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The Work-Life Issue

What It's Like to Be a Woman in the Trades

Every job has its challenges and difficult days. But if you're a person of a marginalized gender in your workplace, those difficult days may happen every day. We are in an era often referred to as "post-#MeToo," which implies that women have now achieved equality in the workplace and freedom from harassment, even though there is still a long way to go. We often hear about how male-dominated work cultures negatively impact women.

No industry is more complex when it comes to the discrimination that women face than that of trade jobs, most of which are historically composed of primarily men. Ahead, we'll examine what it's like to be a woman in the trades, from how the gender balance of the industry is changing to how women are speaking up more than ever before about the unfair treatment they receive.

What Is a Trade Job?

First, it's important to understand exactly what types of jobs we're talking about here. Trade jobs are careers that are relatively high-paying but do not require a college degree. Instead, you complete a training program, which can be done at a career college, a junior college, or an institution that focuses only on one industry. Some trades involve a certificate only, and others include licensing as well.

There are many different jobs that fall into the trade industry. The job titles for trade positions include construction worker, plumber, electrician, cook, chef, medical technician, dental and medical assistant, hairstylist, esthetician, carpenter, landscaper, painter, locksmith, mechanic, medic, fabricator, and phlebotomist.

The Amount of Women in Trade Jobs

When you think of an electrician or a locksmith, chances are you picture a man. That's because historically, men have dominated the trade fields. However, the amount of women in trade jobs is growing, and it experienced a nearly 18% rise between the years 2017 and 2018 for women in construction jobs alone. There are currently 1.1 million women in the country working in construction, which equals 11% of the total construction workforce.

In some trade industries, women don't even comprise a single percentage of the workforce. These sectors include coal mining, pottery manufacturing, and agricultural chemical manufacturing. And there are many additional categories of trades in which the percentage of women is reflected in single digits.

On the other side of the trade spectrum, women account for 91.4% of beauty salon employees, 86% of home health care providers, and more than 46% of pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing.

Both salon services and home health care involve caring directly for other people, which is stereotypically considered more "feminine" work and the type of jobs women were once relegated to as the only career option. Women remain in far smaller percentages of the areas of trades we associate with men.

The Public Face of Workplace Discrimination

While the women-dominated fields of home health care and salon work are not at all notorious for discriminating against women, the areas of trade work dominated by men are quite different, and discrimination is considered part of the job. That's a mindset that many are no longer willing to accept or to work alongside daily. If it seems like there are ever more lawsuits and settlements occurring due to workplace discrimination, that's because there are.

Some gender and race-based lawsuits make headlines, such as those against electric car manufacturer Tesla, which has been accused of both race and gender-based discrimination. More and more, advocates for those employees also speak up publicly, such as the response about the case by Grid Alternatives, an organization centered around jobs in renewable energy.

Challenges of Being a Woman in the Trades

There are many steps from a tough workday to a lawsuit, but if you've heard much from women working in trade industries, that journey likely seems a bit shorter. That's because male-dominated trade fields can involve frequent, and unacceptable, discrimination.

"People are often surprised when they see me show up to job sites, and sometimes I feel like I have to prove myself," says tile installer Cecelia Leger. She was one of many who took to the social media app TikTok to voice the insults and harassment she regularly receives on her job sites, with comments including, "So, have you got a boyfriend?"

Leger entered the field as legitimately as any man, telling Workwear Guru that "Growing up, I liked building little houses or forts out of materials I just found around me. I took several shop classes in high school and had a great teacher that encouraged me to join a trade. After high school, I started working for a small remodeling company as a helper and found a passion for tiling."

Some industries are known for being toxic to employees at large, but even in those fields, women can bear the brunt of discrimination more than men. Pastry chef Kalina Pence started out as a line cook and was rarely treated well by male coworkers or superiors. "I’ve always been met with criticism, doubt, and met with this macho mentality of 'You can’t do this type of work,' 'Let’s see how long this girl lasts,'" she tells Verywell Mind.

"I have been sexually harassed, threatened, physically challenged, underpaid, given the chum jobs, and so on from those men who never respected me no matter what the level of my work was or my title," Pence adds. "Most men my generation or older would not take any direction from me whatsoever."

Kalina Pence, pastry chef

I’ve always been met with criticism, doubt, and met with this macho mentality of 'You can’t do this type of work,' 'Let’s see how long this girl lasts.'

— Kalina Pence, pastry chef

She notes that she was blatantly told by a male boss that he only hired her "to look at," and that when she interviewed for cook positions, she was offered server jobs as "a safety net."

General contractor Morgan Venetos openly says she has been threatened and verbally abused by men on the job, and she has made numerous TikTok videos about the discrimination she faces in her work life. She says she's asked if she took over her father's business, with the assumption being that she couldn't have founded her own contracting company.

How Times Are—And Aren't—Changing

While we have a very long way to go to reach equality on this most basic of fronts, progressively, more women are moving into trade jobs. For example, as of March 2022, there are 220,000 more women working in transportation and warehousing than there were in February 2020. Other fields are seeing increases, too, and these larger numbers of women in trades give more voice to the needs for workplace equality.

Lawsuits, such as the 2018 gender discrimination suit against Nike or unequal pay, are growing more common as a means to change wages.

In terms of on-the-job discrimination, the more women who call out the ways they're treated unfairly on public forums, the more the public becomes aware of them. But there are still enormous shifts in policy needed, and these workers alone cannot be expected to be able to implement the changes needed.

While we may refer to our country as a post-#MeToo society, the reality is that we are still deeply entrenched in men's workplace misbehavior. The more we speak up, the better our chances of creating change.

If you have been discriminated against in your workplace, you have the power to take action. Knowing your rights is the first step. You are federally protected from workplace discrimination, and resources are available.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Institute for Women's Policy Research. Women gain jobs in construction trades but remain underrepresented in the field.

  2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employed persons by detailed industry, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.

  3. US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Eeoc releases fiscal year 2020 enforcement and litigation data.

  4. Institute for Women's Policy Research. Women make gains in men-dominated jobs, but still lag behind in COVID-19 recovery.