It’s Not a Man’s World

I began my journey as a welder in the Welding Program at Sierra College. I was first introduced to it in the five-week, “Intro to Welding” course and instantly fell in love. The whole idea of fusing metals together really grabbed my attention because it was so unique and different. 

My first day in class we had to go over safety orientation to learn all of the dangers of welding. I was full of fear and thought to myself, “this isn’t for me.” I really didn’t see myself getting into such a daring and bold career field. 

Once I began, I quickly realized this is who I am and this is where I want to be. My experience in college offered so much support and respect to anyone who had the eagerness to learn. It motivated me more than ever to make this into a career and be successful in life.

What caught my attention was hearing about how fast and easy it was to start making good money as a welder. After a short time of learning, I picked it up quickly and was successfully hired to a welding job in Sacramento. I was stunned to see how fast I got into a high paying job as a welder in a national company. 

I got the amazing opportunity to weld light rail vehicles, locomotives, and passenger trains. Being able to get into a company building Amtrak trains with only five weeks of training really is one of my greatest accomplishments as a welder. 

In time however, I came to realize that I wasn’t prepared for the hostility in this male-dominated field. It caused my dreams as a welder to come crashing down in an instant. My experience in college was nowhere near the same as it was on the field. 

Fighting for the Work

Within the one year of my time working as a welder, some of the biggest hardships I faced were being harassed and feeling displaced because of what I looked like. It didn’t help coming in knowing little to nothing about trade or construction jobs. 

I didn’t grow up with my father in my life and my mother had a career in the medical field. This led me to cross a bridge to a whole other world entirely. Luckily, my family has supported and motivated me every step of the way. Without them, I would have felt so lost and alone. 

The culture in the field was difficult to adjust to. There were some men who believed women should and could weld and there were some men who just didn’t. It really felt like a sink or swim world and I definitely sank a few times because of it. Several men told me I didn’t belong and I shouldn’t be there. 

One male employee told me I wasn’t allowed to wear certain jeans because it was making him want to “act up,” or in other words, behave inappropriately. My management sent me out of my training process early because I was too much of a “distraction” to all the male employees in training. 

I had a man who would physically push me around and grab on to my arms to intimidate me. When I stood up for myself, he yelled in my face. The only female restroom was several buildings down from where I worked so I wasn’t able to freely use the restroom whenever I needed to. 

The work environment created so many barriers in my journey because it held me back from growing and succeeding in the career field I so badly wanted to pursue.

I either felt like a walking piece of meat in a cage full of lions or just a joke to everyone there.

It’s hard on one who is just beginning something so new and different in their life, but that’s what makes it even more worth preserving. 

Every day I crave the art of welding more and more. I am hoping that the issue of this disconnection of who we are and what we look like evolves and changes to allow anybody who can dream it, to do it.

In the book Hard Hatted-Women, edited by Molly Martin, there are 27 different women included who have written their own personal stories of struggles and successes while being in the trades. Mary Ruggiero was a welder trainee right before World War II started and through it. She was seen as a steady hand up until the War was over. 

Afterwards, she struggled to stay in the field because she was a woman. Men would insult her and say “I got a woman at home, who needs one on the job?” Ruggiero didn’t pay any attention to the men who were intimidated by her. She remained confident, didn’t give up, and advised young women to get into trades and “never let anyone discourage them from accomplishing what they want in life.” 

To the Women Welders of the World

If I could go back in time to the beginning of my career and have the knowledge I have today, I would hold my head up high and never look back just as Ruggiero did. I would stay focused only on my goals and what drives me to be happy and successful. I agree entirely with Ruggiero about young women pursuing their dreams. I would like to advocate and advise these women to become the next welders of the world. 

Welding is more than just a job. When you put all your time and focus into something so beautifully crafted, it can be whatever you want it to be.

To all the women out there wanting to discover this new world as a welder, keep pushing forward and show everyone that you are capable and can do a lot more than what society shapes us to be.

Fight your battles and prove that it’s not a man’s world. Another woman who agrees with this is, Sophia Christen. She is currently in the program at Sierra and shared her story with me.   

Sophia Christen on campus, Nov. 4, Rocklin, Calif., photo by Christina Hernandez.

Sophia was introduced to welding in high school and has been welding for almost three years now. She is attending Sierra College and is studying to get her Welding Certification. Sophia comes from a military family, making her the first welder in the family.

In Sophia’s journey as a woman welder, she wanted to get into a career path that suited her best. She became a mom at 17 and she didn’t really have a desire to go to college. She considered her options, and getting into a lot of careers were harder than she anticipated. She was confident from the start that she wanted to get a job she enjoyed doing and that would, preferably, pay well. 

In highschool, she took a welding course and she loved it and loved the artistic values it had to offer. Not only did she love the artsy side of welding, but she has always loved building and fixing things. 

One of the things she was worried about was being the only woman in the field. She was amazed to see that in college, she not only attended with several other female classmates, but her professor was a woman as well. And of course, the biggest hardship she faced was being in a male dominant work space. This was a challenge because she felt like she had to try and keep up by working harder and lifting heavier alongside these men.

In Sophia’s personal experience with the culture in this male dominant field, she said that it was surprisingly refreshing to be around them at Sierra, “The men here are very patient and kind and love the idea of us even being here and doing it with them.” Which leads her to admit that it has been a very good college experience so far.

Her motivation throughout the years of hard work and training comes from a tenderhearted love for her daughter. Her greatest accomplishment as a welding student is reaching straight A’s, which she is very proud to declare because for the first time, she is very passionate about school. Everyday she comes in to learn, she gets better and better and grows in her exciting career. She already has multiple job offers so far leading her to feel accomplished and prepared to have such big opportunities waiting for her. 

Sophia states that if she could go back in time to the beginning of her career and have the knowledge she has today, she would change her mentality. From her point of view, “coming in with a better mindset of it all and not being intimidated,” was how she was able to get so much more done and make more friends in her career.

If Sophia could give one piece of advice to all of the young women out there who are considering pursuing this career, this would be it:

Written and Reported by Christina Hernandez | Featured Photo of Author Welding Truck Rack by Gareth Watkins  

Christina Hernandez is a Welder-Journalist at Sierra College. She plans to dominate her career in Welding and be a Journalist on the side.

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