertising materials, marketing campaigns, and media can expand awareness and reach to female candidates. Nelson, who spent 26 years as an accountant, didn’t consider the trades until a conversation with an acquaintance triggered interest. 

“It’s been an eye-opener for me,” says Nelson. “Had I known the available opportunities, I would have pursued this much earlier in life. This is why we need more female representation.”

A two-way street

Companies such as Manhattan Mechanical, reap benefits in recruiting women to the trades. Women offer a balance by presenting different perspectives in the workplace, expanding available solutions to overcome obstacles. With diversity comes innovation. Women also bring a range of experience that can translate into female-based employees and clients. 

Looking at the bigger picture, the growing numbers of women entering the trades demonstrate how the landscape is changing. Former barriers are no longer valid. Women feel less the old need to prove their worth. 

Rather, they confidently step into roles they deserve.