Women in Construction Week 2020 Profile: Hattie Russell
City of Madison Engineering will be sharing one profile a day as it celebrates National Women in Construction Week, March 1-7, 2020.
Engineering Division Maintenance Technician Hattie Russell looks forward to the end of the day, not only to clock out, but to drive home.
“I call him almost every day after work to tell him what I learned at work,” Russell said. “My dad is my best friend. We are two peas in a pod.”
Russell’s dad also works for the City, and her bond with him goes deeper than a daily phone call, it’s a relationship and support that has been consistent since she was a little girl.
“I remember as a kid, I grew up a tomboy, and I remember people calling me his son or his little boy, and he was like, ‘Nope, this is my daughter. Nope, she’s just as tough as all the little boys or tougher,’” Russell said. “He’s very encouraging and always tells me ‘you can do this.’ He believes in me.”
A little support goes a long way, especially on a journey with a couple detours.
Russell was born and raised on Madison’s east side and graduated high school with the initial idea of attending college, a path she said isn’t for everyone.
“You learn in high school, it’s all about college, do all this for college,” Russell said. “I went to the first semester. I was not interested.”
However, Russell was hungry to learn, but in a different way. She was determined to create a path of her own, even if it wasn’t “typical” for a young woman. In 2017, her dad suggested she apply to the City as a seasonal worker. She was hired and worked. In 2018, she applied to the City of Madison Engineering Division’s GreenPower Solar Trainee Program. She was hired and loved learning something new every day.
“I would wake up in the morning, and I’d be excited to go to work,” Russell said. “I couldn’t wait to see what we’re doing. I couldn’t wait to see what we’ll learn. It’s going to be so fun. I’m more of a hands-on person, more mechanically inclined. So, doing all the hands-on stuff was awesome.”
At the end of 2018, the GreenPower program was wrapping up, and Russell wanted to stay with the City. She looked for any chance to get her foot in the door permanently. She applied for a custodial position and got in the door. After just a few months later, Russell was hired full time to her newly-created, current position: a maintenance technician trainee.
“Day to day, I do heating, ventilation, air conditioning work, plumbing and electrical work,” Russell said. “Usually I’m going around with one of the master electricians or master plumbers. They’re essentially showing me what I can do, little by little.”
With a little support from her co-workers, Hattie said, it’s exactly why she feels like nothing gets in her way of learning, growing or progressing in a position she said may typically be filled by a man. Russell works with Pete and Steve, both older men, who she said, treat her like an equal or greater and challenge her to learn more each day. Russell said she’s learned so much from them and appreciates the support they give her every step of the way to empower her.
“I know plenty of girls. They’re ‘girly girls’ but they’re interested in something like this [hands-on work], or I’ve seen guys tease them [the girls], ‘oh do you want to be a guy?’ Or they automatically think you’re gay, or they think you’re this big, tough, bulky person. But, it’s like ‘no,’” Russell said. “Just because you go into a man’s job, it doesn’t make you less feminine or that you have to be as manly as them.”
No matter if she’s installing solar, digging a hole or learning new plumbing techniques, nothing stops Russell from learning her way, advice she’s created for herself and heard during those phone calls with her dad on the way home at the end of the day.
“I think a lot of times women don’t even try, because they’re uncomfortable or they’re afraid of what could happen [by working in the construction industry],” Russell said. “I try to preach to women my age that I’m doing it, you can do it just as good or better. It’s not one person’s gain, it’s everybody’s. I hope it’s [women working in the construction industry] more normalized, and that they can feel confident enough, so they can think, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this,’ without a second thought.”
Russell learned a lot from her dad, the men she works with and the women who’ve taught her how to leap over gender hurdles. She’s proud of her path at the City, because she’s paved the way, thanks to a few phone calls and encouragement, because after all, a little support goes a long way.
“In any workplace, you have to have that kind of support, or I wouldn’t wake up and want to go to work,” Russel said. “It makes me excited for work. It makes me happy.”
- Hannah Mohelnitzky, Public Information Officer, City of Madison Engineering Division, 608-669-3560, 608-242-6003, firstname.lastname@example.org