Another take on women in the sheet metal industry
February 1, 2010
Among the many trade magazines and association publications that fill my mailbox each month is the Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the Sheet Metal Workers union.
It’s always a good place to find out what’s up with the union, their take on political issues or read about a project that might make a good article or news item in Snips.
I don’t consider the magazine a Snips competitor at all since it’s primarily a members-oriented publication, but as a former newspaper reporter, it’s always good when you see a story in another publication on a subject that you have already covered. It feels good to know that you haven’t been “scooped,” to use newspaper industry jargon.
The November-December 2009 Journal issue includes an interview with Beth Szillagyi, a sheet metal worker from Springfield, Ill., who has chronicled her experiences as a woman in a very male-dominated industry in two magazines - including Cosmopolitan (which as a writer makes me jealous) - and the book Hey, Lady! Your Tin Snips are Showing!, a fictionalized account of her days as a young female tin knocker in the late 1970s.
If you’re a longtime Snips reader, you may remember that we have featured Szillagyi twice. Once was in August 2002 in a story I wrote about her then-new novel. Hey, Lady! was picked up by an e-book publishing house in a time long before Kindle tablets were sold by Amazon.com. In addition to the downloadable version, a conventional soft-cover book, as well as a CD-ROM of the title, was also released.
I don’t know if my profile of Szillagyi and her novel boosted sales, but since at least one Amazon visitor review of Hey, Lady! mentioned the Snips article, I’d like to think it might have.
Studying the issueThe other time I contacted Szillagyi, it was part of a June 2007 story on a union-funded study about why women are chronically underrepresented in construction in general and sheet metal work in particular.
The study examined some of the many reasons why few women choose to consider construction or sheet metal careers - sexism and lack of outreach among them.
When I talked to her, Szillagyi told me she encountered plenty of sexism on the job, at least at first. And there was no such thing as “outreach” to women at the union hall, despite the fact Szillagyi was answering an ad that said women and minorities were “encouraged to apply.”
“He (the union business manager) did everything he could to try and talk me out of it,” she told me. “Nobody could believe that there were women who would show up.”
As the Journal - and Snips - noted, the sexism and opinions of those who didn’t want to see her in the sheet metal shop didn’t faze Szillagyi. She didn’t file formal complaints or lawsuits - a fact she told the Journal that has occasionally brought her criticism from other advocates of women in construction.
She decided to handle such problems on her own, which she said was more effective and oftentimes brought her the respect of those who had been harassing her.
The issues discussed in the two Snips articles and the Journal stories are similar and still timely. The Journal features a long-form interview with Szillagyi. Snips’ articles are available at www.snipsmag.com. The Sheet Metal Workers’ story can be read at www.smwia.org.
And if you’re a female who works in sheet metal or HVAC, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org about your experiences. We’re always interested in how women are faring in the construction industry.