Rachel Hienz would have never expected the situation that was about to unfold as she entered a bank branch one morning. She was there for a pre-job walk-through with other representatives of companies that would soon begin renovations on the building.
Having worked for many years as an electrical journeyman, she had become service manager at Hanlon Electric Co., Monroeville, Pa. She was regularly reminded of the significance of being selected for that position. Over the years in the midst of an all-male contingent of electricians, she laughingly referred to herself as “the odd man out.” Even after being named service manager, she still used that expression to poke fun about being so vastly outnumbered.
But that subject was the furthest thing from her mind that morning as she arrived for the preconstruction meeting.
The facility manager greeted the group, took attendance and kicked off the discussion. The architect offered a few general comments. The mechanical contractor’s project manager asked a question. The bank’s corporate IT staff member had a quick answer.
Hienz noticed something she had never seen before in such a meeting: every company representative was a woman.
Close to 80 percent of the U.S. economy falls under the category of services. Today, across all industries, about 40 percent of managers are women. In many fields, the percentage is far higher.
In the construction industry, however, the participation rate is only about 6 percent, but services continue to grow as a share of gross domestic product. As a result, women continue to capture more management positions in that segment of the economy.
These statistics have led us to ask about the facts behind the figures: Do women make better service managers?
We stopped for coffee with Hienz to discuss how this relates to electrical service work, leading off with a few questions about her own career experience.
What got you started on your way to become the service manager at Hanlon Electric Co.?
I never set out to be an electrical service manager. Years ago, I was working at a job in a completely different field. When I needed some electrical repair work done in my first house (a real fixer-upper), I decided I could tackle the problem myself by taking a class on electrical wiring at a community trade school. I really liked it. Luckily, not long afterward, I came across an ad for the local JATC apprenticeship program. I applied, was accepted into the program, and, in my very first job as an apprentice, was assigned to a contractor’s service department. Everything else is history. One day, a great boss who believed in me asked me to take on the responsibilities of service manager for his company.
How would you characterize your experience as service manager?
I love it. In simple terms, it’s a great job because it blends both mental and physical demands. It requires a balance of both. It is rewarding because it gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve solved customers’ problems. It’s challenging because it forces you to come up with answers and make decisions about how to tackle those problems. You have to decide what’s best. You have to rely on your own judgment. The answer is usually not spelled out for you on a drawing.
What does it take for someone to be a better service manager?
You have to be a first responder! You need the benefit of years of experience as a qualified field electrician. You need to have what I like to refer to as a “big bag of tricks.” You have to know and understand multiple solutions to problems. You must be able to offer a customer a range of options—from “good” to “better” to “best”—based on their needs and, sometimes, their pocketbook. You have to be resourceful and adaptive. Most of all, you cannot be trapped behind a desk. You have to get out into the field to see what’s going on, to get in front of your customers.
Do women make better service managers?
Service jobs are not merely miniature versions of major projects. Service work requires its own set of personal abilities, including a higher level of soft skills. I’m sure that I won’t surprise anyone by saying that women are often better suited for the kinds of interactions with customers that arise in service work.
Even so, no matter who you are in this job, you have to prove yourself one person at a time. But let’s remember, today many women have management positions in customers’ organizations. Women service managers who interact with them may benefit from the advantage of being women themselves.
This takes us back to that scene in the bank branch where all of the participants in the pre-construction meeting were women.
I’m glad you mentioned it. There’s more to the story. One person came late—a carpenter who showed up 20 minutes after the meeting had begun. You might say he was the odd man out.
Service jobs are not merely miniature versions of major projects. Service work requires its own set of personal abilities, including a higher level of soft skills.
About The Author
MCCOY is Beliveau professor in the Dept. of Building Construction, associate director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. Contact him at [email protected].