Judaline Cassidy, CVO (Chief Visionary Officer) & Founder of Tools & Tiaras Inc, is more than just a highly skilled plumber. Judaline is an established industry professional, a motivational speaker, host of a podcast, and founder of an NPO who understands the struggle of women in the trades. She has endured this very struggle herself, and is actively doing something to help make the future for women in the trades better to the benefit of everyone in the industry. Judaline understands that empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do, it can benefit the trades (and your business) in more ways that you can imagine!
Judaline grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, raised by her great-grandmother. She wanted to be a lawyer and, in her own words, a “Wonder Woman”. When she finished secondary school, her grandmother had passed away and she couldn’t afford the cost of schooling to become a lawyer. A lot of the women she knew were going into sewing, culinary arts, and secretarial work. Judaline wanted something different; something more for herself. The next best option was to go into the trades.
In trade school, she had a choice between plumbing and electrical. Judaline figured getting wet from leaky pipes was better than being shocked by an electrical circuit, so she chose plumbing. She married young, at the age of 19. Judaline and her husband moved to the US in search of a better life with more opportunities, but the first few years were a struggle. Although she had graduated from trade school as a plumber, Judaline would find herself working jobs as a babysitter, a nanny, and a personal shopper.
Her next door neighbor knew that Judaline had gone to be a plumber, and happened to be a member of a coalition that would demand work at job sites. This was in New York during the 1990s, when construction was booming and job sites were plenty. Still, getting a woman, let alone an African-American woman into a job site was no easy task. Her neighbor told one of these sites that he had a plumber, but didn’t disclose that Judaline was a woman.
When Judaline showed up to the site in her Jeep, she recalls stepping off of her seat cushion and getting out to see all of the men staring at her, wondering what was going on. When she announced herself as the plumber, no one believed her. Just to earn the opportunity to work, she had to negotiate, offering to work for the day and if she didn’t show and give 100%, they didn’t have to pay her at all. They took her up on the challenge, and the rest is history.
Judaline did so well that a plumbing & heating company hired her right away. After a year, she and her other “green” coworkers were sent down to the local union (UA Plumbers Local 1) to apply. When she showed up, they asked what she was doing and suggested that she “go back home and do the dishes”. All of the men got in, but she didn’t. Judaline held her head up high, crying in her Jeep but going right back to work.
Judaline had a friend named Brian, a “superhero of a man”, she calls him. Brian knew about the situation and petitioned for her to be able to join the union. After some good words from Brian and the people he spoke to, Judaline was finally granted membership in her local union in 1995 as one of the very first female members.
Joining the union was a very big deal for Judaline. Standing at 4’11”, Judaline was now making the same as a 6′ man. If he was earning a dollar, she was earning a dollar. She went from not having health insurance to moving into the middle class, with a great salary, a 401k, pension, and job security. She was able to buy a house, and live out the American dream she had envisioned.
A lot of things have changed over the years with women like Judaline paving the way, but much has remained the same. Still, there are more women in the trades than ever. Judaline used to be the only woman on a job site, but now she’s routinely working alongside other women. Acceptance from men has improved as well, with Judaline often being seen as an equal; a skilled person who loves her craft just as much as they do. Judaline hopes that more women can continue this fight, and would love to see women in more positions of power like being a foreman or supervisor on the job sites.
The number of women in construction has been around 3% since 1970, only recently climbing to 3.5%. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, this number is fairly in line with the rest of the skilled labor workforce. Less than two percent of electricians and carpenters are women, and as low as 1.4% of the HVAC industry are technicians and installers. As low as those numbers are and considering that women comprise 51% of the workforce, this is still an improvement than in years past.
Judaline believes that tradespeople build America, and are superheroes that should be applauded. Our parents and society often implant a negative stereotype of the trades into us, as if becoming a plumber or electrician instead of attending a traditional 4-year college means that you aren’t smart. She wants to change not only this stigma, but also increase the number of women in the trades.
Growing up, Judaline didn’t have a lot of self-confidence. When she became a plumber, she gained an incredible amount of confidence in herself, and having a successful career has given her a life she could have only dreamed of as a child. She wants other young women to feel the empowerment she feels. In 2017, she was speaking at a conference and in her speech, she said we should give women a tool and a tiara. What she meant by this is giving them confidence, independence, and most of all, power. When she spoke these words into the world, she felt a force pushing her to do just that.
Not known for half-assing anything in her life, Judaline raced home to google how to run a non-profit. She did all of the research, and started Tools & Tiaras Inc the same year. Judaline was funding the non-profit for a long time with her own plumber’s salary, going as far as selling one of her two cars and even picking up bottles on the construction sites to help pay for her endeavor.
Tools & Tiaras is still growing, and Judaline has been running workshops essentially out of the trunk of her car. She hosts free monthly workshops where women and their daughters can come and learn plumbing, electrical, engineering, tiling, auto mechanical, robotics, and more—all taught by volunteer women who specialize in those very fields.
In the summers, Tools & Tiaras hosts an all-girls construction skills camp. The girls come for a week and learn architecture, sheet metal, HVAC, and more. They have the chance to use tools and build, and also learn life skills like self-defense, finances, meditation, and other things to help them gain a well-rounded ability to succeed. This is part of T.O.O.L.S., or “Total Ownership of Life Skills”. Many of the girls are repeat campers, bringing their friends along on their 2nd and 3rd visits.
Even COVID couldn’t stop Tools & Tiaras, with the workshops being held virtually. This has helped expand the program outside of New York and New Jersey, with this year’s workshops being in person as well as virtual so girls all over the county can participate. Judaline also has a podcast, Tradeswomen Talk, and is continuing to scale Tools & Tiaras. She has her sights on opening up more chapters around the country, and has a long-term goal of having one in Trinidad and Tobago.
Women are 51% of the market, and do most of the home purchases. If you’re a business that isn’t considering that, you’re way behind on your marketing. Now, imagine you have someone in your company that looks like your target market. Forget about it being the right thing to do, you stand to make a lot of money. Judaline has seen firsthand this effect, with women routinely calling her for plumbing because they feel more comfortable with her being in their homes.
As labor shortage continues to be a pressing issue in the home services industry, why are we not looking at all available talent pools? Why are women not being targeted, especially when our business is a hands-on training opportunity? We can teach anyone how if they have the grit and determination, and with the growth of many in-house training programs and facilities, the capacity is certainly there.
This shift has to be within companies and people in our industry. We have to recognize the value of women in the workforce, and empower women not just for the betterment of our society, but to improve the industry we all love and work in day in and day out. All it takes is some effort. Reach out to your trade schools, advertise your openings with women in mind, and try to create an atmosphere in your business that is welcoming to all. Your next million-dollar salesperson or lead installer might just be a woman ready for the opportunity.
Brian, Judaline’s friend who advocated for her to the union, saw her not as a woman or a person of color with an accent. He saw her as he saw himself. More people need to let others know, not just women, that being in the trades is an amazing opportunity. It’s a viable, lucrative career for men and women alike. You can make over 100 thousand dollars a year with no degree and no debt, and that potential is incredibly powerful especially for women who continue to fight for equal compensation and representation in the workforce.
If you want to learn more about Judaline and how you get involved with Tools and Tiaras, visit her website or reach out to us and we’ll put you in touch!
To The Point has had the pleasure of having many badass women in the trades on our podcast. Check out some of our previous episodes!