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Woman at Work: Plumber Kelly Ireland

What does a day in your work life look like?

A day in the life in my industry changes with the wind. I have been on high rise commercial and residential, hospital, pharmaceutical. My work can range from in an underground ditch installing the main drains of a building to under a sink hooking up a faucet. I got really involved using a machine that aids in layout, which has opened me up to being involved in all phases of a job.

I have been extremely lucky to have been able to experience so much of my trade. Getting pigeon-holed can lead to a boring career.

What do you want people to know about being a woman in your field?

Plumbing is a field can definitely be a challenge, not just for women, but for men as well. It is physically challenging. There are so many aspects to the trade that the learning never ends. On top of that, the industry is constantly changing, so learning new things can quickly turn into learning new ways to do the thing you just learned.

A field that can be difficult for men, who have dominated the trade since plumbing’s beginnings, is certainly not going to be a walk in the park for a woman. Not only do we have to face all the same challenges men have to face, we have to do it with all eyes on us, under a microscope. Men watch our moves, make sure we belong, make sure we can live up to it.

at an event for non-profit Tools & Tiaras 

My advice is always show eagerness and willingness to learn and try. Be honest about your fears, but don't let them overtake you. As cliche as it may seem, from my experience, a can do attitude can take you far, and it does wonders in showing the men that you have a place in the trades.

What's the biggest challenge you have faced in your work?

The obvious answer would be the psychical achievements. Not only am I a "woman doing man's work", but I am a short stature small framed woman. I am constantly overcoming things physically.

The real challenge for me is overcoming interpersonal relationships. I am not quiet about how I feel, especially if I feel someone is being walked on. In this industry there are chains of command and they mostly expect workers to keep their head down, shut up and get the work done.

When I work with or for men who have no integrity, it eats at me. It honestly brings my morale down and I battle between standing up for what I believe in and remaining calm enough to keep my job.

Also when I work with someone who I know is racist or sexist or in anyway against the pursuit of someone’s happiness based on superficial ideas, I tend to fly off the handle. I have shut down to the point of silence… Every woman knows the power of silences, yell all you want, but when silence replaces yelling. For some reason men start to take you seriously.

What are you doing when you’re not working hard?

I'm a mother of 2 kids, so mostly I cart them around and volunteer at their school when I can.

If not working with my kids, I’m generally plugging in with women in the trades, mostly online and through a monthly meeting a few girls started in my area. We are hoping to grow, and help the women in our area become more aware of their career options. 

I like to post what I do on social media. I get a lot of hate from people for it, but men have had centuries in the spotlight. So long that women have been brushed to the side for most physical jobs.

I want to show women what can be done, to make them aware there are other options. I think visual representation can go a long way with that, as well as continuously connecting with women in or looking to get in trades.

Follow Kelly at @tinyplumbergirl.

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