Let’s be frank: People don’t usually think of women in a steel mill. Since our foremothers stepped up during World War I, women have always been there—and today, schools and businesses are creating a pipeline to the industry for young women.
At the outbreak of World War I, men went overseas to fight the war. This left American factories, railways, and emergency services without a workforce. Although reluctant to hire women in more demanding forms of labor, the need for workers in munitions production eventually forced the issue. By 1916, the US government even held recruitment drives for women workers. Female employment rose to its highest in the country’s history. Women began filling traditionally male roles, working on the production floors, testing facilities, and storage yards at steel mills.
While steel manufacturing involves risky and hard work traditionally considered more suited for men, women can be found in every facet of industry today, occupying all positions, from manufacturing to sales to corporate leadership.
Danielle Brecheen is blazing a path for young women. Her company, Brecheen Pipe and Steel has become one of the most well-known vendors in the pipe and steel metal services industry in the Louisiana market. It recently received a National Women’s Business Certification, affirming that BPS is woman-owned, operated and controlled.
“I was going to be an orthopedic surgeon,” says Danielle. “After my first year at LSU, I spent the summer helping with clerical work at my parents’ steel company and never left. I knew instantly that there were things about this business and its customers I really liked.”
While the process of steelmaking hasn’t changed, the business is becoming increasingly digitally driven and sustainable now. This creates loads of new opportunities for women to get a foot in the door. For instance, at Brecheen Pipe and Steel, there are two women in accounting, Danielle and another woman in sales, and a woman who manages the back end in shipping and receiving.
Nowadays, there is more economic opportunity than ever with the oil field, refineries, chemical plants, and contractors. Danielle’s advice: “If you have the knowledge and want more for your life, it doesn’t matter what field you choose. Just pick one that will always need workers and you are set. I believe that anyone male or female can master any industry if they have a passion for what they are doing.”