How come there seem to be so few female electricians in the trade, and what could be the reasons why? In my experience as an electrician apprentice, seeing a female electrician or apprentice has been a rare occurrence. However, I have also noticed, that the few female electricians I have met are oftentimes determined even more so than some of their male counterparts. How come, there are so few female electricians then, and how many women work in the electrical trade, really?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 1.7 percent of electricians in the United States are female. The percentage of female electricians shows that approximately just 1 in 50 electricians are women. Out of the entire workforce of 845.000 electricians, only 14.365 of them are women.
The electrical trade has historically mostly been occupied by men, which has also been the case for the industry of construction trades in general. This article will dive deep into this topic, as to how outspoken this issue is, while also bringing forth some (not so) obvious reasons, why women could actually benefit from becoming an electrician. I have reached out to an expert to get a further understanding of the topic. Oh, and I asked Reddit too.
How Many Electricians Are Female?
As already stated and by observing available statistics, female electricians are fairly rare. The trade of electricians has over the past many years been overwhelmingly occupied by males. Compared to the profession of preschool and kindergarten teachers, where 97 percent are females, only 1.7 percent of electricians are female.
Electricians being female is not very common, as Labor Statistics show, that only one out of fifty electricians are women. Females, in general, constitute 43.5 percent of the workforce in all occupations. While in the electrical trade, more than 98 percent of electricians are men, and female electricians are therefore by comparison quite rare.
These sources reveal something similar to my own experience as an apprentice electrician. In the several classes attended in electrical trade school, I’ve only ever met one electrician apprentice of the female gender. And I must say, that my anecdotal observations, as to how few women there really are, are quite striking.
Working “in the field” as an electrician apprentice I have, opposite to electrical trade school, encountered a number of female apprentices. In my experience, I have noticed that especially these women are motivated and dedicated. Added to that, they seem to be thriving and are proud of their work. By talking to other male electricians, this has also been their experience in working with electricians and apprentices of the opposite gender.
What Percentage of Electricians Are Women? (Compared to Other Trades)
By looking at data from the Women’s Bureau, we can get a comparative and percentage-wise understanding of how many women are working in the different trades. Strikingly, the trade of electricians employs the least amount of women compared to other popular trades. The most popular trade for women is painters. Of the entire workforce of around 400.000, women are occupying roughly 30.000 (almost 10 percent) of those full-time positions. Also, plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters, welders, and glaziers are employing more women than electricians.
|Trade||Percentage of women in the trade|
At first, when I wanted to explore this subject, I really didn’t know precisely what to expect. However, by looking at these numbers, I am a little bit shocked. Bricklayers. Really? What is it about the electrical trade or electricians, that are holding women back? To get a further understanding of why so few women work in the trades in overall terms, we can consult an expert, who has also dived deep into this subject herself.
A General Gender Bias in the Construction Industry
Kate Stephenson (BA in Anthropology and MS in Management) is a partner of HELM Construction Solution – a climate-specialized construction agency. In 2017 she wrote the publication “Gender Bias in the Construction Industry“, which is referenced on this website. This publication is exploring the subject of gender differences in the construction industry. And there are some key points, that are relevant in terms of exploring the issue also related to electricians.
First of all, she argues that a part of the reason might be due to how men and women are being raised differently. While boys are typically playing with tools, cars, and other “male” toys, girls are being encouraged to play more with female stereotypical toys.
The second part of Kate’s argument is due to the fact that the construction trades, in general, are valuing and demanding an idea of “toughness” in leadership. As men by some are being perceived as predominantly more strong, this could have some related, either conscious or sub-conscious, consequences. For example, when employers are hiring, they could in theory be choosing an electrician (or another type of tradesperson), because they might be expressing this so-called stronger attitude.
The Awkward Elephant in the Room
These might be some of the reasons why, women don’t enter the trade, and could have a more difficult time than men to even get a job as an electrician. But there are most likely also other reasons why they don’t even bother to enter the trade. That could be due to the rather unpleasant experiences that some women have had in the trades. So here comes the biggest elephant in the room, sexual harassment.
