DITCHING STEREOTYPES: Sanchez touts work ethic, persistence

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March 28, 2017 - 12:00 AM

HUMBOLDT — March is National Women’s History Month.
The 2017 theme honors women who have successfully challenged the traditional role of women in the workplace. Patricia Sanchez, 56, Humboldt, is a local woman who has not only challenged the role of women in the paid labor force but also challenged herself to go outside her comfort level.
Sanchez is employed in Humboldt’s Public Works department and as the town’s Utility Foreman. Although most of the area residents are accustomed to seeing Sanchez down in a ditch, checking gas meters or directing a construction crew, they might be surprised to know how long she has been doing it. This April marks her 36th year of employment. Sanchez started out in 1980 on a sanitation truck. She grew up with four brothers and often helped her dad, Abel Sanchez, a foreman at Monarch Cement Company, with small construction jobs. She considered herself to be a tomboy and enjoyed playing softball. Graduating from high school in 1978, she was not sure what she wanted to do. She just knew she did not want to attend college, she said. After fumbling with short-term jobs for a few years she landed the job in Humboldt. But Sanchez did not take the easy way out. She started out in the trenches right alongside all of the men.
“This is not a factory, you do not know what you are going to do from one day to another,” Sanchez said. “You might be out in the pouring rain, you might be out in the snow and sleet. You are doing anything from mowing grass to being knee deep in a sewer.”
Being a female of Hispanic heritage, Sanchez went to work with two crosses to bear. This motivated her to work extra hard because she felt she needed to prove herself. Often she felt that her male counterparts would test her to see if she could live up to the high physical demands of the job, she said. Not only was she able to live up to the demands, but she also worked her way up the ladder.
“We are all considered to be maintenance workers, just different levels until you get to be lead maintenance and then foreman,” Sanchez said. 
In addition to making reports and inspections, Sanchez supervises a year-round crew of six men. Any man who thinks he’s going to make excuses for why he cannot complete a task does not stand a chance, she said. She has done everything she asks the men to do.
“Most people who apply here either know I work here or know someone who knows me so they know how I work,” she said. “I like to joke around but when the clock rolls around and it’s time to go to work, we are going to work.”
During an initial interview potential employees are asked whether they would have a problem taking directions from a woman, according to Sanchez. Nobody has ever said that they would not be able to do that.
“I like the job and I love being outside,” Sanchez said. “I have never worked with a group of guys that I could not get along with.”
As the age of retirement draws nearer, Sanchez said she is beginning to think about what she wants to do next.
“I don’t want to quit working,” she said. “I just want to do something easy and bide my time.”
Although she is not sure what that might entail, she said she has no regrets about how she has spent the last 36 years earning her paycheck.
Taking a moment to reflect, Sanchez said she has seen a lot of changes, including society’s attitude toward women working in non-traditional roles.
“I think society as a whole is not what it used to be,” she said. “There is less negativity now.” 
Even while working in a fishbowl of male testosterone, Sanchez said she has not experienced sexual harassment.   
“I think guys worry about working with women in jobs like this because of the way guys like to talk to each other when they are working,” she said. “There’s a real fine line of what is actually sexual harassment and what is not.”
But boys will be boys, she said, and there is nothing she has not heard discussed amongst them at some point. 
Sanchez said her job is not for the faint-hearted or the thinned-skinned, although the crew members are all “pretty tight” and everyone gets along.
“You have to be able to take the ribbings,” she said. “It’s different working in an environment like this.”
Sanchez said while her gender has never limited her, getting older is another thing. When she was younger she could work just as hard as any man.
“Now that I’m older there’s a lot things that I can’t do that I used to do,” she said.
Her advice to younger women wishing to enter the construction industry is based on her own success.
“There’s probably nothing that you cannot do, give it your best shot, but be prepared to work and prove yourself,” she said.

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