It took working with a woman in construction for Jason Rhyno to realize that it’s not boys vs. girls, it’s who’s the better person for the job.
Shannon was maybe five feet tall, with long dirty blonde hair and skin dark gold from the sun; she weighed, in the vernacular of the landscaping profession, “95 pounds soaking wet.” I was the supervisor of a small landscaping company, and would periodically be asked for my thoughts on a candidate’s resume. We had never hired a woman. Women mostly worked for municipalities on flowerbed detail, and we were a small company with a crew of four. Turnover is high in the landscaping industry, especially at private companies that tend to work their employees longer and harder.
We had recently been through a string of male hires who either dropped like flies from the pace of work or had an attitude problem. Most were mediocre in terms of their skill set, and what I really wanted was another person like me: hard working, skilled with various equipment, didn’t complain when we had to work extra hours, and, God forbid, took a little pride in the quality of his work.
Shannon’s resume was stacked; it compared nicely to mine in breadth of equipment experience, but left me in the dust with seven years of experience to my five. One thing that I had on Shannon was a driver’s license, and the absence of one on her resume had held her back in the landscaping industry. The other thing that I had on her was that I was male.
It wasn’t until Shannon that I realized the extent to which women have to work for and in their careers. I also saw how entitled men are when it comes to work. The latter isn’t always our fault, however: if you grow up white, male, economically comfortable, and otherwise privileged, then what reason do you have to pursue academic excellence, build a resume with outstanding experience, and generally give it your all?
Are we all Homer Simpsons and Peter Griffins—or any other primetime male: lazy, overweight, kinda stupid, able to make disastrous mistakes as long as we apologize afterwards? I hope not. But when a University of Florida study finds that men who put on a paunch make more money than thin men, It gives me pause. It also shouldn’t be surprising that the same study found that larger women take home less than thinner women—if not illustrating then certainly providing a glimpse of the double-standard that exists between the sexes.
Men drop out of school faster than women, and tend to saunter through our 20s in no particular rush to do anything. Academically, girls have always made us eat their dust. And yet, we still overwhelmingly occupy engineering and math, not to mention various trades like landscaping. We aren’t stupid, but we can act that way—as if intelligence and ambition are unmanly characteristics.
According to a recent report by Statistics Canada, the gender wage gap has either narrowed or remained constant, depending on age, hours worked, industry, etc. Yes, on average, men still take home a larger paycheck than women. But there are more women managers, and the jobs that men used to occupy are disappearing. It’s still not equal, but it’s getting there. Women have had to work hard to get to this point, and men should, if anything, reexamine the idea that we are being pushed to the sidelines, our rights being trampled on, with the only solution being a return to 1950s masculinity.
Shannon was an above-average worker in the landscaping industry. She arrived early, worked efficiently, and took pride in her work. The boys on the crew often moseyed in late, and enjoyed taking unscheduled breaks in the shade during the day. When the physical work began to take a toll on the body, they skipped sections, leaving long grass or weeds poking up through an otherwise well-manicured lawn or garden. Shannon, for months, never missed a weed. She had a hawk-like eye for detail and I would treat her to lunch or morning coffees on the company dime to show my appreciation for her hard work.
Then Shannon started to miss sections. She began showing up late, then disappearing for long stretches of the day, splitting from the group. This was upsetting, since she had become my partner, someone like me in regards to work ethic and ability. I relied on her. One morning I caught her sitting down, and confronted her with her recent track record of poor workmanship and laziness. She said nothing, just got up and went back to work. It wasn’t until two days later that I tried a different, more measured, professional approach.
“My teeth hurt,” she said. She opened her mouth wide and I saw what looked like oil spilling out of her molars, black blood congealed around her gums. She had put off dental surgery because she’d wanted to make it through the autumn season, needed the money (she had a son), and was hiding because she didn’t want to me to think that she was being lazy. The guys on the crew would get a sniffle or a slight cough and take a day off. Here she was, two days away from blood poisoning, and she was scared that she would be perceived as weak.
We re-hired Shannon when she was back on her feet. And we hired her because she was an excellent employee and contributed to the growth of the company. We also re-hired a few guys who exhibited the same characteristics that aligned with our company—guys who didn’t complain, who were reliable, who were skilled. You’ve heard this before, but it deserves repeating: at the end of the day, an employee should receive their promotion or pay raise because of the quality of work they do and what they bring to an organization, regardless of gender (and age, sexuality, race, and religion). There is no “war on boys” and no feminist agenda. Women have had to work hard for equal pay and opportunity; we haven’t (yet). And as for arguments that ascribe characteristics to gender, like “communicative” and “empathetic” to women, and “competitive” and “aggressive” for men, ignore them. There are plenty of examples of sensitive, thoughtful men and aggressive, money-driven women.
We should acknowledge women’s hard work, and look to them as examples of success along with our male heroes. Equality creates a more robust workforce, bringing varied perspectives and solutions to the challenges we face. It isn’t “boys vs. girls,” it’s it’s who’s the better person for the job. There are plenty of qualified players waiting to jump on the field, guys. Complainers and slackers will be cut from the team. So man up.