Every female or gender non-conforming contractor I know can tell a dozen horror stories of inappropriate things said to them on a job site.Kate Stephenson in “Breaking Down Gender Bias in the Construction Industry”
Previous surveys of women and gender non-conforming construction workers have consistently shown that they are frequently experiencing verbal and physical harassment by their own colleagues. Even men are also reporting on this issue, as I will explain in the next section.
Why Are There So Few Female Electricians?
The subreddit of electricians within the front page of the internet Reddit is currently being followed by over a quarter of a million people. People who are either electricians themselves or interested in the trade of electricians in general. So, I thought this would be the perfect place to ask a question on this particular subject.
Little did I know, that 24 hours later after asking this question, the post was viewed by more than 40.000 people with over 270 comments. I asked the question because statistics tell us the current state, however, the factual numbers do not tell us the reasons why. Looking back, I wish I did a proper survey, in order to make a clear overview of the respondent’s opinions. Although, luckily I came up with another solution for getting an understanding of the main reasons.
My first glance over the comments showed somewhat mixed signals. Although, by collecting the words expressing the same opinion, you could now extrapolate that to make separate categories of opinions as to why the Redditors think there are so few women in the electrical trade. So, here are the types of reasons why, the people of the electrician subreddit, think there are so few female electricians.
|Extrapolated Categories||Number of Comments in the Category|
|Verbal and physical harassment||12|
|Perceived differences in general interests||6|
|Dirty and filthy work environment||6|
|No dedicated female bathrooms||5|
So, these are just a small sample, and should therefore not be interpreted as an overall truth of the matter. However, it does seem to show us something similar to related observations in previous surveys. One other important thing to mention is the fact that also some men in the Reddit thread reported similar occurrences that have happened to them.
The problem of harassment seems to be an issue that is happening to both genders, although, the respondents are telling that the problem is experienced by most women. I’ve been in contact with one of the respondents, who by all standards has been through some unacceptable circumstances in her job as an electrician. The 37-year-old female electrician puts forth the following statement.
I’ve been harassed, bullied, physically assaulted, and then completely shut out when I had to say something. Not one soul on site would speak to me, they were all afraid. HR didn’t believe me. It was toxic! I put up with a lot of shit but being physically assaulted and threatened with violence crossed the line.Female Electrician, 37 years of age
This is not a stand-alone comment, as many other commenters reported similar occurrences, that they have either experienced themselves or observed. By going through other comments there seems to be painted a rather dark picture of what women (and some men) have to put up with, just to be able to do their work.
Some Jobs Can’t Have Bad Apples
The vast majority of respondents are finding this to be completely unacceptable, and the general consensus is also concluding that these instances are initiated mostly by the “bad apples” in the industry. We have heard that term before, haven’t we? As Chris Rock pointed out in his Netflix comedy special Tamborine, commenting on police officers, “Some jobs cant have bad apples”, and I think this applies also to electricians.
I’ve heard some pretty degrading things happen to my elderly colleagues when they were electrician apprentices 10, 20, or even 30 years ago. I don’t want to mention the particular episodes, however, I can assure you that they were not pleasant experiences. Sure, I’ve dealt with difficult people in my time as an apprentice, but have never been assaulted or anything close to it. Luckily, there are signs, pointing to the fact that a shift is coming in the trade.
I think the tide is beginning to turn and we are seeing more thinkers and intellectuals on the job site. I think/hope that as that balance shifts, we – the smart men, and the smart women – can make it just as good a place for women to work as men.Comment from a Male Redditor
One key takeaway is that many of the commenters are reporting a similar development, however, there are also some who don’t see the same state of things in the industry. By looking at the context, it seems to be closely related to the individual geographical location and the work culture in general.
Coming back to Kate Stephenson, I asked if she has seen any movement on getting a more diversified workforce in the skilled trades. And by her observations, there has been some minor improvement.
I think there has been some progress over the past 5 years, but it really varies from company to company and Jobsite to Jobsite. I do think the percentage of women in the trades has gone up a little bit, and more representation helps but does not necessarily solve the issues of toxic masculinity in the trades.Kate Stephenson, Helm
The issue obviously varies depending on the employer and location, as the commentators of the electrician subreddit also pointed out. However, the focus on getting more women in the trades is not solving the underlying problem of discrimination against women.
