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Women Are Not As Good At Labor Jobs as Men Are...

This was the comment I received this week, from a man, to a post I made on social media celebrating a woman at a welding trade school. In fact, I've gotten a lot of comments similar to this which has left me flabbergasted.

There is no denying the physical difference between most (but not all) men and women. Women in general tend to be smaller in stature. But how does that equate to one gender not being able to weld, or pull electrical lines, or change filters on an HVAC unit, or solder copper on a plumbing line? How does that equate to one gender being more suited to being a teacher rather than an electrician, or a nurse rather than a plumber?

I never thought that advocating for more women to consider jobs that desperately need skilled workers would lead to a debate on whether women were physically strong enough to work in labor positions. Why are women seen as the weaker sex when women have stood side-by-side with men in fields, factories, assembly lines, combat zones, and hospitals? In a time when safety is a top priority for most companies, how can we say women are too fragile for labor jobs?

What is it about trades jobs that supposedly makes one gender more adept? If trades jobs are too taxing for women and they should stay away, then should men stay away from jobs that require sensitivity and care like teaching or nursing? That notion sounds just as absurd. Just as absurd as the idea that someone's career choice should impact you.

I started the Level Up Stronger podcast during the pandemic. I began advocating for women in trades industries because I work in facility management and construction. I manage projects and employ HVAC technicians, electricians, plumbers, and mechanics. Through this experience, I have spent time trying to understand where these industries are headed in the next 10-20 years as baby boomers retire.

You see, we have a problem rooted in gender bias that is inhibiting growth and preventing us from keeping pace with industry needs. When I started looking into why it was so hard to fill open trades positions, I was shocked to find that in 2020, the average age of HVAC technicians was 55. This meant over half would be retiring in about 15 years. To replace that large of a workforce and maintain industry capacity, over 80,000 young people would need to enter HVAC trades while the industry is also projected to grow 13% in the next five years. But young people don't seem interested in trades careers.

If we're going to solve this, what can we do? Another telling stat: HVAC techs were 97% male. Similar stats held true across major trades, averaging around 5% women. Our gender bias has backed us into a corner where half the population doesn't see trades as an option. (And this bias cuts both ways - men make up just 12% of nurses, 25% of teachers, and 17% of administrators).

A group of veteran women inspired me to share the possibility of dropping gender bias and considering careers in the trades. But it's hard to picture yourself succeeding somewhere without good examples. That's where Season 2 of my podcast helped highlight women's stories. There are amazing women succeeding in trades and amazing men succeeding in nursing and teaching. The point is to consider that your career doesn't have to conform to societal expectations.

*(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2023)

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