A (wo)man’s world
Debbie McLain didn’t spend much time fixing her dolls’ hair when she was young.
“I had a Barbie once,” she said. “I left it out and the dog chewed it up, so I had to pretend it was an amputee Barbie.”
She had four sisters but said she was raised along with her two brothers, and they were all involved in the family’s cattle and dairy farming.
“The girls were expected to do the same work as the boys on the ranch,” McLain said.
She enjoyed riding horses, fishing and hunting, and admits she never was much into the stereotypical girl activities.
“I pretty much lived outside,” she said. “My mom threatened to move my bed to the barn.”
McLain still spends most of her time in the sun, as a project engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation. She’s one of a few women out in the field.
“I put myself in a man’s world,” she said. “If I can’t handle it, I shouldn’t be there.”
She has been there for a while. She has worked for land surveying, concrete paving and consulting companies, all of which were dominated by men.
“Back when I started in 1978, (women) were few and far between,” McLain said. “I was in my early 20s and running a survey crew. The people below me were much older than me.”
Some men thought they could take advantage of her gender and age. Once, when she was working at the concrete business in Denver, a male co-worker “was in pretty hot pursuit,” repeatedly asking McLain out on dates.
She turned him down time and time again, so one day he slapped her on the rear. McLain instinctively spun around and decked him.
“From then on, he never bothered me,” she said. “Something like that can affect your reputation. I like my career too much to have that kind of reputation.”
Sharon Green, a veteran at the Craig Station power plant, said she never has had any issues with co-workers in her 21 years.
“(Men are) there to help you,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff we can’t do and they help.”
She worked her way up from coal handler to scrubber to the main plant and to her current position as a technical analyst in the planning department.
She said working with men has been a pleasure for her because her colleagues become like a second family.
Officer Sue Burns, who has been with the Craig Police Department for five years, agreed.
“It’s kind of like working a job with 10 brothers and they’re all looking out for you,” she said.
She said male officers are supportive and there’s not much on the job she can’t do.
“I think a lot of people think of police work as being physical, and it is,” she said. “But it’s real mental, too. You have to be thinking on your feet the whole time.”
She really enjoys the environment, where she and her colleagues are serious when they need to be and more like friends on their down time. But sometimes, Burns does not get the respect she deserves from the public.
“The other day, a guy called me a security guard,” she said. “Either they respect the law or they don’t. So if they’re giving me a hard time, they’re usually giving the guys a hard time, too.”
All in all, Burns is comfortable in her job, and she noted fthat emale police officers are not masculine, as people might think.
“The girls on the force are girls,” she said.
But it does take a certain kind of woman to be able to work in these industries, Green said, because men don’t give special treatment to anyone.
“You’ve got to be able to take things with a grain of salt,” she said. “You can’t be real sensitive, that’s for sure.
“Men don’t tend to work real well with women who whine. You’re not going to find any sympathy out here.”
Any time McLain starts a new job, she expects her co-workers to test her to see what she’s capable of. She likes the opportunity to prove herself.
“After that, it’s not really an issue,” she said. “You really just do your job.”
And once the women find a job they’re comfortable in, there’s no distinction between them and their male counterparts. Everyone’s there to do a job and do it well.
“We’re all there for each other,” Burns said. “My life depends on them and their lives depend on me.
“And one no seems to have a problem with it.”
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