.. there are still a lot of challenges based on the male-dominated culture that is prevalent on many job sites. Culture is slow to change.Kate Stephenson
The Tide is (Mostly) Turning
I want to end this section with some positive observations also. The most positive thing I’ve noticed is that the vast majority of people in the subreddit are aware of the issue, and find it to be a problem, that needs to be dealt with. I think there are many people in the electrical trade who, like myself, would like to get rid of the bad apples in the industry. And if the positive signs of more acceptance of both genders and personality types improve, we might be entering a future where the bad apples will go mostly extinct. Because as the female electrician, who I contacted, also adds:
The work is easy if you don’t mind a bit of hard work some days. I love this shit and wouldn’t trade my career no matter how many rejects try and make me hate it. And there are other strong talented ladies who are the same. But we are few and far between.Female Electrician, 37 years of age
There are other examples of women being able to make it in the trades, in spite of facing discrimination and sexual harassment. One of these women is telling her story in this New York Times article, which also brings forth some troublesome examples of, the difficult conditions for women and also minorities in the skilled trades.
How Much Does Female Electricians Get Paid?
This next section explains some more gender-specific differences related to the electrical trade. The following are the data showing the differences in the average salary for men and women. These are numbers that show the salary for all categories of industries for electricians.
As we can see, there is a quite large difference in the average salary between the two genders. A man will, by an average across all electrical industries, be earning $8108 more than a woman on an annual basis. Although, by examining the topic of female salaries in relation to the trades, there are actually some opportunities for women to gain their chances of earning a higher salary, even compared to men.
According to Bureau Labor Statistics, female electricians who are a part of a union will earn up to 30 percent more than their counterparts, who are in non-union employment. By working with a union-related company, women will on average be within the top-5 percent of wage earners across the entire electrical industry.
By citing and following the advice from the electrical contractor, these financial incentives should be attracting thousands of women to work in the construction trades. Also former mentioned Kate Stephenson sees an obvious opportunity for women to be entering the trades. However, she is also recommending, that electrical companies should work towards guaranteed pay equity for both genders. It is well known, as also described in this article, that there is currently, and also will be a shortage of electricians in the future. 2030 projections show that there will be a growth in employment opportunities for electricians of about 9 percent, each year.
I see a lot of opportunities – there are a lot of great jobs available now, that are well paid with opportunities for career advancement.Kate Stephenson, Helm Construction Solutions
For women to start a career early also proves, in some cases, to be more financially rewarded, than their college-educated counterparts. That is mostly because apprentices learn as they go, and will by the time they are 30 years old have earned up to $145.000 more than females who are college-educated. Although a university degree can potentially bring a higher salary with it, unemployment rates and student debt could minimize their earning power.
Final Words and Helpful Ressources
So, now we have been able to come to some conclusions as to why there are so few female electricians. I know this can be perceived as a controversial subject (which is also why I hesitated to even write this article), as there are multiple and varied opinions on this topic. I have therefore tried to be objective by comparing labor statistics, experts with specialized opinions, and then of course the survey done with the help of the electrician subreddit.
If you are concerned about joining the electrical trade, I hope you are not being discouraged by some of the stories and statistics brought forth in this article. There is a growing awareness all over the world for bringing more women into the skilled trades, and to become an electrician also. Research is for example being developed to boost women in the trades and as a result, inspire new workers to become electricians.
For example, women who want to become an apprentice can join a specialized pre-apprenticeship training program. This is a course, that has been developed by Oregon Tradeswomen, that helps women in the industry. The course is a 192-hour long preparation and readiness program for women to become best prepared for a career in the skilled construction trades.
Also, in Helm Construction Solutions, Kate Stephenson and her colleagues are consulting other construction companies to encourage women and LGBTQIA folks to apply for positions.
Seek out employers who are really making an effort to diversify their workforce – they are out there. Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs even if you don’t meet all the qualification requirements- it’s been shown that cis white men are often assumed to have more skills than they really have, which means often women have to prove themselves more or are underestimated, but don’t let that prevent you from even applying.Kate Stephenson, Helm Construction Solutions
As I also mentioned in the introduction, by working with women in the trades, I have only had positive experiences, as they seem to be especially determined to succeed in the electrical industry. And my final words should therefore just be some words of encouragement. You are welcome, and we want you to join the trades, and remember that the bad apples will eventually rot away.