“See Her Work”: Woman Entrepreneur Introduces Gear for Women in Trades

By on September 18, 2018

by Beth Barton, “Carpenter Lady”

Boy, let me tell you how much fun it is (not) to wear clothes and gear designed for the other sex.  As a carpenter in St. Louis for 15 years, I have been outfitted in men’s boots, gloves, shirts, pants, vests, glasses – you name it – and the difference is amazing.  Many a time I have worn pants that are huge in the waist, tight in the thigh because they are designed for ‘less curvy’ humans. 

For the guys reading this, imagine if you had to wear hand-me-downs from your older sibling.  Now imagine if you had to wear hand-me-downs from your older sister.  It’s just all wrong – the clothes don’t fit well, and they don’t look good either.  It’s hard to feel good about yourself in someone else’s clothes and equipment designed for someone very different from you.  On a construction site, it’s also hard to be safe.

Many jobsites and companies only carry XL or XXL vests, harnesses, gloves, and one-size-fits-all hardhats.  I do not know why XL is the standard, because men also come in different sizes and shapes.  I would pose carrying one size only on the job is a great disservice to our labor force, male and female, and we can take important steps to make our workers safer and more productive by outfitting them correctly.

Construction has had historically low numbers of women on the job.  According to the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau Employment and Earnings by Occupation 2016, trades like operators, carpenters, electricians, laborers, about 2-3% were women in 2016. (https://www.dol.gov/wb/occupations_interactive.htm)  But as we reach out to the wider population to meet our workforce demands, we need to have equipment and gear for women as well as men.

One person trying to outfit women construction workers is Jane Henry of Houston, Texas.  Jane is the founder of See Her Work, a company that is making a range of safety products, clothes, and gear designed for women.  This is Jane’s third company, and she got the idea after she survived Hurricane Harvey.  In the aftermath of the storm, Jane’s home needed serious repair.  She literally lost everything she owned to the hurricane and had to rebuild.  She had to wait over four months for insurance to help financially, so she rallied volunteers and became her own general contractor.

 

Over 30 workers and volunteers, including women, were working all around her home and neighborhood, and Jane spent a lot of time talking with them.  “They were amazing.  They worked so hard” said Jane.  As general contractor for her home, she found herself going to the store, looking for safety equipment for herself and her workers, and she couldn’t find anything that fit.  She found this shocking and started to investigate more.  She began interviewing women shopping in the stores, and at the help desk of the local hardware stores, and she heard the same thing over and over.  “There just isn’t anything out there for women.

Jane decided to create a company that would help women, but first she needed to hear what they needed.  She decided to delve in to a solution. She held over 50 focus groups with women in the trades and non-traditional work.  When asked about their experiences in construction, many told her about the ill-fitting gear and equipment.  Henry found that tradeswomen all said the same thing — “It doesn’t fit”.

Some women complained to Jane about the trend in popular stores to provide equipment for women where ‘they pink it and shrink it’, referring to tools which have a bad or cheap design but use pink as a gimmick to catch women’s attention.  These tools are great for getting the idea out there that women and construction go together, and they are really fun to give to your niece, but I don’t think many of them make for high-quality, professional-level tools for women on the job, which is why many serious professional women workers I know do not like the nod to pink.

The results were unanimous, says Jane.  “All these ladies needed basic stuff,” she says, from tops that close higher to protect against dust and debris falling into their undergarments, to kit bags that would allow females to quickly change roles from field worker to office worker to mom with a “grab and go” approach to organization.  “Clothing and equipment matter.”  She learned that many of them cited poorly fitting clothes and gear was a major hindrance to doing their job correctly.  So, she decided to take the leap into starting a company that made high-quality, highly-designed work clothes and gear just for the woman form.  Henry hired a product designer and got to work.  She enlisted help, developed prototypes, and went on a road show.  SeeHerWork went ‘live’ in August 2018, and the company officially launched in its online store today (Sept. 18).

SeeHerWork’s product line includes a variety of products for women, from eye protection to tool belts.  Clothing options include the basics to high visibility, with vibrant colors and reflective materials.  It is designed to be lightweight with moisture absorption, so it can layer for shifting climate conditions. Gloves are designed to fit a wide variety of women’s hands, and close fully at the wrist.  More products will roll out each quarter.

As a superintendent and a great supporter of women in construction, I am excited to see this store.  It means more people are thinking about how to help women in construction, how to meet their most basic needs.  I encourage you to check out the products on their website and ask the women on the job if they need PPE that fits.  If so, now you know where to go.  For more information please visit: https://seeherwork.com/

Beth Barton is a superintendent for Tarlton Corporation. She is president of Missouri Women In Trades.

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