Words From a Female Stormwater Inspector
In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to learn about the experiences of women in the stormwater industry, so I interviewed a female inspector at a stormwater inspection consulting company in Utah. I was interested in exploring her personal story to see if it reflected statistics I had previously encountered about women, particularly in her field. The topics we discussed included lack of respect, building credibility, the unawareness of her value, and improvements she’s noticed as well as some that can be made.
April Nelson is a stormwater inspector with a background of many different certifications such as: registered stormwater inspector training certification, CISEC, and UDOT registered stormwater training, among others. She has spent years becoming an expert in her field, however, she told me she isn’t always treated with the respect she deserves.
It was clear to me that respect, or the lack thereof, can be a crucial factor in April’s position. She talked about how communication with some men could be difficult due to their lack of respect for her and the knowledge she possesses. Helping them understand the stormwater requirements and importance of being compliant with those requirements was extra difficult at times when she was only greeted with hostility. When she first started, she felt intimidated by these men and it was remarkably easy to take things personally. This made it especially hard for her to build her confidence and establish her credibility.
I asked her if demonstrating her authority took extra work as a woman. April agreed that this was something she experienced and that credibility was particularly difficult to build. She felt like she had to reach out more and work harder to prove herself. She did notice, however, that as she built rapport with her peers, she overcame the barriers prejudice had created.
April said that she suspects that most of the issue with the bias of the men who struggle the most is just ignorance. She noticed that certain men got defensive when being told something they’re doing was wrong, especially when she was telling them. She also noticed that on the sites she inspected the men who were prone to get defensive often had a hard time taking her advice seriously, even though she was just trying to help. She often felt belittled in these situations. She says that they “weren’t used to it and didn’t like what [she] had to say”. Because the importance of her job (no matter who is doing it) is overlooked anyway, she said it was even more difficult to explain those requirements and communicate why they’re important.
But it’s not all bad. She also said that some men took the opposite approach as their counterparts and treated her more respectfully and professionally than they would’ve if she was a man. Over her years of working experience, she’s seen improvements as well. Respect for women in the workforce has grown since she first started and more women have joined her in helping change attitudes. Communication has gotten better as well, which she finds helps workers in her field understand better what she’s talking about. She says many have learned that she is only working in their best interest.
April often felt like she was discouraged to project authority by men who tried to get her to back down by questioning her, looking down on her, or pressuring her to yield to their point of view. She said it was important to teach men to treat women with respect as part of the solution to the problem, but it was also important to teach women to have confidence in themselves and remember that they should trust their authority. She emphasized that as difficult as it can be, women need to stay strong when facing a man who doubts their expertise. They need to know their worth, be confident in their knowledge, and learn how to earn respect. For her, whether it’s fair or not, being a woman in her industry doesn’t come with built-in respect and authority like it often does for men. Women have to learn how to hold their own in today’s world, she said, or we will never be able to influence change for the better.
By: Melissa Burns