A New Tradition: ‘We are making ourselves known in these male-dominated roles and I feel honored to be a part of it’
EDITOR’S NOTE: The News and Press will be running several stories in a series on women who work in male-dominated industries. Sometimes called non-traditional workers, these women found jobs and careers that they love and didn’t let gender stereotypes keep them from pursuing their passions.
By Melissa Rollins, Editor,firstname.lastname@example.org
When Joie McCutchen decided that she wanted to take her love of the outdoors and make it a career, she didn’t realize just how few other women there would be along her journey. Now as an Arborist and Utility Forester for Duke Energy Progress, she has really made her mark.
“When I got into school and deep into my studies I looked around and saw that there was only one other girl in my graduating class,” McCutchen said. “Very quickly I realized that this was going to be a challenge but I had never, even as a child, been one to allow someone to tell me that I was incapable because of my gender; it just wasn’t an option. It became there for a few years, “Well, now they don’t think I can do it so I’ve got to do it.”
Before deciding to study natural resources, McCutchen said that she was on a wildly different path.
“I worked as a Pharmacy Technical and a Medical Assistant,” McCutchen said. “I was a professional student for a while because when I decided to do this, I did a complete career change. Now looking back, not that those years are wasted because I’m thankful for that growth, but who knows where I’d be now if I had those years. Looking back now, I realize that this is what my calling was.”
Even when she was in the medical field, the outdoors were calling.
“I had always been a tomboy; really outdoorsy,” McCutchen said. “Always climbing trees, always riding four-wheelers. I was always the one who hung with the guys. As I got older, I started to feel this draw to head in that direction, something natural resources, environmental, but I spent some time in the medical field denying that calling. By the time it was something so overwhelming I couldn’t deny I decided to go back to school and do it.”
She graduated in 2012 from Central Carolina with a degree in Natural Resources Management. She is certified through the International Society of Arboriculture and Arborists. She worked for the Department of Natural Resources for two years before coming to Duke.
“I am the only female forester on the Duke System in South Carolina right now and I’m only one of two ever; the other one is in North Carolina,” McCutchen said. “When I first found that out a few months into the job I just thought that was so crazy. I knew it was going to be this way but I had other female scientists when I worked at DNR. Talk about busting through the glass ceiling! I remember saying that. It really is an honor.”
McCutchen said that she knows, through efforts being made all across the United States, that some obstacles for others coming behind her are coming down.
“I know that there are women all over this country breaking down barriers and doing things similar to me as far as equality in the workplace and things of that nature,” McCutchen said. “We are just making ourselves known in these male-dominated roles. I just feel honored to be a part of it. It certainly is not just one woman; it is women everywhere. I come from a line of strong women. My sister is an office manager for a plumbing company; my mom is a warehouse manager for a heating and air company. Both of those are male-dominated workplaces.”
Being in a role that requires her to supervise male workers, McCutchen said that there was a time when she had to prove herself capable of the job.
“I think there was some apprehension at first and there was a period of proving myself, unfortunately, but that it what it is,” McCutchen said. “With some of my tree crews, they had never worked with a female ever and some of them have been doing this for twenty or thirty years. So, there was some questioning and some doubt. I think as I got into the role and showed them that this is not for show, this is me, and this is my career, I think I got their respect.”
Her role at Duke includes work inside and outside which means that her days vary a lot.
“I spend fifty percent of the time in the field and fifty percent of the time in the office,” McCutchen said. “Fieldwork can be assessing trees for decline and tree health or it can be popping in on my tree crews to make sure that they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I can meet with customers about their concerns. Sometimes I’m diving from steel toed boots to business wear to go to a meeting with people from the city, like the mayor or some elected officials. It varies greatly, which is one reason I love it so much. Any time it feels like the walls are closing in, I go out to the field to check a crew or go talk to a customer, plant something somewhere; it helps.”
Thinking about her daughter and other young ladies coming after her, in whatever fields they choose, McCutchen said that she encourages them to embrace their calling.
“I want other women to know that if they find something that they want to do, don’t let others tell you that you can’t, for whatever reason, whether its height, or gender, or race, or age, any of it,” McCutchen said. “I recognize that there are a lot of ladies who have gone before me. Betty Lange was the other forester down here. She paved her own way and the way for me. We just need to continue to do that as human beings, not just as women. Pave the way for others so that they get a trying chance.”
Editor’s Note: After our interview with Joie, we got a call from one of her co-workers. He said that she did not brag enough on herself and that we needed to know the whole story. He said that she is a hard worker, a team player, has great leadership skills and is great to work with. He felt it important enough to call, so we thought it important enough to include his comments!