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I come from a long line of women who tend to disregard traditional gender roles. My great grandmother was a suffragette, my grandmother was a first lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, and my mother has been working with computers since the 1970s, when nearly all of her colleagues were male. The women in my family have endured more than their fair share of discrimination because of their gender — something I had never experienced personally, until now.
A few weeks ago, we received a letter here in our newsroom directed to our publisher, Mike Murphy. There was no return address, no signature, and no way of telling who wrote it. The typed letter read, simply:
“HIRING MOSTLY WOMEN WHO HAVE NO REAL HVAC EXPERIENCE IN A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY IS A SURE RECIPE FOR FAILURE. WISE UP MIKE!!!!!!
I honestly didn’t take this personally. We editors, both male and female, all came to this publication with roughly the same amount of knowledge about this industry, and we were hired for our ability to write and edit — not take apart and reassemble a heat pump (our knowledgeable guest columnists write about that). Just as we wrote about cops and courts at previous reporting jobs, despite being neither lawyers nor police officers, we now write about news and trends in the HVAC industry, drawing information and research from industry leaders. And, I’ve come a long way in a little time, grasping the concepts of variable-frequency drives, energy recovery ventilators, and much more.
I find it amusing that the person who wrote this letter misunderstood the very basic function of a reporter.
What was bothersome about the letter, however, is that some people still think that women will automatically fail if they try to be a part of a predominantly male industry. On the contrary — there are many women in this industry, from technicians to managers and business owners, who demonstrate every day that gender has nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs.
Ann Kahn, president of Kahn Mechanical Contractors in Dallas, has 40 years of experience in HVAC. As a member of The NEWS’ advisory panel, we and others look to her for insight as a leader in her field. Naturally, I showed her the letter and asked if she had any words of wisdom for women. “To women looking to work in our industry, I offer two pieces of advice,” Kahn said. “First, follow your dream and don’t let it go. Second, you don’t have to be the ‘tough guy’ to prove yourself — just do your job well and let your work speak for itself.”
While she and many other employers are just as willing to consider a female applicant for a job as they are a male applicant, Kahn said there simply aren’t yet a lot of women applying for these jobs. But she also acknowledged that there are still people out there who dismiss female applicants based solely on their gender. For those contractors, Kahn had some stern advice.
“To those who sneer at women in our industry, I offer something to consider,” she said. “If a woman applies at your business, give her the same consideration you would a man. If she meets your requirements, hire her — you will be glad you did. And finally, get over your doubts about women in HVAC. They are only holding back your progress.”
Publication date: 11/25/2013