Building and Maintenance Engineer (retired), IUOE 501
Los Angeles, CA
“The trades are a wonderful way of life” says Pat Williams, whose 32-year career as a building and maintenance engineer in Los Angeles is a perfect example of the opportunities available to women in non-traditional careers. These high-wage, high-growth jobs give women “…good skills to make a good life.”
Coming from a humble background, Pat believed that education would help her find a stable, well-paying career. However, after receiving a bachelor’s degree with hopes of becoming a social worker, she found herself working two jobs to make ends meet and realizing that her opportunities would be limited unless she pursued a master’s degree. Instead of going to graduate school, she took the tests to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, United Brotherhood of Carpenters, and the International Union of Operating Engineers. A few weeks later, she had a new career and new opportunities.
“My job was all about working as a team, and it was very satisfying to see the actual outcomes of our projects,” says Pat about her career as an operating engineer, running building HVAC and managing the maintenance of buildings throughout Los Angeles and Long Beach. Although she had left the social work field, her instincts never went to waste, as she strived to always be fair and give her co-workers a chance to excel. “I always wanted to make my people look good and I would cover for them by giving them the chance to try again rather than telling management. It’s really important to develop trust…because once you have people’s backs; you know they will have yours too!”
Being a dedicated colleague created opportunities for Pat to prove the men who doubted her wrong. “On my first job, the men took bets on how long I would last - the longest bet being two weeks! They lost by 32 years!” The men didn’t lose easily though, and Pat endured discrimination every day. Sometimes it was subtle, like when “a guy would walk in with a question and my co-workers would tell them to ask me because I usually knew most about it. But when the guy realized that I was a woman, he would say that he’d figure it out. This happened pretty often.” Other times it wasn’t, like when management made it clear that “between being a woman, a Lesbian and a union official…I was being targeted.”
Because Pat had a stellar work ethic and always treated people well, she was able to triumph over the discrimination and have a career that took her from her apprenticeship to being an assistant chief engineer to being vice-president of her local. Although Pat has retired, she continues to work tirelessly to improve opportunities for women as an appointee to the City of Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women.
Tradeswomen’s Tuesday is a campaign to bring visibility to the nearly 200,000 women who are building our nation and breaking down barriers in construction trades. These women love what they do and want more women like them to enter their trades. Legal Momentum’s Equality Works project works with women like Pat to ensure that they will not have to face obstacles every day on the job. For more information on women in the trades, see Legal Momentum’s 2013 Report, “Still Excluded.”
If you're a tradeswoman who is interested in being featured in this series, contact Françoise Jacobsohn, Equality Works Project Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.