Field service is a male-dominated industry, but that trend may be on its way out as universities and field service organizations make an effort to train women on engineering and technical skills.
Reducing the gender disparity in field service starts with giving women access to training and resources. Take The Dwyer Group, a holding company of seven service-based franchise organizations, which has made advocacy for women in field service part of its mission. Less than seven percent of The Dwyer Group’s service franchises are owned by women, and less than four percent of front-line field techs are women, CEO Dina Dwyer-Owens said when announcing the company’s “Women in the Trades” scholarship program.
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The program encourages women to pursue careers as field technicians or owners of service franchises. Women, regardless of whether they are employed by The Dwyer Group, can apply for a $1,500 scholarship to help cover education in a service specialty, such as electrical repair, HVAC or appliance repair. Scholarship recipients can apply the money toward tuition, books, travel and fees.
Adds Dwyer-Owens: “It makes sense to offer women interested in either changing their career paths or further pursuing their career in these industries the opportunity to become the best of the best through thorough training and education.”
Showing Women the Path to Job Opportunities
West Coast utilities giant PG&E has a similar mission, but its efforts take a different form. Instead of providing the financial resources, PG&E shows women that there are opportunities in field service through a class, “Introduction to Energy and Utilities Careers for Women.” In the free, 10-week course that ran February to May 2013, women learned what a job in the utility industry entails, how to find those opportunities and what recruiters at PG&E look for.
But PG&E isn’t stopping with just the course — it’s committed to helping women get jobs after graduating the course. Meri Issel, a former line worker and currently director of professional development at PG&E, said, “There will always be women like you and like me who want to do this work. So what we need to do, we’ve learned over time, is to find you one by one in partnerships like PG&E and Tradeswomen Inc. We have to take you by the hand and help you with direction and support about how to be the most qualified and then how to get through this process. That is exactly what the PG&E and PowerPathway partnership is all about.”
While women account for 28 percent of the employees at PG&E, those working in entry-level positions in the field account for only 8 percent of the workforce. Many women who apply to attend the class know that they are pursuing the path less traveled by women. “It might be intimidating at first,” said Ganomia Byrd, who at the time was pursuing an engineering degree. “But you have to be a renegade in your own way. You have to be able to say to any man, ‘I can do just as good a job as you.’”
While there’s much work ahead to equalize gender disparity in field service, programs like these can begin to show women that the industry offers significant opportunities.