By Diane M. Calabrese / Published February 2019
By the ninth century, the Vikings may have begun taking women and children on boats as they went about seafaring and raiding. Given the Vikings had also begun to carry horses—this permitted speedier raids—the conditions on ships are best left to the imagination. With children to feed and shelter at a high latitude, Viking women might have preferred remaining on dry land. But who can say?
Throughout human history, women have been inventive and industrious just as men have, but they have also typically pursued different activities than men. When settling the U.S. West, it was generally the men who built shelters, maintained tools, and hunted game. Women carried water, baked bread, preserved food, sewed clothes…a short list.
Some of the difference in the way men and women generally divided tasks across millennia has been the result of necessity. Division of labor made it easier to survive.
With the widespread mechanization that took hold in the 20th century, everyone increasingly had more time to think to some degree about preferences in remunerative activity. In the 21st century, preferences endure and choices astound.
Iron workers and roofers are many, but do not expect to find more than a tiny number of women among them. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), only one percent of HVAC and refrigeration mechanics and installers are women, and only 2.5 percent of construction workers are women. (Interestingly, 7.8 percent of construction managers are women.)
Forty-seven percent of the workforce in the U.S. are women. Not only do they dominate in some professions (98 percent of speech-language pathologists, 82 percent of social workers), but they also own close to 10 million businesses, which account for $1.4 trillion in receipts, again according to the DOL. Preference is a powerful motivator and a luxury of contemporary life. To differences in professional choice—whether correlated with gender or color of eyes—some would say vive la différence.
The national lament over the absence of precise demographic representation in certain fields of endeavor seems misplaced. Passion for a professional path is a real driver of excellence in outcomes.
Women in our industry couple passion with a variety of roles. In the October 2016 issue of this magazine, Terri Perrin wrote about the women of CETA at www.cleanertimes.com/magazine/cleaner-times-articles-2/women-ceta-working-better-together. She describes the efforts of women immersed in the industry to forge connections.
Moreover, as readers turn or scroll through the pages of Cleaner Times each month, they can take advantage of advice from the many women—and men—who invigorate the industry. It’s an industry with some unique attributes and great bonuses that are appreciated by all members.
A commitment to reliable and durable machines on the part of manufacturers and distributors paired with a corresponding commitment to service by contractors (as well as manufacturers and distributors) defines our industry. The result is a professional setting that is appreciated.
“The industry is interesting because we have equipment to sell that can be repaired and kept running for decades,” says Kim Micha, CFO at High PSI Ltd. in Glendale Heights, IL. “Unlike the way many industries are trending toward a throw-away culture, the best pressure washers are built to last. We love being able to say that many of the machines we sell were made in America as well.”
The give-and-take and change that characterizes any industry emerges in a special context, explains Micha. “Since many families have been in this industry for generations—and that so many people know so many others throughout the industry—also makes it interesting. It is a close-knit group, while also having innovations to new times.”
A CPA, Micha could choose just about any setting to pursue her professional life. She chose our industry. “I really enjoy working in this industry,” she says. “The direct access to both manufacturers and end customers is different than any industry I have ever worked in.”
The responsiveness of our industry gets high marks from Micha. “Problems are typically solved quickly, and custom solutions are easier to achieve,” she says. “I have noticed that people in this industry are willing to help each other out and are always sharing ideas.”
One facet of the industry Micha cites as particularly rewarding is the emphasis on quality. “We are very proud to stand by quality manufactured products that stand the test of time,” she says.
“There are a few machines we custom designed with our manufacturers, and we love showing off the end product to our customers and continuing to solve their problems,” says Micha. “I also love seeing the ideas other distributors and manufacturers have come up with to match the needs in their markets.”
The ‘doing’ that Micha captures in her reflection is one that involves many women. DOL statistics for 2017 show that women account for 25.4 percent of the workforce in durable goods manufacturing and 21.4 percent of the workforce in machinery manufacturing. Moreover, women account for more than 30 percent of the workforce in both computer and electronic products manufacturing and electrical equipment and appliances manufacturing.
Which manufacturing sector had the highest representation of women in 2017? It was textile, apparel, and leather manufacturing at 56.1 percent. Women accounted for 69 percent of the cut and sew apparel manufacturing subcategory.
Representation of demographic groups varies so greatly by industry that it supports a conclusion—individuals are making choices. Arbitrary attempts to try to make participation by women in every industry equal to their 47 percent participation in the workforce could yield a great deal of unhappiness on the part of everyone denied choice of work setting and professional course.
“I started in the veterinary field, worked in retail, morphed into management, and ended up here,” says Linda Chambers, brand and sales manager at Georgia Chemical Equipment (GCE), Norcross, GA. “The endeavors all involved dealing with people and each day always being different.”
Not only are days different now, but there’s great variety in equipment, says Chambers. “With pressure washing—and that there are so many different types of equipment—it is amazing to me how the same base chemical ingredients can be used to make products used in so many different niche types of cleaning by just changing their strengths and adding some subcomponents with them.”
A well-known educator in our industry, Chambers has been a speaker at PWNA, the UAMCC, and more. She blogs and writes articles for print publications, including this one. One of her two most-cited articles is “Cleaning the Air on Bleach” at www.adpub.com/ctimes/pdfdocs/2009CTMag/Clearing%20the%20Air%20on%20Bleach%202009-02.pdf, which was published in Cleaner Times.
“I find the pressure washing industry interesting in that there are always new people coming into the field who will need to learn and be educated,” says Chambers. “I enjoy sharing knowledge and get the same satisfaction a school teacher does with educating each new class of students.”
People and possibilities combine to make the industry engaging. “The people make it the most interesting to see how different contractors can go about doing a cleaning job: they can do it with different types of equipment, different styles, and different chemicals and still end up with a job well done and a satisfied customer,” says Chambers.
The solution to a problem is often just one of many. And that makes it all the more fascinating, says Chambers. “There can be more than one way it can be right in the long run.”
Chambers observes that among contractors in our industry, men are clearly in the majority. She wonders what accounts for the lower representation of women, particularly when compared to a related industry.
“Look at the janitorial industry, which is mainly staffed by women,” says Chambers. She concedes that pressure washers may be large, but she does not think that accounts for the difference.
Chambers hopes to see more women join our industry, including as contractors. She believes that women can bring new viewpoints and, of course, foster more vigorous growth and innovation.
‘Women on the whole care more about aesthetics, things being clean…,” says Chambers. “Women care more about results over price. With residential cleaning, it is usually a woman who is insisting on the cleaning.”
True, men care about aesthetics, results, and clean surroundings, too. But Chambers’ suggestion that different outlooks can add to a whole that is much greater than its parts is a point well taken.
Each individual has different strengths. When individuals can realize their potential and build on their strengths, they can also offer more to their industries and their communities.
Everyone must find the best fit for work and life. That’s what women and men in our industry—and other industries—do. As long as lopsided demographic representation is matched with a workplace where women and men respect the contributions and knowledge of all on the team, there is no problem at all. Forcing a 50:50 (or 47:53) fit can be perilous.
1. Northmen — The Viking Saga 793-1241. John Haywood. 2016. Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press)