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PIT’s 'Jills of All Trades' For International Women’s Day, we salute painters, firefighters and other workers at the airport – who happen to be women

By Natalie Fiorilli

Tammy Judy is one of two women serving on a team of 45 firefighters at Pittsburgh International.

So what’s it like to work in a predominantly male field?

“You can’t let stereotypes deter you,” she told Blue Sky, which spoke to several female employees who toil in career fields overwhelmingly populated by men to commemorate International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 5 percent of U.S. firefighters are female, but that didn’t stop Judy, who was actually part of PIT’s inaugural training academy in 1999. Now an airport firefighter of 20 years, she and her colleagues work 24-hour shifts (and serve on the department’s engine and EMS crews).

While working on a mostly male team can be tough at times, ultimately the job has been very rewarding, she added.

“It’s like having 50 brothers – we all have a really good relationship,” she said. “I enjoy what I do, and the people that I work with, but being able to help people is the most important part of my job.”

Similarly, Bonnie Dulemba and Duretha Stubbs of the airport’s paint crew are a representation of the small number of females working as painters, nationally: 7.2 percent.

A painter for 22 years, Stubbs is a journeyman, the union standard for trade experts.

“You have to like what you do, first of all,” she said. “And often when you are working with guys, it can be really competitive. You just have to go out and do your best every day, and don’t let anything get in your head.”

Duretha Stubbs, a painter at Pittsburgh International, is a journeyman with more than 22 years of experience in her field. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Jacqui Yeck of the airport’s Sustainability and Natural Resources team is no stranger to working in male-dominated fields, with a background in heavy highway and civil construction as well as erosion and sediment control.

As an environmental programs administrator at PIT, Yeck handles storm-water inspections, spill cleanup and mitigation, waste management, and deicing services, among other sustainability programs. The opportunity to interact with various trades, and the different dynamics that come with working at an airport, have been the best parts of her job at PIT, she noted.

“It’s a different industry. Even though it’s basically the same principles I’ve always worked with, it’s definitely more of a challenge in aviation because there is always something going on,” she said. “Whether it be construction, or deicing, or anything else, it’s never a boring day here.”

Jacqui Yeck, an environmental programs administrator, handles storm-water inspections and spill cleanup and mitigation, among other sustainability programs for the airport. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Airport operations is another area historically dominated by men.

“In the past, it was probably considered a ‘man’s job,’ but now there are definitely more (women)," said Francie Sukitch, an operations supervisor at PIT.

Among her many jobs in operations, Sukitch has served as the race director for the airport, helping to coordinate 5K races for the public at PIT and Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin. A 16-year veteran of the airport, Sukitch said she wouldn’t change her job for the world, and loves the unpredictability of working in the industry.

“From day to day, I don’t know what’s going to happen – our job changes on the flip of a dime, and that’s what I love about it,” she said.

In January, the Allegheny County Airport Authority launched a Women’s Development Network to help employees cultivate leadership skills, business practices, personal contacts and career opportunities. Last year saw a 19 percent increase in the number of female applicants for authority positions.

Holly Kendall, who became a firefighter for Pittsburgh International in 2017 and serves on the steering committee for the development network, said the important part of working in a field mostly comprised of men is to never give up.

Holly Kendall is one of two female firefighters at Pittsburgh International, and serves on the steering committee of the Airport Authority's Women's Development Network. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

“Always keep trying, and always work to find ways to improve and show what you are capable of doing, no matter your gender,” she said.

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