A few days ago it was suggested to me that I should write a post about life as a female PAT tester. This gave me pause.
After all, there is no difference between the way I work and the way The Boss works – or any other male PAT tester worth his salt. We go in, we do the job in front of us, we leave. Life as a female PAT tester is much the same as life as a male PAT tester: try not to electrocute yourself, make sure you plug fridges back in, and try not to swear when your screwdriver slips and cuts you.
I talked to a few people about this, as I couldn’t think of anything to say. I read some excellent articles on the subject of perceptions of women in the workplace, such as this one about being described as a mumpreneur. Someone asked me if I had been insulted at being asked about it, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that there was anything to be offended by.
This is a man’s world
At first glance, PAT testing is a heavily male-dominated field, and I began to wonder why. After all, there have been campaigns to get women into so many other fields of work. (This post isn’t one of those campaigns, or a rant about gender equality; this is my experience of the situation, and if you can find another female PAT tester she may have another take on the matter.)
Upon further reflection, I realised women aren’t as outnumbered as it first appears. However, most women work behind the scenes – doing admin, selling courses, or involved in the development of the equipment we use (like Amy, the glamorous applications engineer at Seaward, who manufacture the PAT testing machines we use at Skybur Testing.)
I am one of only a handful of women in the UK who go out on site and actually test, and Skybur Testing is currently the only member of the PAT Testing Network with a female PAT tester.
So what’s different about being a female PAT tester?
Well, for a starter you need a sense of humour and a little resilience. I’ve heard several jokes about the fact I spend my days on my hands and knees crawling around under desks. I, of course, being sweet and innocent, have no idea what they mean.
It can be harder for me to be taken seriously; I once had someone ask if I knew how to change a plug, and would I prefer him to do it for me. To the best of my knowledge in nearly 7 years of testing nobody has ever questioned The Boss’s ability to change plugs. However, I get a little kick out of quietly proving that I can manage it myself – and if I have a little smug dance to myself in the car later, well that’s between me and my steering wheel!
There are some distinct benefits to being a female PAT tester. As a woman I can access some areas more easily than men can. For example, The Boss (my partner, and owner of Skybur Testing) hates testing in women’s refuges because many of the residents are visibly scared of him (he’s a big guy!) or refuse to make eye contact. I’m far less of a threat. I’m more welcome in schools, particularly residential schools and schools for girls. And I can go into women-only gyms at any time of day; he has tested some where he was only allowed to work outside their normal operating hours.
Gender also works in my favour in care homes, particularly for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Residents can be far less concerned about a strange woman than a strange man, and because I’m perceived as less of a threat, they’re a little less likely to get agitated or upset.
Stop waffling Emma. What’s it actually like?
For any women thinking of going into PAT testing – I love it. I’d far rather be out on site testing, getting my hands dirty (and hopefully avoiding spiders) than sat behind a desk. It’s not always easy and it’s definitely not glamorous, but it’s very satisfying.
As a female PAT tester, you may find you need a bigger handbag – mine sometimes contains my trusty Primetest, my tools, and spare plugs and fuses for testing a couple of items on the fly – and you find yourself squinting at those little green stickers everywhere you go. You’ll get label glue under your nails, dust bunnies in your hair, sore knees, and comments like “while you’re down there”. You’ll learn that there are only two companies making work trousers for women and they cost twice as much as the ones for the guys, so you get those instead and worry about your figure because they fit you perfectly. You may even, if you’re anything like me, find that your steel toe capped trainers are the most comfortable footwear you possess and contemplate buying a second pair for wearing outside work. And your friends will call you for advice on anything vaguely electrical, even if you have no idea how to wire a car stereo.
It’s great fun. No two days are the same, and most sites are friendly and welcoming, as long as you don’t fail the kettle.
I wouldn’t change it for the world. Apart from the spiders.