Shattering stereotypes: All female gas crew delivers
In the middle of a discussion on whether a jackhammer or saw cutter was better for making a street opening, Erica Delgado noticed Toni Jones’s manicure. “I don’t pass anyone a broom without putting on my gloves,” Toni half-joked. And before she could snap her fingers, the conversation between the two -Gas B-technicians from Local 12003 shifted back to tools and heavy machinery.
It was a rare moment when female field workers were together in one room without their male counterparts outnumbering them. They were brought together by Rea Plummer, a Gas Ops C-technician out of Local 101 who is literally one in a thousand. “I am the only female crew member in Gas Maintenance and Construction in downstate New York,” she said.
The meeting was the New England regional kick-off to Women in Non-Traditional Roles (WiNTR), a new Employee Resource Group (ERG) falling under the Women in Networks (WIN) banner. The concept for the group began in 2013 when one of our female employees, Louise Barnes, discussed challenges females in the field face with the U.S. Inclusion & Diversity team. This began a series of monthly meetings focused on helping female field employees overcome challenges and develop their skills.
Rea played a major role in these meetings and, under the Executive Sponsorship of Marie Jordan, she was encouraged to start WiNTR by Senior Operation Supervisors Vaughn Becote and Martin Sobers, and HR Inclusion and Diversity Lead Coordinator, Cynthia Angulo. The group’s mission is two-fold: To educate women employees about the opportunities available to them in a male-dominated industry, and to encourage them to consider the rewards of working in the field. The group started in downstate New York and is expanding into New England and soon, upstate New York.
Vaughn is passionate about WiNTR’s mission. Rea was the first female employee to work for him in more than 25 years with the company, and he wanted to make sure he supported her as she faced obstacles of which he wasn’t even aware—like finding appropriate restrooms in the field.
At the WiNTR kick-off meeting in New England, Rea reflected that many people are simply not aware of the job possibilities for women in the industry. Another challenge, the women in the room discussed, is that their male counterparts and sometimes even supervisors make assumptions and generalizations about their capabilities based on traditional female stereotypes.
Following the meeting, a few of the women set out to challenge this type of thinking when, for the first time in National Grid history, an all-female crew completed a job together. With the help of Executive Advisor Tatiana Roc, Rea teamed up with Sally Mack (an A-tech crew leader), Charity McNeil (a B-tech who drove the dump truck) and Shari Gervasi (also a B-tech) of Local 12012-04 to install a new service for a customer in Winchester, Mass.
“It was a great day,” said Rea. “We did the job from soup to nuts – everything from digging, laying the pipe, tapping the main and backfilling the site.”
“I was very proud of our all-female crew and the high quality of work they did together,” said SVP of US Gas Operations, Marie Jordan. “They showed us that gender plays no role when it comes to installing safe and reliable service. I want to give them kudos, and also recognize union leadership from Locals 101, 12003 and 12012-04 who helped make the day possible.”
The all-female crew want this example to encourage women to think about working in non-traditional roles – but the work is not for everyone, said Shari, “You’ve got to be willing to work even harder to prove yourself. You’ve got to be able to hang with the boys, have thick skin and deal with all kinds of weather.”
But for those who want to do something outside-the-box, gas work is a great option.
“You’re not sitting at a desk or in the same place every day,” said Charity. “You get to meet all kinds of people, and gas work is exciting, like rushing to the scene of a crime.”
“I enjoy the physical aspect of it,” said Shari, who spoke about how she loved being outdoors and doing work that made her feel fit and healthy. Shari worked for the post office before becoming a gas tech and said it was a natural transition because she liked working outdoors. Her father was a contractor, so she grew up in the construction industry and liked it.
Rea started working in Gas Construction after transitioning from Meter Services four years ago and hasn’t looked back. “I really enjoy what I do,” she said. “Women need to know they have the ability to do anything they put their minds to, but the first step has to come from within yourself.”
Outside of these events in New England, WiNTR has also started off on a great note in New York. In May, they hosted their first internal career fair in the Canarsie yard, which helped highlight potential field opportunities for all employees. They also launched a pilot ‘ride-a-long’ program in downstate, where female office employees had the opportunity to spend a day with a field supervisor, gaining an overview of what field jobs entail. Their official introduction as an ERG kicked-off with a panel discussion in MetroTech, which highlighted WiNTR’s initiatives and National Grid’s strides to ensure that females in non-traditional roles have the tools and resources to further develop personally and professionally.
Check out the photos to see how the day went during the first all-female crew workday: