Hardhats and manholes: not for men only

Lorie Sturgis had worked for the New York Telephone Company for more than 20 years and had advanced to an administrative clerk's position. She thought her career had reached a dead end.

Then she entered the company's Ultimate Goals Opportunities (UGO) program, started in 1977 to train women employees such as secretaries and clerks for foreman jobs in the once all-male enclaves of installation, switching services, and construction.

Today, with the title of cable splicing "foreman," she is boss of a crew of six to 10 splicers whose main task is to repair the aerial, underground, and submarine cables linking telephone central offices to customers' homes and business locations. She works out of Monticello, N.Y., where she lives with her husband.

Mrs. Sturgis was one of the first participants in the training program, which is part of the Bell System's response to a federal court case resolved in 1973. A consent decree signed by the corporation outlines goals for hiring and promoting women and minorities.

So far, New York Telephone says that it has been largely successful in meeting these objectives. As a result, says Robert L. St. John of the New York company's human resources department, it is not unusual to find women as linemen , mechanics, truck drivers, installers, repairmen, and managers at all levels. He says that not enough women sought certain supervisory jobs, however, so the company designed its UGO program for office workers who lacked a technical background.

Lorie Sturgis wasn't sure she wanted to venture down manholes or climb telephone poles when she began the 25-week training course, but she climbed down the ladder and went up the pole to get the on-job technical training that she needed for a foreman job.

During the program she learned the fundamentals of safe tool handling, how to analyze cable trouble, read cable prints, and splice wires, as well as carry a 55-pound ladder without wincing.

Mrs. Sturgis admits that supervising a team of rugged cable splicers can be hard work, but she says that with tact and managerial diplomacy she has been able to win their respect.

Most days, Lorie Sturgis reports for work at 7 a.m., assigns her crew at 7:30 a.m., and spends half her time outdoors supervising and checking their work. She returns to her office at 2:30 to begin planning the next day's schedule. When a telephone pole goes down in the middle of the night, she works nights, too.

Being out in all kinds of weather is no fun, Mrs. Sturgis admits, and she misses being able to dress with a little feminine style since one can hardly stay in the height of fashion in boots, trousers, parka, and hard hat.

There are satisfactions, however, such as mastering a new area of technical expertise -- and making at least $150 more a week than she made in her last clerical position. She can also ask for more training and keep moving up the ladder. Right now she is eyeing an upper management position in the construction or engineering departments.

Recently the National Council of Women of the United States gave a citation to Lorie Sturgis, honoring her courage to pioneer in this new "hard hat" field for women.

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