Pipefitter Savy Man-Doherty says when most people meet her, they don’t realize she works on construction sites for a living. But at 5 feet 2 inches tall, the recently licensed journeyman solders pipes, wields power tools and works alongside men at what will become the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett.
It’s her dream job, said Man-Doherty.
“As a kid, my sister, my cousins, and I, all of us would go to the houses during family events and we would all just play with the tools, and I just knew as a kid … I was so interested in some type of building trades,” she recalled.
Prior to entering an apprenticeship program with the United Association of Boston Pipefitters Local 537, Man-Doherty, 35, said she struggled to pay the bills doing unfulfilling work.
“I wasn’t happy sitting at a desk all day,” she said. “I wanted to do something that was more hands-on, where I had a skilled trade where I can pick up something and be able to use it and not let anybody take that skill from me.”
During her first year training with the union, her pay doubled.
She’s part of what advocates hope is a growing trend in Massachusetts. She’s a woman of color, a recent apprenticeship graduate and one of more than 370 women who have worked on the $2.5 billion waterfront property scheduled to open next year.
Women tradesmen advocacy groups hail the project as a model bringing diversity and inclusion to an industry once considered an exclusive “boys club.” The project is just shy of the goal of 6.9 percent women the state set back in 2011. That goal is bringing more women into the building trades.
“We’re really pleased and starting to see the results in terms of the increase in females in the state apprentice programs,” said Jill L. Griffin, director of workforce, suppliers and diversity at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Pointing to the part of the 2011 gaming law that prioritized gender and racial diversity in building casinos, Griffin said she’s hoping the new workers trained and hired will still be employed after those projects are completed.
“This isn’t just about gaming, but it’s about any sector, any construction project,” she said.
The Gaming Commission, casino licensees and women’s advocacy groups have collaborated to reach out to women who may be interested in construction work. Funding flows through the commission, with the money coming from fees the licensees pay.
Brian Kelly, business manager of Pipefitters Local 537, said the outreach efforts are working. Even though his union has some of the lowest numbers of women recruits, he predicted women like Man-Doherty will encourage other women to try out the trades.
“Rather than gender, color, or race,” success among pipefitters is more about the personality of applicant, Kelly said in a phone interview. Kelly’s list of necessary qualities for pipefitters includes: mechanically inclined, intelligent, punctual with a good work ethic, possessing the physical aptitude to move large objects, and not afraid to get dirty. “The biggest thing is, it’s not glamorous,” he added.
Data from the Massachusetts Division of Apprenticeship Standards suggests the outreach efforts are attracting women who want to do the work. Susan Moir, long-time advocate and research director at UMass Boston’s Labor Resource Center, said the agency’s latest quarterly tally shows there are more women entering union apprenticeships than there have been in the last five years.
“Last year, in union apprenticeship in Massachusetts, we’ve gone from 484 women to 625 women, and we’re now at about 8.3 percent women,” she said.
Moir also works with the Roxbury-based New England Center for Tradeswomen’s Equity.
The group won a Gaming Commission outreach grant and set a goal of 20 percent women in the construction workforce by the year 2020.
Nationally, women makeup about only 9 percent of the construction workforce, but that figure from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics includes management and non-union occupations that Moir and the tradeswomen’s center said don’t count in Massachusetts.
Moir, 70, who was once an aspiring iron worker, admits the 20 percent by 2020 goal is ambitious. But she said she’s inspired by the mental image of women in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan waking up early for construction work with lunch pails and hard hats, and “the good wages that they can bring home and keep in the community, the girls who will see them go to work, the strength that comes from having this kind of job where you can really support your family and have a future for your kids.”
Man-Doherty said she’s living proof a life can change with a well-paying job.
“I got a house that I’m happy to wake up to. I got cars that I have that [make me] happy every time I look out the driveway. I’m happy I’m able to have a dinner and everybody’s smiling, and their stomachs are full, and they’re watching football on Sundays,” she said with a chuckle. “It’s a good feeling.”