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Silly Boys!
Tower Work Is for Women (Too)
Interviews reveal women tower hands’ opinions about working
in the wireless infrastructure industry and what they think of
their employers, supervisors and male coworkers.
By Dr. Bridgette Hester

M
illions of women work trainers. They know their jobs, they predominantly male industry, and
in jobs that most might do their jobs exceptionally well, and two themes emerged from the answers:
consider to be male- they are held in high esteem not only frustration and adoration. No woman
dominated, such as law enforcement, by other female climbers, but also by said she believed that working in a
construction, plumbing, oil rigging male climbers with whom they worked. predominantly male industry was
and commercial fishing. The telecom Moreover, these women are highly difficult. The women said they don’t
industry is no exception. However, motivated to learn, they are willing mind proving themselves, but they
from the interactions I have had with to endure the same elements as any found it could be frustrating to fight
the climbers and some company owners, male climber, and they are not above against the stereotypes and prede-
it appears that there are more women paying their dues to make the wireless termined notions based solely on
joining the ranks of the telecommu- infrastructure industry their home. gender. Despite whatever frustra-
nications industry. When I asked male climbers about tions might present themselves, every
Historically and sociologically female climbers I interviewed, I never woman said she loved the industry,
speaking, women are one of the most heard anything derogatory in reply. thoroughly enjoyed her work and loved
underutilized resources in the work- On the contrary, more often than not working with her crews.
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place. The following information I was told that the women were
focuses solely on the perceptions, valuable assets and that they would Physicality and Effectiveness
ideas and opinions of the historically be sorely missed if they were not on What do the ladies have to say about
underutilized resource in this industry a work site. One of the male climbers any employer’s general concerns
— the women of telecommunications. I spoke with put it another way: about hiring women with respect to
I asked female climbers about their “Some of the women in the field can the job’s physical requirements and
number of years in the field, their work a tower like a boss.” how effective women might be? The
experience, whether they believe I asked the women about the most women said that in their experience,
employers have valid concerns about difficult aspect of being female in a employer fears of hiring women are
hiring women, their advice to those
employers and to women trying to
More often than not I was told that the women were
get into the industry, and what they
believe they bring to the table. valuable assets and that they would be sorely missed if they
The female climbers interviewed were not on a work site. One of the male climbers I spoke
have from two months to 15 years of with put it another way: “Some of the women in the field
experience, and most are seasoned
tower hands, supervisors and safety can work a tower like a boss.”

32/agl magazine
unfounded. Some said women’s not harder, but any man could do that climber the opportunity, and if she
natural tendencies were to be more as well. I think the fight is more for can’t effectively do her job for lack of
communicative, focused, organized and gender equality in this industry, not physical capability to handle the load,
prompt, and to work more effectively for gender acceptance. We’re just or because she has poor rapport with
with customers. tower hands, period. We all have customers, you will know it quickly.
Two said the question made them different strengths and weaknesses
feel conflicted. “I’ve argued why we that every strong leader or foreman Men and the Workplace
shouldn’t be treated differently based should take into consideration blind Almost all of the female climbers said
on our gender, yet I am asked why I of gender when assigning tasks.” that concerns over relationships
may be better than some males,” one As for physical ability, they all said between male and female tower hands
of them said. “The question does have that just because they are women has been brought to the surface at
some validity, yet I find myself trying doesn’t mean they can’t handle the least once in their past. One said, “I
not to appear hypocritical.” demands. Strength, endurance and learned that one of my supervisors
The second responded by saying, the ability for the body to handle the told my immediate supervisor not to
“I think that I am better at some strain of such a physical job are not hire me because I’m a female,” she said.
things than other coworkers, but I monopolized by males. Anyone who “He said he worried about me having
never feel that it’s because I’m female, has been in the industry can certainly sexual relations with my partner just
rather than because I’m me,” she said. say they have seen more than one because I’m a woman and he’s a man.
“I generally show more attention to male climber who couldn’t handle the It doesn’t work that way. He has since
detail and find ways to work smarter, physicality of the job. Give a female said he was glad the other supervisor

