For the past four months I have been experiencing a totally new world. I completed my welding classes and actually came out at the top. However, I was struck by how difficult it was to find a job. My instructors claimed that it was because I was a woman. I believed them to a point, all my male counterparts had found work and I knew that I exceeded their abilities. I’m not trying to sound arrogant, even men in the field say that women are usually better at this type of work because the process of ‘how’ is a science, but the actual task is an art. I did considerably better at blue-print reading than anyone else, only because I had the ability to take the two dimensional view and see it as three dimensional. So with this, I actually did believe that there was some degree of sexism against me, but then I stopped and looked further.
Being an MRA I didn’t believe that everything came down to gender. I later realized that the industries around town were doing poorly. One of them recently shut down, a tank factory called Trinity. That’s when I realized that there were a lot of more experienced welders out of the job and that there were even less welding jobs than there used to be. Being straight out of school, it put me down on the list of competition. I learned that another factory, Doyle, was not only planning to move out of town, but also had so low a profit that they were having to do lay offs. A company that worked with Galvonized steel, Knapheide, wasn’t hiring. Yet, two people I knew had gotten interviews there during the time they said they weren’t hiring. Isn’t that sexism? To hire on male workers when you say you’re not hiring and turn down the female worker?
Well it turns out that the male work environment, when it comes to getting hired on, is mostly about who you know. So looking back on it, the two young men who got hired on during a period of non-hiring was due to them having family and friend ties. It had nothing to do with a fact that I was a female. In fact, just a few weeks ago I got a call being offered an interview after I had gotten hired on to my current post, and I WASN’T the last one on the list of parties of interest. I finally found a job through a temp agency at a tank manufacturing company.
My first few weeks were awful, it was in late July, and it was burning hot enough without being in my position. I finally got to understand why men got paid more. I wasn’t the only woman at the plant, I wasn’t even the only female welder, though there are few of us. In the summer with a heat factor of over 100 degrees, you are expected to wear long sleeves, heavy jeans, hood. On top of that, you’re in a non-air conditioned building in front of an arc that measures at a temperature of at least 5,432 degrees. These conditions are harsh enough, just standing there, however, you are required to lift, push, and pull tanks at fast pace. Steel is very heavy, it requires adequate upper body strength, something women lack compared to men. This exertion can cause a person to get over heated, very quickly. In the summer we got only two ten minute breaks and one thirty minute break. This amount of time was not enough to cool me off before having to step back out.
Due to poor upper body strength, I was a slow worker, and slow workers can’t work in a fast line. I was transferred to a different line. I knew I could do it, but I felt like no one else did and that no one else cared. But why should they care? It’s not like I’m the center of attention, it’s just a job and all these people wanted to do is come to work, do what they had to do, and then go home. I had the training, but it was like they were treating me like I was completely ignorant, something I can’t stand. I had more blue-print reading than the top jig-up guy (the person who reads the blueprints and puts the parts together). Slowly I started catching mistake after mistake. I got a lot of thumbs up from the boss, but everyone still treated me like I was ignorant. I got stuck testing the tanks, I got very good at it. I’d like to note that on this specific line there are very few people and everyone is supposed to learn different jobs. Two new people came onto the line, one of them stepped in and did nothing but weld out (placing welds over the tacks that hold the parts together). He was new to welding, his welds were horrible, yet he asserted himself in that position. I finally confronted him about it, he said that I was still getting the same pay to test as I did welding. Yes, he was being sexist, I was sure of it. On this I had no doubt, it had been a week and he was complaining about me wanting to weld for one day. If it was so desirable, why didn’t he test and get paid the same instead? Well, the product for that line fell through, me and another temp were transferred to a different line.
They placed me in a position where I did nothing but tacked flanges in holes. A demeaning job to say the least, especially when you were trained to do more than that. I felt pretty crappy, knowing I had very good skills and all they had me doing was tacking flanges in. Again, I thought they were being sexist towards me. That just because I was a woman, they had no faith in my abilities. I kept quiet and did my job, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the person who had interviewed me and talked to her. I brought up my issues, stating that I wanted to be taken more seriously. I told her what happened on my last line, and even though she disapproved of the last man’s actions, she reassured me that I would be fine.
Thinking about it for awhile, I decided to demand respect through my actions. From then on I did my job to the best of my ability, moving as fast as I could. I tried beating my time, I set goals for myself and tried to beat those goals in the future. I admit I nagged my boss a little bit on letting me get in the position I wanted but I didn’t overdo it. One time I was in buff-out (the position in which you clean the tanks after they’ve been welded). I found that one of the two men who was welding the tanks was awful at it. He was burning through nameplates, large grub-looking welds, burn through on legs, and porosity. They were horrible, I pointed them out, however it was as though the one-up didn’t care about the quality. The man that had been welding there claimed he had been welding for three years. And he still welded this awful? This was my ticket in, I knew that with the combination of his low standards and showing that I could exceed those standards; it would get me to where I wanted to be.
I have since replaced him and have not only exceeded in his quality standards, but I have also broken his record of tank quota per day. We are finishing our weekly quota a full 24hrs ahead of schedule nearly every week. My point is though, if I had viewed my problems as nothing more than sexism, and that the only way to fix it is by having someone else fix it I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. I probably wouldn’t have kept applying to anywhere. I would have given up. If I would have taken that one bad apple of a man and used him as a template of how every man in the field was, I would have quit a long time ago. Instead, I’ve made friends, I can laugh at their sex jokes without being insulted or over dramatizing their meaning. Knowing that they’re doing nothing but making the hours pass by faster.
It’s not that women are discriminated against because we’re women in a male work environment. It’s more that we’re discriminated against because we’re new. We’re treated just like every newby is, as though we haven’t got a clue. Until you prove yourself, you’ll be a nobody and when you’re a nobody you will always be miserable at your job. It’s not that women have to work harder when compared to the male workers, it’s just everyone, including women, are required to work hard to prove themselves.