Ellen Rohr speaks up for women in the industry.

I needed to visit with a contractor friend and place a call to him. While waiting for him to get on the line, I was visiting with the pleasant women who answered the phone. "You need to write an article from our point of view," she said. "Whose point of view is ours?" I responded.

"Women! Traded magazines publish articles about the owners and the service technicians. Of course, it's assumed they are men. Most are, not all of them, though. And in the office, I bet 90 percent of the work is done by women. But it's as if those functions happen miraculously - no one mentions the office staff. The guys in the field depend on us as much as we depend on them to run our company. It's time you wrote about us!"

She was right. So I did a phone survey visiting with a half-dozen women who held various positions in PHC companies. I asked, "As a women industry, what would you like to tell our readers?"

Wow! My ear is still hot. They had a lot to say.

Keep in mind that these are happily employed women. All were good-natured about the head-scratching things that happen when women work in a traditionally male field. The criticisms they make are intended to point out some inequities that you might not be aware of. So listen up.

Pay Attention To The Paychecks!

"I've been here since God was a child and I still make less than the plumber's helper we hired yesterday. It's like the men have families to support, and my salary is considered a bonus to my husband's salary!"

"I had to beg for a few days off. Then I realized that most of the men took off, no question asked, for deer hunting and fishing. Now I announce I'm going fishing and the owners get the point. I get my day off."

"Our service techs get a bonus if they bring back payment on a job. Isn't that what they are supposed to do? The office staff doesn't have to be bribed to put stamps on envelopes."

"I'd wager that in most husband-wife shops the husband does the plumbing and the wife does the everything. And she doesn't get paid."

"Perhaps, like in our relationships away from the office, we don't ask for what we want. We hope that someone will read our minds and offer us that raise. Women need to speak up for themselves. Directly. Muttering about the office doesn't work."

Phone Bones To Pick

"Why does everyone call at the same time? Some days it looks like a conspiracy. The phone is quiet - then all six lines ring at once."

"I am supposed to 'screen' calls but it can be tricky. I don't want to sound rude. But if a salesman gets through to my boss, he's sure to be rude!"

"The phone is the front line. We are the receivers and bearers of bad news. Usually an upset customer rants at me. I know if I listen patiently, he will cool down by the time he talks to my boss. It just wears on me some days."

"This drives me nuts: I am asked to make a phone call. I make the phone call and forward the information. Then my boss asks me what he said about something else. I feel like an idiot when I call back. Often, I can't get the information he is looking for because the person on the other end would rather talk to a man."

Administrative Admonishments

"I handle all the accounting and bookkeeping for the company. I am the dispatcher and occasionally the customer service representative. I am the only one who knows when we are profitable and how we get that way. I am 47 years old. My title seems to be girl in the office."

"There is a basic belief that what the men in the company do is more important than what we do. Here's an example: My boss called me into his office to confer about a few things. I jumped up from what I was doing to meet with him. I waited in his in his office for 10 minutes while he wrapped up a phone call. It was clear that he considered his time more valuable than mine."

"Why is it that women in the office can spell, but plumbers can't? Do they make up new ways to spell on purpose to drive us crazy?"

"Ever fill out the paperwork for a government job? The Techs complain about filing out their time sheets! Then someone will hand me the specs for a 10,000 sq. ft. penitentiary and nonchalantly say, 'Get this to the bid opening by 3:00.'"

"It's funny how anything on paper is deemed 'paperwork' and will land on a women's desk. She will be expected to just know how to deal with it. I suppose it's similar to the way I expect a man knows - genetically? - how to change a tire."

"There is a sales rep who comes to visit our office every week. He always comes at about the same time and asks for the owner, who is never here at that time. He politely hands me his card and asks me to let the owner know he dropped in and would like an order. It has never dawned on this fellow that I do all the parts ordering for the company."

Fair Is Fair

Let me interject here. I am not one to whine about the sexism in our society. Basically, I am a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of gal. So are all these women.

In spite of all the nonsense they endure, they waltz through the day making things happen - miraculously - in the office. They just figure as long as I was asking, well, they would get some of this stuff off their chest. There are so many things that just aren't right but seem to be the way things are. In the name of fair play, some things need to change.

Here's something to think about: I asked the question, "When the boss is gone, who is in charge?" In every instance it was the "girl in the office."

Demonstrating my own sexist tendencies, I envisioned this article to be about women in the office. I was straightened out by the women who explained:

"I've worked as a CSR for several years. I've had people call me and say, 'Is anybody there? É a man, I mean.'"

"Customers often ask if there is a man around to talk to about their plumbing problems. As a result of working here, I've learned a lot about the trade - enough to know that being a man is not a prerequisite.

"So I started taking classes at a trade school. I love plumbing! I'm wondering how customers will respond to me as a service tech." I visited with a women who is a journeyman (journeywomen?) plumber. She chuckled as she recounted her experiences with skeptical customers - and co-workers.

"Being a female in the plumbing industry does have its trials and tribulations. It takes a while for people, women included, to take you seriously.

"When I arrived at their house, they ask if a plumber will be coming by. When I tell them that I am a licensed plumber, they usually query me and seem genuinely surprised when I am able to help them.

"More than the customers, winning over the other technicians proved to be the more difficult task. I was promoted to office manager and part of the more my job was to schedule and supervise the plumbers. Some of them were not happy about this arrangement at first. Steadily, over the years, they have come to trust my judgement. Now I am vice president of the company and they often come to me with code questions. Quite a switch from the guys who used to question my every move!"

So, sisters, take out your highlighter pen and run it over the quotes in this article that you relate to. Sail into your boss's office and show this article to him. (If your boss is a "him.") Use this day to address the situations that need fixing. Tell him what you really want: to be treated with the same respect and fair-mindedness with which he treats most men.

If your boss is a women, take the day off and take her to a matinee showing of the movie, "First Wives' Club"!