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ignored his advice.” industries, female climbers would are invalid. All around, we’re able to
Similarly, another said she under- agree that tower climbers have to earn handle it just fine.”
stood the concerns. “If I were a company respect. In this industry’s environment, Another responded, “The truth about
owner, my only concern with hiring there is joking, kidding, and down- boys: Get a bunch of guys together
a woman in the field would be speed, right crude exchanges. The women isolated from anywhere they care
quality and sexual lawsuits,” she said. interviewed expressed similar senti- about, and when they don’t think I’m
“I would say it depends on the woman. ments about it, such as, “I knew what I within earshot, I hear things that
If she does quality work and can avoid was getting myself into. If I couldn’t make me wonder if I’ve been way off
having sexual harassment charges handle it, I wouldn’t be in the industry.” all along. It’s been disheartening at
filed against the company, I would Moreover, one female climber said, times. I try to keep it all in perspective
absolutely hire a woman.” “Employers worry about women not and hope that it’s just the industry
Words spoken on the job by both being able to handle the joking and and not society as a whole. And yet,
female and male climbers can be a little they worry about sexual harassment in that same scenario, sometimes I
colorful at times. All climbers, regard- suits. Dear God, if they really knew hear things that are pretty adorable.”
less of gender, will tell you that you had what has been tossed around in jest,
better have a thick skin, and you had they might fall over dead. I dish it Temperament and Attitude
better be able to dish it out as good as out as good as I take it daily, and I’ve Women offer an entire set of skills and
you take it; it’s the nature of the beast. never complained. It’s quite fun. I attributes that is often overlooked
In the wireless infrastructure would say most employer concerns and underappreciated — skills that
industry, as with other
Dynamic_AGL_061007.ai 9/5/07“alpha”
3:40:52 PM about throwing women in the mix make some employers skittish. Sen-
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C

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Y

If you are building a new tower you must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the FCC National Programmatic
CM

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Agreement (NPA) for Impacts to Historic Resources. In many cases, modifications to existing towers must also comply with the NPA.
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We have been working with the tower and wireless industries since 1993. Our track record speaks for itself.

34/agl magazine
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“Don’t expect this to be easy. It’s one of the most difficult The Proverbial Glass Ceiling
One woman I interviewed, a 15-year
and dangerous jobs in America and traditionally composed veteran in the industry, concisely and
of males. Just as we don’t want to be generalized by the men, eloquently summed up the general
women shouldn’t generalize that all men are the same. You consensus of most respondents on
whether they believed there was
will encounter all kinds of men with a range of attitudes." a glass ceiling in the industry.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “Look at
sitivity and showing emotions and some sage advice. Mainly, don’t whine, Pat Cipov, chairwoman of the National
empathy are often categorized as traits don’t complain, get out there and do it Association of Tower Erectors. The
that show weakness or liability, but smarter, not harder, and the industry only glass ceilings in this industry or
when applied directly and effectively isn’t for the faint of heart. in any aspect of your life are the ones
by women in this industry, these so- One veteran climber expressively that you set for yourself.”
called liabilities translate into being encapsulated the overall theme with One climber said she believed
able to effectively read people and this advice: there is a glass ceiling regarding
to manage crews and dangerous “Don’t expect this to be easy. It’s one her pay, but she also described her
situations. They translate into an of the most difficult and dangerous experiences in a much more positive
ability to understand customer con- jobs in America and traditionally light by saying, “I’ve come a long way.
cerns more effectively. composed of males. Just as we don’t I’ve learned a lot. I’ve surprised a lot
From the responses gathered, it was want to be generalized by the men, of people. I’ve impressed a lot of
apparent that all of the women love women shouldn’t generalize that all people. And that feels awesome to
their jobs; most love their employers men are the same. You will encounter anyone. I’ve had many foremen fight
and their crews. One said, “The guys all kinds of men with a range of for me, and many tell me they think
in my company respect me and still attitudes. Don’t let the males who I’m the best top hand in the company.
joke with me. I love them. Yeah, there are intimidated or upset about your Top hands don’t generally work with
are some chauvinists, but mostly presence discourage you. other top hands, so I don’t know much
everyone is amazing.” “You may encounter sexual harass- about the others, but I’m taking their
Others responded with similar ment and sexual discrimination. Don’t word for it.”
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choruses about their crews, employers expect special treatment because of The existence of the proverbial
and coworkers being supportive. You your gender. Expect to lift the same glass ceiling has long been established
are unlikely to ever find one of these amount of weight, climb the same by sociologists, and although there
women behind a desk. For these heights and go to the bushes to relieve may in fact be one in the wireless
women, the interactions with their yourself. You will get injuries, break infrastructure industry, it appears
employers and crews; the physicality, fingernails, miss your families, work the women I interviewed probably
and challenges and camaraderie of the tremendously hard, work in some won’t notice it when they crash
job; and the hunger to learn more far nasty weather and hear some crude through it.
outweigh the nuisances of a sideways and disgusting conversations.
comment from a crew member who “Just remember that once you get Bridgette Hester, Ph.D., is a family and
hasn’t caught up to the 21st century. past the potential issues and demon- workplace strategist. She is the founder
strate that you can do the job, you are and president of the Hubble Foundation,
Advice to Newcomers doing something most men can’t even which is dedicated to promoting the
Without fail, the women interviewed do. You will form lifelong bonds and safety of tower workers, site crews and
had encouraging things to say about friendships unlike any other. all workers at heights. Her email address
more women entering the industry, “But never give up — it can and is bridgette@hubblefoundation.org.
and with that encouragement came has been done.”

36/agl magazine