Why aren’t there more females in the HVAC/sheet metal industry?

It’s a question that crops up occasionally. We’ve written about the lack of women in the industry several times. The latest government figures say about 9 percent of construction workers are women — a number that has been static for years. Among those in the sheet metal or HVAC industry, it’s a little over 2 percent.

I’ve been thinking about the issue lately, as the “#MeToo” movement has enveloped politics and popular culture. From corporate boardrooms to Hollywood movie sets, sexual harassment in the workplace has become a topic of discussion and debate. 

But one place it hasn’t come up as much is in the construction industry. Perhaps that’s not surprising, with the industry’s overwhelmingly male demographic. The industry has never been known as being welcoming to women.

I have come across a few articles on the topic, including a series in the New York Times published late last year. Our own reporting on the topic has shown that the sheet metal industry is not an outlier in its treatment of women. It’s not hard to find women who have been touched or otherwise harassed while in the shop or on the job site. Many of the ones who choose to make it a career have had to endure more than anyone should be asked.

But an event I attended last month near Orlando, Florida, makes me think that may be starting to change. The Sheet Metal Workers union and the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association held Partners in Progress, a joint event focusing on business issues and boosting market share for members.

Among the more popular sessions was a panel discussion on attracting women and minorities to the sheet metal industry. The panelists, who included a training center administrator, a union business manager, the owner of a sheet metal firm and an association executive, were all women. Most had to endure discrimination on the way to their current positions, but many said the industry is becoming more inclusive. One panelist, Angela Simon, president of California’s Western Allied Mechanical, pointed out that she has several women on her staff. Simon said she works hard to have family friendly policies such as flexible scheduling.

All acknowledged that the industry has a ways to go before it’s seen as welcoming to women, but I came away with the impression that at least among many of the companies represented at the session, the environment is lot better than it was just a few years ago.

If you’re a woman in the sheet metal industry, what’s your experience been like? Email me at mcconnellm@bnpmedia.com.

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