Construction is clearly a male-dominated career path, and underwater construction, on a large scale, may seem even more so. But actually, there are no real physical barriers separating men from women in many of the various career paths offered by commercial diving, and in some, there are advantages. Mandy Buchmeier, who also spent five years rappelling out of helicopters fighting forest fires, is now a DIT Scuba and Inland Diving Instructor, a 2009 DIT graduate, and has worked many construction projects on inland dives. She takes time to discuss some thoughts about her work and on women in commercial diving.
LG: What kind of commercial diving have you done and what do you love about it?
Mandy: As an inland diver, my work has consisted of a little bit of everything. Hazmat, inspection, salvage and underwater construction — dry dock extensions, drilling in anchors and installing mooring systems for the Vancouver float plane terminal. I loved this aspect of my job; not knowing what my next project was going to be and being able to constantly problem solve. It’s like being an underwater MacGuyver — you are constantly dealing with problems for the first time and coming up with the best solutions. I’ve also been a Scuba diver since 2005 and have worked as a Dive Master on a yacht on the Great Barrier Reef, traveling and diving in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand.
LG: What do you have to say about the role of women in diving?
I think that many women are intimidated by the idea of working with a bunch of men, but the main real barriers to the career affecting female divers are the same as those that affect male divers — having a job with an unpredictable schedule, long hours, hard work, and time away from family.
Ultimately the biggest challenges are the ones you give yourself. Being a female there are obvious differences. As a part of a dive team you learn to pee in a bucket or by hanging out the side of a boat, get changed discreetly, and to be part of a team. If there isn’t money in the budget for your own hotel room, you share a room just like everyone else. The challenges are only as tough as you make them.
On the other hand, being a woman, we often think smarter, not harder…. I’ve been able to work alongside men moving as much weight and accomplishing jobs by thinking my way through them, unlike many of my fellow counterparts who try to muscle their way through. I think a task through, use mechanical advantage, and utilize the skills I’ve learned while working in the industry. As a diver you are constantly learning through trial and error. Being smaller can have advantages too, like fitting through tighter spaces.
However, harassment is something else that comes with working an in environment with few women and a lot of men. The biggest way to deal with that is to communicate and stop it before it’s a problem. Let them know that you are uncomfortable with a comment, gesture etc. and 9 times out of 10 they are unaware that they are being offensive, and will change their behavior. Confidence, a good work ethic and an eagerness to learn will help anyone make it in this industry. If you don’t have confidence that you can accomplish a task, you won’t be on that dive. If you want to be a diver, do it! Its an amazing career where you get to do things on a whole new level. And it’s fun!
LG: What kind of person do you think would make a good diver?
Mandy: Someone with a good work ethic, who is positive and gets the most out of each dive or job, who is confident and a team player. Also, if you enjoy working with your hands, problem solving and a job that is always changing, you’ll love commercial diving. Try it!