Working Women: Competency Versus Entitlement

TAGS: work output, women vs. men, Woman in a Man’s World, Rosie the Riveter, productivity, manual labor, Know Your Role: Competency, gender roles, equality, competency, ask for exception, hannah johnson

Thoughts on Being a Working Woman in a Man’s World

“Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, "She doesn't have what it takes." They will say, "Women don't have what it takes."

Clare Boothe Luce

I’ve worked as a woman in a man’s field. I know and have experienced what it means to perform manual labor in a “man’s position,” but I’d like to preface this article by stating that these are merely my own thoughts and my own opinions. Your feedback is welcome in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

With a communications and psychology background, I’m intensely interested in the evolution of women in the work place. Today, more and more women are the primary breadwinners for their families, with many of them working blue-collar jobs. Having plenty of experience myself doing work that is traditionally seen as man’s work, I’d like to share some hard truths I’ve learned over the years.

I’ve studied at length the stories of World War II housewives who transformed themselves into real-life versions of Rosie the Riveter—and they did it overnight. Why did they do this? Because they had to. There weren’t men around to tell them they couldn’t or shouldn’t. In fact, the government targeted advertisement toward housewives that compared manual labor to everyday housework, like cooking.

“Can you use an electric mixer? If so, you can learn to operate a drill.”

Kennett, Lee (1985). For the duration... : the United States goes to war, Pearl Harbor-1942. New York: Scribner

So, I’ve come up with a few things a woman should understand before attempting to do a manual labor job. Let’s call it a “man job” for short. (Punny, I know). This is where I will stop treading lightly. If you’re easily angered, or if you have a raging feminist side, you should probably grab a paper bag to breathe into. Ready?

Ladies, You Have Two Options: Demand Equality or Ask For Exception

Contrary to what Woman’s Day magazine tells you, you can’t “have it all.” Sorry, but you really can’t. It’s impossible to be viewed as an equal if you ask for exception due to being a woman. If you choose to enter into a profession that requires certain physical tasks, then you’d better be able to do those tasks. All of them. Taking on a job and then expecting someone else to do the hard parts for you isn’t acceptable.

Now, let me be very clear in saying that chivalry is NOT dead, and there’s nothing wrong with letting a man hold the door open for you. What I’m referring to here, however, is knowing your physical limitations and making sure the work you’re going to do falls within the parameters of your capabilities. If you find yourself lacking, then you had better start focusing on becoming Strong(her)™ before you apply. Applying for a job for which you can’t meet the physical requirements isn’t just dangerous; it’s also very selfish. If, by chance, you were to get the job, you will not only be putting yourself at risk, but you will potentially be taking the work from someone more capable. Guess what that’s called? Having a sense of entitlement. Some of you might need to grab that paper bag...

When I started driving a car hauler, I was intensely aware of all the things that could go wrong. What if I blow a tire? What if I get jammed up in a tight street? What if the car I’m trying to load won’t crank/drive/steer? I didn’t have Matt with me to fix things. It was up to me to start work every day with the mental and physical preparedness to handle whatever obstacles I faced. Inevitably, I changed tires, backed my way out of tight spots, and watched enough YouTube mechanic videos to start my own garage. Were those things easy? Absolutely not. Would they have been easier for a man? Maybe. Did the job get done? You better believe it. Which leads me to my next point...

Work Knows No Gender

Take a good hard look at the engine in your car. Now, tell me, did a woman assemble that engine? Was it a man that put those components together? Who knows? The end result is the same—the job got done. There were days when I was hauling salvage cars that I’d be utterly exhausted from loading and unloading. Do you think the customers clapped for me when I delivered their hunk-a-junks? Never.

The cycle goes on like this: customer pays for car, car gets picked up, car gets delivered. A woman driving the truck and winching the cars on and off has no effect on that cycle. Just because it took me twice as much effort as it would have taken Matt did not mean that I was eligible for a raise, a compliment, or more respect. Keep that in mind when doing physically strenuous work, because it can be emotionally draining as well.

It’s easy to become bitter when your hard work isn’t acknowledged, especially when you have to expend much more effort than a man might have to on a similar task. Have you ever heard the saying, “A woman has to work twice as hard as a man to be seen as half as good?” Well, there’s a lot of truth to that, but it isn’t necessarily society’s fault. Five hundred pounds is still five hundred pounds regardless of whether a man or a woman is lifting it. Although there are exceptions to every rule, it’s usually less strenuous for a man than a woman. With that being said, what helped me more than anything was changing my attitude.

Suck It Up, Buttercup

Driving a truck, working in the elements, loading salvage cars, and pushing myself until I was physically exhausted were all choices I made. As the years went by, I became more efficient at problem solving, strategizing, and “working smarter, not harder.” I also came to realize that certain things would always be the same. Physical labor will always be more demanding for most women than men. (That is, unless a genetic strain of superhuman females are suddenly released. Keep in mind that I’m referring to the majority of the population, not just readers of In addition, there will most likely not be a shift in the paradigm of women being the fairer sex and being seen as less capable in their ability to perform difficult manual labor. Although being physically strong enough to complete the work is an initial key requirement, we must also address the issues of productivity versus competency.

So, How Do We Fix This?

Because quantitative data on female versus male performance in manual labor jobs isn’t readily available, I’m going a different route. Let’s take a quick look at the differences between productivity and competency. Matt and I drove separate haulers, but did very similar work. I’ll plug in my own work history as an example.

Productivity is defined as the ratio of outputs to inputs in completing a task. It’s the average measure of the efficiency of production. Using my personal experience and comparing my results to Matt’s productivity, I would say that, on average, I expended quite a bit more energy than he did to acquire the same results. At times, I was not only expending more energy, but I was also ending up with less progress than Matt. Therefore, I’ll throw up the white flag on this and admit that our female: male productivity ratio was greatly in Matt’s favor.

Now it’s my turn to shine. Competency is defined as the ability to do a job properly, and it depends heavily on an individual’s ability to learn and adapt. Physical strength was only able to get me so far before I reached my limit. Realizing that I needed to work smarter and not harder, I modified my work process in ways that allowed me to obtain maximum results with the least amount of effort. By the time I stopped driving, I had a “quick fix” for almost every problem I encountered on the road.

Although many blue-collar jobs involved repetitive use of a certain skill set, there is always the opportunity to assess, identify, and address weaknesses in your performance. Competency is about having a sense of fulfillment in what you’re doing. It’s resisting the urge to become bitter and complacent. It’s pushing yourself to become more every day—to find ways to surpass your physical limitations and go from being a woman trying to do a man’s job…

To a worker getting the job done.

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