Woman at Work: Jessica Kilroy

How did you become a rope access technician?

I was looking for a job that utilized my rock climbing and fiberglass skills. My climber friend Eric found the job and introduced me to it. 

What does a day in your work life look like? 

Most of the year, I travel all over the country utilizing my rope access and fiberglass skills to repair wind turbine blades. 

First, I fly out to the wind farm requesting specialized fiberglass repair. I wake up at the hotel before light and drive out to the wind turbine in need of repair. 

Then I shut down the tower and work with my tech partner to get the damaged blade into position. First, I climb a 350 ft. ladder inside the tower up to the nacelle (the box shaped room at the top of the turbine, protecting all the working parts). I then hoist up hundreds of pounds of gear and ropes. I lock out the rotor, rig ropes and rappel down the blade to the area of damage, where I secure a ring line and set up a system to haul tools. My ground support then hauls up power tools and an extension cord and I begin repairing the damaged fiberglass blade. 

We usually work until dark then drive back to the hotel where I work for another few hours on reporting. We work 7 days a week for 5-8 weeks at a time and have a week or 2 off in between jobs. 

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

Women are underrepresented in the rope access field. Hopefully this will change as the overall workforce, women in leadership positions and conversations about gender equality grow. 

Support your fellow woman rather than contributing to the source of your own oppression by tearing each other down or competing against one another. We are a minority in this field and the job is hard enough without the extra challenges that come with oppression. We need to lift each other up. It's important to stay resilient and graceful in the face of adversity. I have a mantra for when I'm dealing with difficult people or situations: ‘this too shall pass’. It helps me remember that oppression, adversity and pain are only temporary and keeps me focused on the job at hand. 

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

Sexism and gender inequality. The job is physically difficult but I find that to be no match for the inequality I've experienced on the job. Over the past seven years, I've met many obstacles in my attempts to move up, simply because I'm a woman. It's hard to be working alongside a guy that's new to the job (with less than half my experience) only to find out he's making a higher wage than me because he's a man. 

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

I love to climb rocks of all shapes and sizes when I'm not working. My favorite kind of rock climbing is traditional big wall climbing and multi-pitch climbing. Indian Creek, Yosemite and Asturius, Spain are my favorite areas to go climbing.

Who’s a role model who helped you in your journey to where you are? 

Lynn Hill has always been a powerful role model. As a young climber, I was inspired by her "no excuses" approach to climbing and her diligent, creative climbing style and humility. 

At a petite 5' 2", Lynn was a massive force in shattering gender stereotypes in the climbing world and gave a voice to women. She's a true badass and a woman of grace, humility, support and kindness and she paved the way for many female climbers. I've had the pleasure of meeting her a few times and last year had the magical experience of climbing alongside her and Nina Caprez on El Cap during the 25th anniversary of Lynn's first free ascent of the Nose. 

jessica kilroy el capitan playing music

Jess playing music from a portaledge on Yosemite's El Capitan. 

What does workwear designed for women mean to you?

Freedom. Freedom to support each other. Freedom to stand up for something that works for us rather than feel forced to fit into something we are not meant to fit into. It's important to feel comfortable, supported and empowered as hard working women, and Dovetail does just that. 

Do you have any special projects or cool things you want people to check out? 

Under the mentorship of Bernie Krause (Ph.D. Bioacoustics, Ecologist, Musician) I am currently working on a concept album which incorporates recorded natural soundscapes into original songs. 

For this album, entitled “Pitch and Plain”, I’ve collected field recordings from the two dominant landscapes in the greater intermountain region: mountains and prairies. The mountains have always been important to me. Their rugged peaks are a vital part of the American West. With the recorded soundscapes, I have composed music inspired by my favorite climbing areas and prairies that are now under threat of destruction. 

jess kilroy pitch and pain guitar prairies dovetail workwear

I hope Pitch and Plain’s release brings awareness to the importance of protecting open lands, healthy ecosystems and natural soundscapes. While it’s easy to see the visual impact of habitat destruction, we don’t always notice the soundscapes also being lost.

I can’t help feeling we are at such a critical moment in human history, in which the fate of the world quite literally hangs in the balance. Wild places are under dire threat from human development, resource extraction, corporate exploitation and climate change. We all have a responsibility to use our talents to help stem the tide. 

Check out Pitch and Plain here 

NOTE: An earlier edition of this publication mentioned engines in wind turbines. That was an egregious error on our part, and was not included in Jessica's original statement. We're sorry for any confusion caused.

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