Being A Woman In A Man's Field
Following Dream Lord Wars Chapter 2
There is a lot of me in Harley’s story.
My daddy was a coal miner. Not a Virginia coal miner, but a Colorado miner, which meant that he sometimes dragged us to Wyoming to work the pit mines for baking soda, or the Rockies for gold and silver. For the most part, we grew up in Rocky Mountain coal country.
I never thought I belonged there. Growing up, I didn’t think the same way the kids around me did. I dreamed big dreams and wanted to go to big places. I didn’t excel in the same areas they did. I didn’t want to have sex and get drunk at a ridiculously young age.
Following My Dad Into The Military
The only way out for me was to join the military. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had actually been accepted in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. One of my teachers had sent in my application, but when my acceptance letter arrived, my mother had hidden it. I had dreams of becoming an astro-biophysicist. I was probably ahead of my time there, but I wanted to look for life on other planets. I was smart, too. I did good on tests. I excelled in math and science. I wasn’t the best, but I didn’t need to be.
My mother drilled it into my head that I was never going to make anything of myself. So, as I was leaving my junior year in high school, I signed up for the ARMY.
There, I became the first - or maybe the second - tactical female air traffic controller.
I remember when I hit permanent party, my first sergeant didn’t even let me sign onto base yet. He met me at my bunk at the main barracks and informed me that he intended to get me out of his unit even if that meant getting me out of his ARMY because, as a female, I was worthless. He was attached to the 101st Airborne Division. When he got the call, and he would, his team would be one man short.
Now, at that time, females couldn’t even be on the front line. We could be support admin, but that was it. Tactical ATC goes in front of the forward line. However, I didn’t think of that. I just thought, “Well, this is a weird pep talk,” and took it as a challenge to be better.
I really wish I could say that I succeeded in that. But… I didn’t. I was put there because I was an air traffic controller who couldn’t tell the difference between her left hand and her right. I’m ambidextrous and, at the time, dyslexic. Yes. You heard that right. At the time. I was still eating gluten then.
I fought so hard to stay in. I was getting a PT test every other week, weighed in every week, and was doing road marches every other week. He was trying his darndest to kick me and all the other females who followed me kicked out of his ARMY.
I was a damned good air traffic controller though. As long as it was written on my hands, Left and Right, I could control those air waves like it was nothing.
Following My Dad Into the Mines
I got knocked up pretty early into my very short military career. I even attempted Air Assault while pregnant, but failed the final test - repelling out of the helicopter. That’ll happen when you’re trying to prove you’re better than you are and you add fifty extra pounds to your rucksack. That, with the rotor wash? Yeah… I dead possumed on the line while six months pregnant.
Once I was out, I put myself through school to get a degree and a career as quickly as I could, and the best paying job to support me and my brand new baby was… coal mining.
I remember getting hired on and showing up for work expecting to go into the hole only to be informed that I was staying at the top. I was to clean the trailer and man the safety line.
I was pissed. I went off on my supervisor. He just shrugged and told me that I’d won. He’d give me the higher pay and send me into the hole with the other miners if that’s what I really wanted.
I made it about a week. That shit was scary. After that, I took the pay cut and manned the desk. But that was the last time I accepted defeat.
I Followed My Dad Into Construction
I completed a two year degree program in less than six months, which, at the time meant I didn’t get a degree. All I got was a certificate of completion. I worked a full-time job, raised a baby girl, and did two years of school work in six months, and only got a certificate of completion for computer aided drawing.
Construction is a man’s field, even the design side. I would walk into meetings on my projects and be informed I needed to run the design team’s questions by my boss. Why? Because he was a man. He’d ask me if my answers were right and then he’d email the architects and tell them my answers. That man tried. He pushed back on the architects and told them to listen to me and to stop wasting his time. My engineer would stop going with me to meetings so the design team was forced to listen to what I said instead of waiting for him to repeat myself.
Sacrifices Of Maintaining A Twenty Year Career
I was a single mom and that was a… well, it kept me on the bottom of the totem pole and the pay pole and the everything pole. I made all the sacrifices. I made sure my daughter didn’t impact work. I worked more hours and made sure all of my daughter’s appointments fell on days I had off.
And then I got pregnant again.
I was informed that I wasn’t guaranteed a job when I got back. And they weren’t paying me any maternity leave. And my boss had taken all of my vacation to supplement the well baby visits. Those visits that shouldn’t have been taken out of my vacation time because I’d been working 50 hour work weeks.
So, to keep my kids and I fed, I scheduled Ms. Sunshine’s birth on Saturday so I could be back to work on Monday.
I kept my job. My kids got fed. My mom’s mortgage got paid. Everyone should have been happy.
My boss was not. He wanted to prove a point. My coworker who had been hired almost a month after I’d come on was about to have a baby. He got two weeks paid maternity leave. And he kept his job. And! He got promoted. Why? Because of the work I did while recovering from having given birth.
My entire construction career went like that. I moved from design into project management. In that field, I had male coworkers taking credit for my work, then getting promoted for what I did, only for them to then loose hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions of dollars, trying to replicate what I could do in my sleep.
One guy even tanked an entire electrical company claiming he could complete and manage the design of a hospital because he was the one who’d completed The Children’s Hospital of Aurora MEP design. To this day, I still have no idea how no one knew it was me. It still boggles my mind. Like, did they think I was in those meetings to take the notes? I mean, I did take the notes. I was in a room full of men. If I didn’t, no one would have!
Coming Full Circle
I’ve had to rethink my life lately. I tend to do the work of the managers, but as soon as the men walk in, I’m nothing more than a secretary. I’ve wanted to be a project manager for over a decade. I’ve done the work. I’m good at it when I have support and I’m not doing ALL of the work myself.
I’m never going to make it. So, I had to sit down with myself and wonder. Is this what I truly want?
Well, when I realized just how similar Harley and I were to each other, I delved deeper into her character. She’s facing a lot of the same things I am. But… her being a mechanic isn’t the same as me being a project manager. It’s close. But she’s the type of person who builds people. She heals people.
So do I. Projects aren’t people, though. They’re processes and things and they affect people. The buildings I help build shape the lives people will have, but its not the same.
I think this was a goal I put on myself in order to follow in my dad’s footsteps. You know, staying in that survival mentality? The military is the only way out of this valley. Coal is the only way to put myself through college and get that degree - I mean, certificate. Construction is the only way to keep my kids fed. Project manager is the only way to get the house I’ve always wanted.
It’s hard letting that go, but telling stories builds people. So, I really need this writing thing to work. I need to be able to change people’s lives with my writing because that rings with the bell of truth. More than building homes or offices or hospitals.
Harley is going to succeed. And she’s going to help me figure out how to succeed in my life when she does.