At a recent industry meeting where much of the focus was on recruiting and hiring, industry legend and Contracting Business.com magazine Hall of Fame inductee Ron Smith stood up and made the comment that white males account for only one-third of the pool of potential employees. And then followed that statement with the thought that for businesses in our industry to grow and find enough quality employees for the future, business owners must look outside the industry's preconceived idea of what a service technician looks like — read white male. Finally, Ron rolled out the ostrich egg in the hen house with the challenging statement that back in the late 1980s and early 1990's Modern Air Conditioning had 10 technicians who were women.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, 51% of the labor force will be women by 2018 and yet, in 2013, only 1.2% of the total employed heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration technicians were women.

Ron Smith’s comments, these facts from the Department of Labor, and some interesting exchanges with women in the HVACR and plumbing industry made me wonder why more women aren’t involved in this industry, particularly in the more technical aspects of the business — technicians, design engineers, even sales?

Women’s Brains are Wired Differently

Vicki LaPlant, VLE EnterprisesFirst, research indicates that men’s brains are about 10% larger than the brains of women.  Some women might say that also accounts for them often having a “Big Head” (pun intended). In fact, some researchers believe that is exactly why men do have larger brains. In general all aspects of a man’s anatomy are larger than a woman’s so it's only to be expected that the heads of men and, therefore their brains are larger.

Research also indicates that men have about 6.5 times more gray matter than women — meaning more thinking capability. But this does not equate to men being smarter.  Women’s brains have approximately 9.5 times more white matter than a man’s brain — meaning more connectivity between the two hemispheres of the brain.

Researchers found that connections in a male brain most often run between the front and the back of the left side of the brain. However for women the connections are most often from side-to-side, connecting the left and right hemispheres, allowing a woman’s brain to work faster than a man’s.

Okay, So the Female Brain Is Wired Differently - What Does that Have to Do with Hiring Women Technicians?

One of the most fascinating aspects of new brain research is the difference in how the brain develops in children and the different rates of brain development between boys and girls.

According to Martha Bridge Denckla, PhD, a research scientist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute:  “The areas of the brain associated with math and geometry mature about four years earlier in boys than in girls, according to a recent study that measured brain development in more than 500 children. Researchers concluded that when it comes to math, the brain of a 12-year-old girl resembles that of an 8-year-old boy. Conversely, the same researchers found that areas of the brain involved in language and fine motor skills (such as handwriting) mature about six years earlier in girls than in boys.”

John Price of Aloha Aire in Texarkana, Texas, recently said, “Where can I find women who want to be service technicians? I have been to the high school shop classes and vocational schools and there are not any women enrolled.” 

Maybe, the above explanation about the development of the brain in children helps explain why we don’t see more girls involved in technical classes in their teens and early 20s.  The research doesn’t answer yet when the development of the brain equals out in the sexes for math and language skills. Most researchers do conclude that our brains (male or female) are not fully developed until our middle to late 20s.

So, the answer to John’s question may be to not look in the traditional places because younger women may have been disenchanted by technical careers at an early age simply because their brain wasn’t at the developmental stage that allowed it to understand all the concepts.

Case in point: I had a good friend in high school with great communication skills — a cheerleader, with lots of friends. She didn’t like math or science in high school. She went to college and got a degree in business and worked for American Airlines. At an early age, she had a serious health scare and after much soul searching realized she was not doing what she wanted to do with her life. In her late 20’s she went back to school, discovered that she loved math and science, and today is a successful ophthalmologist.

In her words: “Who knew I loved all that math and biology?”

Perhaps, we need to be looking for young women in their early 20s who are not satisfied with being in retail sales in a store or a wait person. Maybe we need to look for young women school teachers — even elementary school teachers. Young women are often drawn to careers that use their fully developed communications’ skills so help them discover the satisfaction of combining those skills with their brain’s newly developed capabilities in math and science.

Nothing says that such a career couldn't be found in the HVACR industry.

Vicki LaPlant has worked with HVACR contractors for more than 30 years as a trainer/consultant. She helps people work better together for greater success. Vicki is a longtime Contracting Business.com editorial advisory board member and can be reached by e-mail at vicki@vleishvac.com, or by phone at 903/786-6262.