I spoke about this subject in Capital Arguments in February. It bears repeating here.
As I go around the industry, it seems like the last bastion of old-fashioned prejudice is the maintenance department. It's often the rough and tumble end of the mill and many times the workers in this area may have been overlooked in general training for the softer parts of doing their jobs. It has been a male dominated area forever.
I have seen some racial prejudice in this area, but not near as much as I have male/female prejudice. At least the tool boxes have been purged of x-rated photo spreads, but that does not mean attitudes don't exist that are harmful to maximizing the efficiency of the maintenance department.
In my very first job (not in our industry) way back about 1971 or 1972, I worked in a facility that made industrial machinery. I happened to walk by the lobby in this small plant one morning when the senior secretary (and that was her title) was filling in for the switchboard/receptionist person. As I walked by a woman came in and said she was a welder and wanted to apply for a job. The senior secretary said, "Oh, honey, you don't want to work here, it is grimy and hot out there on the factory floor."
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Well, maybe she did want to work there, but she was cut off at the knees. She turned around and walked out. In those days you could do this sort of thing and not get in trouble. In fact, I suspect the senior secretary never gave it a thought--she was sure she was doing the right thing. But an apparently qualified woman was denied the ability to work at her chosen avocation.
Over the years, I have seen very few women in maintenance. Probably on a percentage basis I have seen more women in construction than in maintenance. I was working on a paper machine installation project a few years ago where the lead erector for the contractor was a woman and she did a fabulous job, most likely the best I had ever seen.
Also, in recent times, I saw a woman in the position of Maintenance Superintendent in a mature mill. In this particular situation, despite prejudice among the troops regarding having a woman boss, she turned in the best uptime numbers (concerning conditions that were attributed to maintenance) among nearly a half dozen peers. Numbers don't lie.
In this day of shortages of qualified people, I hope the conditions are forcing management to look for qualified people anywhere of any stripe.
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I always enjoyed the story about symphony orchestras changing their auditioning policies to interviewing only people sitting behind a curtain. I can't remember which orchestra started this, but it has become widespread as I understand it. As I remember, this change resulted in phenomenal growth in the percentage of women and minorities in orchestras and, the critics said, in a much higher quality of orchestral performance.
Many times, I have thought, how can we interview people for all positions, not just maintenance, with something like the curtain effect? I continue to struggle with how to do this, but sincerely believe we would end up with overall better team performance.
For safety this week, I cannot overemphasize what we need to do to be diligent in maintenance. Many of the jobs are performed infrequently, making the analysis of safety risks difficult.
Be safe and we will talk next week.
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