I work in real estate, and when I first started a job, we were starting on a new construction project.
Like most Jewish girls from New Jersey, I had never been on a construction site before, barring the time my aunt redid her kitchen, and the time in elementary school when “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” shot an episode in my neighborhood, and I helped paint some shelves in a tent out back.
I sort of fell into real estate. I majored in English in college and always thought I would do something in the creative/ entertainment/ writing world. The cosmos (and probably my parents) had different plans for me. A family friend hooked me up with an internship at a real estate firm, and the next thing I knew I was googling how to do vlookups and pivot tables on excel and what the hell value engineering meant.
So to say I wasn’t fully prepared to be on a construction site would be an understatement. I showed up for our first onsite meeting in a pencil skirt and smoking flats. I was the only woman onsite. As I entered the site, the security guard tossed me a hard hat and vest, that is, after he looked me up and down a few times and walkied the office to make sure I was in the right place. He gave me the nod to go ahead, and I’m not going to lie, I felt pretty pleased. Like take that, you bet I belong.
I did not belong.
Our meeting was in a trailer off to the side of the site. My boss left right after the meeting (an important detail in retrospect), but our partners, who I would continue to work with for months, wanted to do a walk through before they left. As we shuffled out of the makeshift conference room, they looked at me, the only woman and only one below the age of 35, gave me an up and down and said “you sure you want to come up?” Now it would’ve been totally acceptable for them to say “sorry, you’re not wearing boots or pants, you can’t come up.” Construction sites have strict site safety rules, and I was not in compliance. But they didn’t.
In my short time in the industry I had already sat through countless meetings where men would drop curse words and then apologize only to me seconds later like I cared, or jokingly tell only me to shut my ears when they were about to say something offensive, so I was not about to give into this blatant dig at my gender.
“I’m in,” I said.
“And you’re not scared of heights?”
“Nope. Not at all”
Now I’m not scared of heights. But I also wasn’t aware of what the early phases of a construction site look like. Before the elevators, and before the hoist, and before the stairs, the only way up is by ladder. Now I have three brothers, I’ve been to my fair share of jungle gyms, and I go to the gym on a regular (fine, semi regular) basis, so I knew I could make the climb. But I was wearing flats. And a pencil skirt. And I was the only woman. But I had already committed. Doubled down. I couldn’t back out now.
The first guy climbed up, and as I watched him climb, all I could think was, “What underwear am I wearing today?”
“After you” I said, offering for the next guy to go, hoping to position myself as the last to go up.
“No no, I need to spot you guys,” the project manager said.
Now, to this day, it remains unclear if he was being creepy, or if he was genuinely concerned I would fall. On the one hand I wasn’t wearing proper shoes, so I could’ve slipped. On the other, I was about 30 years younger than him, and probably 85% more likely to make it up there without having a heart attack. I’m kidding. He was was for sure just doing his job.
All I know for sure is that pencil skirts, ladders and coworkers are a very awkward combination, and that you will never catch me in a skirt on a construction site again.