Women in HVAC: How to Enter into and Succeed in the Trades

Stephanie Figy
July 1st, 2020
7 Min Read

No matter what stage you are in your career, there is one universal truth that almost every woman in the workforce cannot seem to escape—she stands out in a male-dominated industry. A World Bank report found that women only account for 38 percent of global human capital wealth versus 62 percent for men. This jarring statistic illustrates the high cost of gender inequality in the workforce. The social and economic consequences of that inequality can be felt in virtually every industry—including the trades.

The percentage of women in HVAC is only 9 percent and that’s simply unacceptable. And for an industry facing a historic labor shortage, there is no reason why women can’t fill a bigger role in the HVAC field.

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Yes. It’s hard for women to get into HVAC.

It's 2021 and women are still facing discriminatory challenges in our workforce—including pay disparity and exclusionary practices. For anyone asking, “Is the HVAC profession for women?” The simple answer is: every profession is for women. And with HVAC technicians enjoying a national average salary of $53k and earnings pushing upwards of six-figures, there’s a lot to be gained in this profession. Danielle Putnam, president of Women in HVACR, puts it plainly:

“An HVACR career can be very rewarding for women. An average starting base pay is $19/hour and quickly moves up depending on experience. Add on incentive pay—which is usually a sliding scale based on the technician's service call tickets—and you have many technicians who are happily earning $50-70k annually.”

The president of Women in HVACR notes that she has personally received an influx of inquiries from companies looking to employ women HVAC technicians, which may indicate a promising trend in an industry that has historically overlooked females as viable employees. As the demand builds and the need for more qualified technicians mounts, women have a unique moment in history to enter into the field at an unprecedented rate.

Putnam’s advice to women interested in the trades: “work hard, learn your skill, and be sure to ask for the price and flexibility you want. Men typically earn more because they ask for it.” You will never get what you want out of your profession—let alone in your life—if you do not ask for what you want. And with HVAC jobs expected to grow by 13 percent nationwide by 2028, there’s no better time to seize HVACR career opportunities.

Does HVAC hire women?

The answer to that question is complicated. Heidi Clifton, HVAC technician and military veteran, speaks to the harsh realities she has faced as a pioneer in the field:

“Trying to break into the civilian workforce as a female HVAC tech was interesting in the 1990s. I was told by one HVAC company that they would not hire me because I was a woman. Others have even asked if I was asking for a job application for my husband. The discriminatory responses I received were a sign for me that those companies were not going to be the type of work environment I wanted to be in. I ultimately did find a company that wanted to hire me because I was a woman. The owner even told me, ‘I've always thought women would be good at this.’”

Today, employers’ attitudes toward women as tradespeople have evolved since the 1990s—but not enough. The trades have demonstrated some of the strongest resistance to gender equality within their workforce outside of the clerical office work typically set aside for women.

And it’s not just employers. Clifton recalls a certain encounter with a customer while on the job: “A customer slammed the door in my face, despite my company uniform and a branded service van because he didn’t believe I was there to fix his AC. I had to knock again and explain to him I was the service tech he was waiting for.”

How do I become an HVAC professional?

Education and Training

Education is key. But it can also be expensive. Cultivated from her years of experience, Danielle Putnam offers tangible advice for seeking the biggest bang for your buck:

  • Local trade and technical schools are a great, relatively affordable starting point for anyone looking to familiarize themselves with the industry.

  • Women in HVACR’s partnership with Education 2 Go gives discounts on hundreds of online HVAC classes for women interested in accounting, marketing, business, and an assortment of areas specific to HVACR careers.

  • Joe Cunningham's Technical Arts Center has a subject-based training program where candidates spend nine intensive days in a classroom learning technical information as well as actually working on equipment. This crash course offers work-ready HVAC training for women.

Scholarships and Certifications

Scholarships and certifications are major avenues HVACR technicians and professionals should explore. These accolades don’t only make you more employable. They also serve as ammunition for higher pay and career advancement. Scholarships aren’t just about subsidizing education. They demonstrate that you have achieved a certain level of mastery in your craft and that you are looking to hone your skills even further. Discover scholarship opportunities that you may qualify for.

Certifications work similarly. Once you are certified or awarded a title, there’s undeniable clout and a level of respectability that is earned—something that women already have to fight for from the beginning. Search for the kind of industry credentials, like the NATE certification, you can get to strengthen your earning power and status.

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Networking and Community

Liz Sandwith, a trailblazing HVAC technician, gives some personal advice on how to build your network and find the support from the people within the community that is interested in seeing you succeed:

“Try to shadow someone in the trade to get a true feel for it. Look for organizations in your area that will help you connect with companies that are supportive of hiring or helping women get into a trade. I'm currently the first and only woman in my province to complete my apprenticeship and obtain my Red Seal in HVAC/R, so I didn't have any women mentors. But honestly, I've had so much support from journeymen in my trade that believed I could do it and helped me achieve it.”

Building a network of mentors and advocates should include men as much as it includes fellow women. Everyone has a unique perspective that will help shape and inform your career. The most important thing is that the people in your community are interested in making space for you and helping you uncover new opportunities.

Sometimes finding those individuals can seem like a daunting task if you have don’t have any pipelines you can explore. Women in HVACR holds an annual conference that is specifically designed to cultivate relationships, connect women, and grow careers. Start your search at these large-scale industry events.

The future is bright.

Even as women continue to face discrimination in the workplace, we can still look into the future with hope. As a company that has championed inclusion and diversity as the very premise for innovation, ServiceTitan is a proud sponsor of Women in HVACR. Inspired by the mentorship from her father, Kailey Hardy is one of ServiceTitan’s sponsors who is looking to break the status quo. As a young woman pursuing a career in HVACR, her experience is evidence of all the barriers women before her have worked to dismantle.

“Girls need to realize that they’re not held back just by who they are, that women have equal opportunities to any guy that they meet. I’ve always been told that when I start in the air conditioning field that I will constantly find myself in a room of twenty guys. And because I am a female, I can walk in with my application in hand and they would hire me on the spot.”

With growing awareness about gender inequality in the workforce and a stark labor shortage in the trades, the face of the HVAC industry is changing—literally. As the workforce as a whole is continuously pressured to employ more women, there is so much to learn and understand. And the benefits of employment equality are only beginning to breach the surface.

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