When people tell 36-year-old Gabrielle Saylor that she’s working in a “man’s world,” she boldly laughs in their faces and continues to show the critics that a woman is capable of working a so-called “man’s job.”
Saylor is currently in her fourth year of an electrical apprenticeship and one of her specialities is to bend pipes. She says she enjoys showing off her skills to unexpecting male colleagues. Saylor says the shocked expressions that come across their faces while thinking, ”Did she really just do that?” are priceless.
Saylor’s confidence and ambition took time to grow. She didn’t take interest in a trade until she was working as a real estate broker in New Jersey back in 2012.
“While looking for contractors, I realized that there were not a lot, if any, women-owned contractors in the state of New Jersey that could handle major projects,” Saylor said. “It got me thinking about the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the trades.”
Shortly after leaving her broker job, Saylor moved to Atlanta, Ga., and became a mother. During her stint of being a stay-at-home mom, Saylor decided to finally apply for an electrical apprenticeship in Atlanta.
Saylor took the mandatory entry test for an electrical apprenticeship with the Atlanta Electrical Joint Apprenticeship and Training Trust Fund (AEJATC). After being surprised with how well she did on the test, Saylor decided to accept the school’s offer.
“The reality of how little women worked in the trades didn’t hit me until the orientation,” Saylor said. “There were five or six hundred people there. Out of the hundreds of people, there was only three women at the orientation, including me.”
Saylor is in her fourth year of apprenticeship with the AEJATC and has one year left. And she’s refusing to be anything but herself.
“I am really girly,” Saylor said. “I love glitter. I wasn’t going to tone down to be ‘one of the boys.’ That’s not what I have to bring to the table.”
“People don’t expect me to be strong, they don’t expect me to work hard,” Saylor continued. “Even when I do work hard and I get things because I work hard, people still say to me it’s because I am a woman.”
Saylor says she usually laughed it off when people would say that to her. But underneath the tough exterior, Saylor really didn’t know how to respond. The more she thought about it, the more she realized how wrong they were.
“No, it’s not because I am a girl,” Saylor said. “It’s because I work hard. I’m smart. I’m here every day for class or work and I’m on time. No, it’s not because I am a girl. Some things you just have to shrug off and continue to do your job. Other times you have to correct people and move on. Don’t let people minimize your work because of your gender.”
Saylor says there are still barriers for women joining a trade.
“People don’t offer trades as an option,” Saylor said. “If you’re in the guidance counsellor’s office, that person is most likely going to offer pink-collared jobs to women. You don’t get to see other women making it a normal thing.”
Saylor says it’s important to develop a sisterhood with other women who are also in the apprenticeship. When she meets a new woman in the program, especially someone in her first year, Saylor embraces them.
“When I see a new girl, I am always really friendly,” Saylor said. “I let them know that if they need anything or need help with a new concept, to ask me.”
“I think there’s an embarrassment if you don’t know something, because you’re a girl, you’re scared to ask.” Saylor continued. “People are assuming your lack of knowledge is because of your gender, not the fact that you’re a first-year apprentice. I try my hardest to have an open-door policy.”
When Saylor first entered the program, her main goal was to become a contractor. Now that she is getting hands-on experience with her tools, she really enjoys it. She hopes she can find a way to intertwine both things.
As for the future of trade jobs for women, Saylor remains hopeful.
“I think more women would do well in the trades,” Saylor said. “I think women are an asset.”