The weather was dreary, cold, cloudy, wet. Sitting in my office, searching for a creative marketing idea, I gladly welcomed the disruption of my dad walking by the open office door and tossing a ball towards me, or what seemed like a semi-round ball anyways. Upon catching the ball, I realized it wasn’t a ball at all but a Tyvek suit.
“What are these!?” I proclaimed as he quickly answered, “Come on, put them on top of your clothes so you stay warm and dry — let’s go four-wheeling in the mud.” Two hours later, with my blood pumping and energy flowing, I returned to my desk. I was still wearing my warm and dry clothes from earlier, without a mud spot on them (my face, however, was a different story).
Muchos gracias to Tyvek that day and its creator, a former DuPont employee named Jim White, for realizing that Tyvek was a magical material. Tyvek has been circulating for the past 60 years and has been adapted into so many great products. Specifically, for plumbers, its value is off the charts. If it can protect me from sewage splatter and runoff, then give me one in every color!
I know what you’re thinking. “Is this an ad for Tyvek?” “Is she seriously talking about how excited the Tyvek suit makes her?” Or, the best one, “Is this woman really excited about plumbing?” I support the product. Design and ingenuity are worth getting excited about. And yes, I love the plumbing industry. My company is dedicated to seeing that its companies succeed and, if they just so happen to be led by women, I love it even more. In a man’s industry, it takes gusto as a woman to take the plunge — no pun intended.
Walk into any plumbing company around and you’ll see more men than women leaving the office in their service trucks. It’s not just a question for the plumbing industry though, but trades as far as the eye can see: Why aren’t there more women working in our trade? In my own personal experience as a woman who has been embraced by the plumbing community, I believe the reason is not gender-related as much as we think. In the past three decades, equality in the work force has made much progress and is taking a turn for the positive. Is it in the best place it can be? No. But, times are changing and women are putting on their Tyvek and getting dirty (or not getting dirty).
I recently read an archived article from Plumbing & Mechanical written by Ellen Rohr. I love her writing style. No fluff — just her mighty opinion, which, by the way, is confident and competent. One would think that women aren’t a part of this industry because it’s too dirty, but not Ellen — and not me.
“The Gross-Out factor for plumbing is nowhere near the Gross-Out factor for traditionally female-dominated fields, such as dental hygienists, nurses or — horrors! — child care professionals,” Rohr writes. “In these occupations, the human waste is still attached to the humans! Yuck! I’ve learned that it doesn’t often get nasty-dirty in plumbing. Not nastier than changing a 3-year-old’s diaper. Not if you are doing the job properly and using the right tools. So, is it the nature of plumbing work that repels women, or the stereotypical image of the cigar-chompin’, dirty-overall-wearin’, butt-crack-exposin’ plumber? Is that the Gross-Out factor?”
I am a mother of a two-year-old. Palmer is in a constant state of mucus, poop and urine. I’m right in the heat of what you would think drives women away from being plumbers. Can you see clearly now?
We are not grossed out easily because many of us have walked into our children’s room — our gut telling us, “Something is up, my child is being strangely quiet” — and, to our dismay, stepped right into World War 3, smudges of brown from one end of the room to the next. How I wish I had my Tyvek then!
Change the image and more women will bring their consideration. I’ve met some very professional, clean-cut, impressive plumbers that made me proud to support such an industry — not the idea that plumbers have beer bellies, pants that don’t fit and nasty mouths. Are there plumbers out there that fit that bill? Yes! But, it’s not what defines us and it’s not what we have to embrace.
I’m a woman who likes to have her hair done and nails manicured, but am just as willing to throw some Tyvek on mid-day, jump on a four-wheeler, help to fix a broken toilet or change the grenade that went off in my child’s diaper without hesitation.
Women are courageous. In history, women have disguised themselves as men to be included in many “masculine” roles. These days, we get to show up, hair curled, nails painted and Tyveks pressed. We are ready for whatever may come our way, even if it involves raw sewage.
This article was originally titled “Women look great in Tyvek” in the July 2017 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.