Local News

Women Breaking Stereotypes With Untraditional Jobs

Posted May 19, 1999

— There's a lot of power behind a welder's torch. And for decades men have been wielding it. But 37-year-old Barbara Williams is breaking a tradition that some jobs are meant "just for men."

Women have come a long way in the working world, but believe it or not there are still plenty of positions, such as welders, predominately held by men.

Across the state, Sex Equity programs are placing women in fields where 75 percent or more of the employees are male.

That's why Williams says she gets a lot of questions about her job.

"They're like, 'I know you're not," says Williams. "And I'm like, 'Yeah I am.' They say, 'Well isn't that hard work?' or 'Do you really like that?' or something like that."

Williams used to be a cashier in a department store, but as a single mother she needed more money to support her four children.

She enrolled in the Sex Equity program atWayne Community College. In the program, women who are willing to enter one of 14 fields where the workforce is mostly male get free training, transportation, help with child care, and job placement.

For three months Williams has been working at Waukesha Electric Systems in Goldsboro.

"Just give it a shot, it's not that hard. It's not like it was 10, 20 years ago. It's more accepted now," Williams says of women working in occupations traditionally thought of as all-male.

It takes a lot of guts to change stereotypes, but the women in the Sex Equity program, such as Bernestine Brown, say they get the hands-on training they need to do their jobs well.

The 39-year-old mom is learning how to do body work at the community college.

"[I learned] how to feel for dents. I learn how to look and assess damage done. I learned a lot in the last few months that I've been here," Brown says.

Brown spends her days sanding away rust on cars and erasing the stereotypes that only men work with cars. And she is proud of what she has accomplished in just four months.

Then there is 37-year-old Teresa White, who worked in the textile industry for 12 years. Now she is learning how to paint cars through the Sex Equity program.

White is following in her father's footsteps. He owns a body shop -- a dream she shares.

Instructors say female students pay close attention to detail and graduate ready to work.

"The industries around are hurting for people. They need more people and jobs are available. I can place just about everybody that graduates," says instructor Paul Compton.

Dwanda Scott runs the four-year-old program, but she may not be doing it for long.

"We're not going to get the type of funding that we've gotten in the past," says Scott.

Lawmakers have approved little money to keep programs such as Sex Equity alive. It costs $90,000 year to operate.

"As of June 30 of this year, our program is pretty much non-existent," Scott says.

Scott is looking for private grants so that others can share in the opportunity. In case a private funding source does not come through, Scott is also helping students look into scholarships so that they can continue their education.


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