It was during preparation for the education program at the 2018 IAEI Section meeting that I came up with the idea of increasing the presence of women in the electrical construction field. After receiving the blessing of the Eastern Section President, Michal Hofkin, we proceeded full tilt to prepare the section meeting program. The original spark for the idea of promoting women in the IAEI organization came after I read several articles by and about women in the industry. I was so impressed that I said the IAEI organization needs to be a part of this movement of supporting, mentoring, and promoting more women in the electrical industry and ultimately gain them as members of IAEI. The whole premise behind the women’s program initiated at the 2018 Eastern Section meeting was to increase the visibility of the women and increase their presence on the construction sites.
Keeping in mind the mission statement of IAEI, the membership should promote electrical safety throughout the industry by providing quality education, certification of inspectors, advocacy, partnerships, and expert leadership in electrical codes and standards development. As chair of the committee to prepare for the 2017 Eastern Section meeting, I asked Robin Tasco if she would volunteer to organize the proceedings, and she enthusiastically said yes.
The 2017 Eastern Section meeting was held at the Valley Forge Casino Resort. Benjamin Franklin Chapter, based in Philadelphia, PA, was the host. For the first time at a section meeting, the chapter presented a unique program on Women in the Industry. The four-women panel consisted of three electricians/electrical contractors and one former Army sergeant.
Valerie Muszynski, the first presenter, told a riveting story about her experiences and the biases that exist in the electrical work world. Muszynski has more than 32 years of experience in the electrical industry. She started out as an apprentice installing commercial telephone systems, where she received her T-2 license. Muszynski then went on to become a State of Connecticut licensed Journeyman. She worked at Southern Electric while acquiring her Master Electrician license. In 2006, she took over the business.
Continuing to challenge herself, Muszynski earned certifications as State of Connecticut Electrical Inspector and as a Building Official. Along with those achievements, she became a board member of the IAEI Connecticut Chapter, as well as a representative to the Eastern Section Board. Muszynski now owns an electrical contracting company, of which she is president.
Muszynski told stories about the struggles she faced as a female in the industry. One of them is a story in the past about how an electrical inspector showed up for a meeting at her company office; when he walked in, he asked her if she could tell the boss, he was there.
Rachel Heinz, from the Hanlon Electric Company in Pittsburgh, PA, was next up. Starting as an electrical apprentice, Heinz rose through the ranks to the challenge of service manager at the Hanlon Electric Co. Her responsibilities include customer service, estimating, and scheduling of the workforce for the department. The service department has doubled in size since she was appointed in 2014. Heinz is a journeyman inside wireman and a member of IBEW Local #5, having completed her apprenticeship in 2001. Her story told of not letting anything hold her back. She felt that while she wasn’t as physically active as most of the men, she has developed an equally important set of skills for today’s market.
Jonnie Vallar is the newly hired IAEI International Office Director of Membership Development and Services. She manages key aspects of the association’s membership, including membership outreach, assisting in design and implementation of marketing campaigns, and other related administrative tasks. These include, but are not limited to, overseeing the administration of section/chapter/division bylaws; designing and implementing membership promotion/campaigns; development and retention plan in cooperation with the IAEI International Membership Committee and relevant IAEI departments.
Vallar also analyzes recruitment and retention reports to help develop campaigns and track results. She develops customized information packets and performs active follow-up via telephone calls or personal meetings to convert prospects to members. Vallar provides strategic plans for section/chapter/division leadership for new member recruitment as required. Vallar develops strategies to contact prospects that attend educational programs, trade shows and/or purchase products, and services. She told a fascinating story of her rise through the military ranks. She also told a story of the difficulties of advancing and how she weathered each storm and became a sergeant.
Tasco is well-known as an IAEI Benjamin Franklin Chapter board member. Tasco was a business agent for IBEW Local 98 for nine years; she is a certified electrician after completing five years of a college-accredited apprenticeship. Tasco was also an adjunct professor for a trade school — not to mention, she is a master electrician.
Topping it off, Tasco is also president of her own electrical contracting company. She told of the difficulties of rising through the ranks of IBEW LU 98 in Philadelphia. The main point she made was that the women in the trades are only asking for a fair shake. Tasco related her story of a time that she had worked with a male journeyman, learning some gems from him, only to have another male replace her. She recalls hearing the journeyman she was previously working with telling the foreman that they were working out pretty well together. Then a few days later she was sent to do some minor task. Tasco understood that the foreman doesn’t always know where to put the women who show up on the site, but it’s not her fault, and it’s the foreman’s job to figure it out. It shouldn’t demean or disvalue her as a person or as a worker. The men in the industry should not try to make things more difficult for female apprentices, female journeymen or female electrical contractors in the industry.
The idea of women in the industry is not new, but it is one that has been lacking the push it needs to thrive. In the political world, there is a dynamic show of force by the women. There are more women than ever serving as senators and house members in the U.S., as well as in the state congress. The same movement is taking place in the electrical trades. There is an increase, for sure, in the numbers of women in the trades, but there is room for many more.
Women are bending conduit, pulling wires, troubleshooting circuits, and running jobs as foreman. They start their contracting businesses and even become electrical inspectors. All of which is what IAEI needs, and we should welcome it to keep the membership numbers on the rise. Women add a new dimension that is needed. As Tasco mentioned in her speech, “Our mothers were our first teachers.”
The 2017 program brought the women’s situation to light by the sharing of these stories of four successful women. At the 2018 Eastern Section meeting held in Scranton, PA, and hosted by the
Keystone Chapter of IAEI, a women’s program discussed actions to be taken, and how we, the members of this great IAEI family, need to further the involvement of and to increase the numbers of women in the electrical field.
Where do we go from here? In year number one of the proposed four-year program, the women on the dais presented their own stories and related some of their good and bad experiences to the male-dominated crowd, resulting in four very moving and emotional stories on the career paths each of these women being told that day, and the identification of problems. Just as an aside, at the end of the women’s presentation they received a standing ovation from the audience of more than 150 attendees. The first ovation I had ever seen in my 18 years of attending section meetings. This September at the Eastern Section Meeting in Scranton PA, a breakout meeting will continue the push toward the goal of increasing the membership of IAEI and bring many women into the ranks of electrical inspectors. This year, the discussion focused on what steps can be taken to get more women in the trade as inspectors. The discussion includes how to mentor more women and what goals to set.
Year three, 2019, at the section meeting to be held in Western Pennsylvania, the goals will be published and delivered to all Eastern Section chapters. In the 2020 meeting, the results will be tabulated and a measure of success will be determined. The movement that was started by the Benjamin Franklin Chapter welcomes all members and any interested parties anywhere in the United States to come forward with ideas and support for the program.
Robin Tasco contributed to this article. She can be reached at email@example.com. Robert Van Wert can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.