Historically, the plumbing industry has been dominated by men. From television and video games to real-life statistics, there just aren’t a lot of female plumbers. But why is that? And what can we do to facilitate a future where there are more women in plumbing?
A plumbing survey from Statista found that of plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters in the US in 2020, only 2.3% identify as female. That’s a very low number, even when compared with other male-dominated professions such as firefighting (3.5%) and construction (9.9% female). So what can we do to support female plumbers in 2021? How can we get more female plumbers into the industry and diversify our workforce?
4 Ways to Better Support Female Plumbers
Start a New Narrative
It isn’t very fair for plumbers to throw our hands up and say things like, ‘Women don’t want this kind of work.’ Before we do that, we should try creating a clear dialogue around the fact that they can apply for these jobs in the first place! This industry as a whole needs to start demonstrating to women that plumbing is an option for them by going out of our way to help them feel included. As The World Plumbing Council puts it, “Women have to see it, in order to know they can be it!” And, of course, it’s that way for men too when you think about it.
Men, imagine someone asked you in your youth if you wanted to try ballet. This is just a thought exercise — I’m not asking you to go out and buy slippers. Now, I can tell you from having sat through my sister’s ballet recitals: There aren’t a whole lot of little boys in ballet classes. So if someone had asked you to try it, your first response might have been something like ‘But boys can’t do ballet.’ See what I’m getting at?
It’s pretty tough to believe that something could be a possibility for you when you look around and see that no one like you is doing that thing.
Rethink Antiquated Assumptions
Beyond changing the narrative and adjusting career expectations, we ought to be looking at what we’ve gotten used to as plumbers, and ask if we can improve. Have you ever caught yourself assuming that a female plumber could never handle a hydro jet or replace a water heater? I don’t know about you, but I know plenty of women who either already can do those things or easily could with some standard training.
One thing we have going for us in the plumbing world is that we don’t have an inherently exclusive job title to contend with. Think, for instance, of firemen, policemen, and other linguistically masculine job titles. These contributed to unhelpful messaging in those professions until not too long ago. Our society has learned and continues to learn how to do away with unhelpful assumptions and even language that supports antiquated misconceptions.
Call Out Harassment
Workplace harassment can be very obvious, or it can be subtle. As a general rule of thumb, when our comments or behaviors feel like a reaction to the sex or gender of a person as opposed to the work they’re doing, that’s usually a good time to think twice.
While we must all work to keep the workplace free of harassment issues, there’s also the fear of potential harassment to contend with. And truth be told, that may block many smart and hard-working would-be female plumbers from entering our industry in the first place. That means it’s on us to continue building more hospitable working environments for everyone if we truly want to bring in the most talented applicants for the job.
Emphasize the Diversity of Different Paths Within the Plumbing Industry
There are so many ways to go as plumbers. One common misconception — a misconception that female plumber Jesse Cannizaro points out in Contractor Magazine — is that the plumbing industry is necessarily full of messy jobs, or that every one of them “requires heavy lifting, which,” she adds, “is less of a concern now that many DWVs are PVC or ABS.”
While that’s something you might learn as a high school or college male researching career options, you probably don’t come across that same information as a female. One is unlikely to discover the wide breadth of paths to take within a career funnel they feel barred from entering in the first place.
Female Plumbers Are More Than Welcome at Plumbing One
Don’t get me wrong… aside from the fact that promoting diversity of opportunity is the right thing to do and a crucial part of the American spirit of enterprise, I’m saying all of this selfishly as a man too. This is about getting the best workers I can! And if anyone really believes female plumbers aren’t capable of hanging with the guys, they’re not only doing a disservice to women in plumbing. They’re hurting their own business too.