Friday, February 27, 2009

The Hardest Thing I Never Did

...Was stand up for myself.

I always liked to think of myself as a strong person. Someone who didn't hold back, someone who was proactive.

My first job ever was as a Work Study in the Shipyard. Basically, I worked the summer between my Junior and Senior year. I got paid and also had the privileges of a full time job, health benefits and paid leave. After the summer, I went to school for the first semester of my Senior year and then for the second semester I went back the shipyard and got paid as well as school credit. I walked in the gate at 16, two days before my 17th birthday. There were twelve of us and I was the only girl. It is a very industrial world inside the shipyard. We maintain and repair nuclear Navy ships. Various types of trades are involved in this effort and as a work study I rotated through to a few of those different shops. I ran across a few "old fashioned" people who thought I was "taking a man's job". I had no problem telling them that "those men" had applied for the same job as me, took the same tests, and had the same interviews. Had they been better than me they would have had the job, but they didn't, so it's my job not theirs. I won the position, I earned the position.

I worked in the shipyard for two years until I got into the High Voltage Electrician Apprenticeship. Let me just say, I L.O.V.E. the job. Let me also say that it is a trade in the Shipyard, and also around the country that not many women are in. In the history of our shop there have only been six women. It's hard, dirty, good, smart work. If I didn't do it here, I would do it some where else. I have a passion for being an electrician. That being said, the past eight years have not been the easiest. I have had to work really hard to get to the point that I am at. I have had to endure a lot. There have been after hour emergencies when work starts going down a list and calling to see if people can come in and help. I always did. There are often times when we can only shut things off in the middle of the night to work on our equipment. I have been there. There were days that I had to haul around cables that takes five people great coordinated effort to move. I have ached. There have been miserable, dirty, wet, cold days spent in manholes splicing cables. I not so secretly LOVE that part.

The only thing that I didn't love was that no matter how hard I tried I was never equal, not in the eyes of my boss, or my co-workers. Now maybe it was because I wasn't going out drinking with "the boys". Or maybe it was because I didn't help all "the boys" every time one of them had to move furniture. Perhaps it was because I didn't go play with "the boys" when they went out and about. Yeah, I think that that stuff was apart of it, but the big push behind not being fully accepted was that I wasn't a boy.

That was really hard for me. There were days I went home in tears. Lots of days. There was one day in particular that I couldn't hold off the tears until after work. I broke down right in front of the stupid boys that I worked so hard to be accepted by. They poked and poked until I couldn't take it any more. Do you think there was any compassion after? Nope. There were times that people who had technically been there longer that weren't as skilled in some areas as I was went off to training as I was passed over. I never stopped trying, I tried to take it in stride and keep pushing on. I was strong, remember? I started taking on a lead role on the crew. I would plan and start jobs, but not get to finish them. I was always proud of the work I did and in my heart I knew that was what really mattered. I knew I did a good job but still.... Every time I was passed over there was always a reason, other than the fact I was a girl. If there wasn't that would be illegal, right? There were some pretty lame reasons, but always a reason.

Let me say that my efforts did not always fall on blind eyes. Apparently some of our management noticed me, and how I performed. A few months ago I got a promotion. A promotion I couldn't believe. I am an Engineering Technician. I no longer work with "the boys". The boss that I have now is as opposite as you can be from my last. The guys that I work with, I am once again the only girl, are great. They are helpful when I have questions and want me to succeed. I am happy when I leave work. And I am also the first female Engineering Tech ever in my shop. I once again have the ability to break ground and show everyone what I'm capable of.

Yesterday, Justine, my friend/co-worker who is currently an Apprentice did what I was never able to do. She actually stood up for herself and did something about it. I saw it with my own two eyes. She was being completely skipped over for some training that was coming up and knew there was no good reason. She went to her boss, my old boss, and gave him one chance to explain his decision. Then she did what I had always dreamed of. She went to our Superintendent. I was there when she did, I just happened to be in his office when she came to the door. He was so amazing and understanding. I knew he would be. It was the other half that I had always feared. The fall out. What would happen once you did say something. She didn't care, she knew what was happening was wrong and she stood up for herself. I am SO proud of her. Way to go Justine!


MiaKatia said...

This made me cry a whole lot. I am much like you in that I am tough and I get the job done, but I have a hard time standing up for myself. I am so proud of you for succeeding against the odds. I am also very proud of Justine for standing up for herself, it is a hard thing to do.

Brits said...

Rusty's last job was a very glass-ceiling kind of job. His boss was a whorish man-hater. So yeah, I know the feeling...

Misty said...

way to go justine!