Common factor = MEN.
It’s an automatic stereotype of the building industry and unfortunately it’s a true representation (the beer belly and crack in particular). In my experience, I have come across very few women in the traditionally male dominated sector, very few women on the tools doing the hard labour beside the men.
One of those women is my mother.
My name is April. I’ve grown up in the building industry, spending weekends, school holidays, and afternoons helping my parents and then working fulltime for them. I am one of the minority of female concreters in Australia. To me, this is completely normal.
To other people, we’re circus freaks.
There are pros and cons to working with men and it all depends on how thick your skin is because the conditions are terrible and some people are plain rude.
Here are the cons.
- No toilets on site and if there is a portable potty, you don’t want to go in there EVER. Especially with guys who cannot aim their pee. Yuck. Boys don’t have the same issues as girls; if they want to empty their bladders they turn their backs on you and just do it standing up. Girls need to find a private place and squat, ask the client if you could borrow their bathroom, or hold it for the day. Most bosses on a new site don’t even think that they have to provide amenities because the boys don’t need it.
- The blokes on site will have one of three negative reactions to women working with them.
- They will ignore. So many times my mother and I have had truck drivers refuse to speak to us or listen to our directions for where we want them to back up. They will only listen to my father. And if you yell to get their attention, one might lose his temper and yell abuse back.
- They will be polite and distant. Yeah, they’ll speak, but it’s all business. A few years ago, this bloke John* came to dig a trench with his excavator. I was the one working with him and he wasn’t rude, just not friendly. At the end, when my father came over, the two of them stood around for an hour chatting.
- They will be disgusting. There are two guys, Bill* and Andy*, I have worked with since I was a teen and during that time, I was treated like one of the blokes with good natured ribbing. One day this changed, and they leered and made rude sexual comments. I had grown up and they were noticing. So the comments I had smacked them up the back of the head for saying about any female client, were then turned towards me.
- The public are rude. In the morning we’d poured a house slab with my parents, myself, and the client (who was great to work for) doing the whole thing. In the afternoon as we were sitting down for lunch, the client’s own parents dropped by for a look. His mother said after we’d been introduced, “Where are the blokes who helped?” Sitting there covered in sweat and concrete, I couldn’t believe that was the first question she asked. The client quickly told his mother that “The women here did the work.”
Two years ago, we had concrete delivered to a job by a man very excited by the fact that not one but two women were doing a “man’s job” and he proceeded to take photos of us working to show to his daughters.
- Everyone thinks women are bossy. The client, Sam*, wanted to save money and offered himself up as labour, along with one of his mates. When something needed doing I would plainly ask them to go do it. They would roll their eyes and laughingly call me bossy. When my father asked them to do the same thing, with the same plain manner, they just did it. No added comment.
Now there are some pros to being a girl on site.
- There are men who treat you like they treat everyone else, all that matters is if you can get the job done. These guys never make a big deal out of anything, don’t make rude comments, and are friendly. In all honesty, I think some of these men treat me like I am one of their daughters or their granddaughters. So this is nice.
- It’s fun to mess with people’s stereotypes. If someone I meet at the pub asks what I do, it really messes with their heads when I say I’m a concreter. Most cannot process that much awesomeness all at once.
- Some clients, particularly the sweet old couples, see me as approachable and will invite me to sit down for a cup of tea. They’re fun to talk to and learn things about their lives. My favourite couple were Mr and Mrs Thompson, he was a World War 2 veteran and she was a fiercely independent woman. They were impressed that I was a concreter. They made me happy.
- Flirting will get you what you need. This might be using my feminine wiles in the wrong way, but if I ask nicely for something, most guys will just give me what I want. If it was my father asking in the same way, the guys would probably be very uncomfortable.
- Skill sets that most don’t have. By working with different trades I have learnt how to do so many things that most people have to call a handyman to come fix.
Yes, lady tradies do exist. We’re not different, we’re women who know our way around a building site and get shit done.