Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean, Judaline Cassidy wanted to be a lawyer — and Wonder Woman.
However, law school wasn’t in her future – and Wonder Woman had her job taken away. Raised by her great-grandmother, Cassidy received free schooling in the twin island nation through high school. By the time she was ready to go to college and study law, her grandmother had died.
“I didn’t have the resources to go to university and study law, so I tried to find the next best free education I could get,” she explains. “It was a school in Trinidad and Tobago called the John Donaldson Technical Institute. And at this school, they offered jobs in secretarial, tailoring, culinary, electrical, and plumbing.
“I assumed that many women would apply for the secretarial and cooking professions. I wanted to turn the odds in my favor, so I decided to give Plumbing and Electrical a try. And then I reduced it even further to: electric, you get a shock; Plumbing, you’ll get wet. And that’s how my love for plumbing began.”
Cassidy was one of the first three women to learn plumbing from John Donaldson. Her marriage took her to the United States, where she worked as a nanny and housekeeper before eventually finding her way back into the plumbing industry. She has been practicing plumbing in the New York City area for more than two decades.
Her career as a plumber was initially challenging. “A lot of African Americans didn’t have access to the site back then,” Cassidy recalls. “So they formed coalitions to create construction jobs in their neighborhoods.”
Her first plumbing job in the US came about through a tip from a neighbor. However, the foreman did not want them on the site.
“I love to negotiate; Like I said, I wanted to be a lawyer,” notes Cassidy. “I told him that if he lets me work during the day, he’ll get a day laborer and won’t have to pay me anything. And if I’m good at plumbing, we could do it from there. He wanted to prove that I knew nothing about plumbing; He didn’t know I went to school for that.”
The company took her on, and a mentor paved the way for her, the Staten Island Plumbers Local Union No. 1 to join – the first woman to do so. That began her 25-year (and still counting!) career as a plumber.
Create Princess Warriors
Today, Cassidy not only works in her beloved plumbing field, but also advances it by inspiring and mentoring women and young girls to pursue a career in the craft. She founded Tools & Tiaras – “Where Strong Girls are Forged” – in 2017 to show them that careers in crafts are lucrative and rewarding.
“If you do any kind of research on women who have left the profession, you will find that they never left because the work was too hard or the equipment was too heavy,” explains Cassidy. “The job itself doesn’t deter women; It’s all the barriers that people put in our way.”
In her research, she found that since 1970, only 3% of women in construction work with tools. “I wanted to see a change in our industry; I wanted to see the needle move from 3%, and it does,” explains Cassidy. “I believe that the collaborative work that women like me and in other organizations are doing is starting to make a difference. It started moving about four or five years ago: 3.9%. I’ll take that. I wish there were more, but I’m grateful it’s moving now.”
Tools & Tiaras offers young girls and women the opportunity to develop confidence to work in ‘non-traditional’ fields that our society does not encourage women to pursue. Her mission is to show girls that “jobs don’t have genders”.
This is achieved by teaching girls aged 6 to 14 hands-on projects in carpentry, electrical, plumbing and automotive (mechanical, industrial and technical professions) through summer camps, conferences and career workshops.
“You’re giving me a challenge and I want to figure out how to solve it,” says Cassidy. “Girls are driven by their dreams and passion when they are young. And then, around the age of 10 or 11, society starts telling them that they can’t do something because it’s for boys; This is for girls.
“I said to myself: What if I formed a group of warriors? A group of young warriors who believe they are great, fearless and strong – and no one can take that away from them. I call them my princess warriors. What change would we see in the world when they grow up?”
Not all Princess Warriors end up in construction, but as they get older they will always remember the roots that got them started: tools and tiaras.
“They could grow up to be senators, attorneys and others who are pro-professional, right?” Cassidy notes. “Right now they’re starting to go to high school and junior high school. They keep coming back to the camp and bringing friends with them. Give us four or five more years and watch these girls start and grow in their professions.”
leadership, confidence and pride
An important concept Tools & Tiaras teaches to young women is leadership.
“I tell them they’re boss ladies,” Cassidy notes. “You must know from a young age that there is nothing wrong with being a boss or a leader. I teach them to be leaders like I am. However, I let them know that I’m not perfect; I make mistakes. Be empathetic, but don’t be afraid to be a leader.”
The Princess Warriors not only learn technical skills, they also learn life skills.
“We have full responsibility for life skills,” explains Cassidy. “This is how our girls learn about finance, self-defense, debate, public speaking, meditation, yoga, cooking, etc. We create warriors and we want them to go out and change the world. We see the difference.”
She would like to add an entrepreneurship course as starting a business requires different skills than plumbing: “I wish I had learned this sooner and sooner. I had finance courses in Trinidad and Tobago but they were not the same. You need to know how to grow your money and how to invest it. I want to give our girls tools to use with their hands and in business.”
Cassidy speaks proudly of the success stories Tools & Tiaras has had in the roughly six years since its inception: Penelope, the first and only girl on her robotics team; Samantha, who is studying engineering at an aviation college; Izzy, the girl who fixes everything in her parents’ house; Tanzera, who is just starting college; Autumn, who wants to be an architect; and so many more.
“The girls, I love them, really,” she says. “I don’t like emailing, writing grants and stuff like that; Just put me in front of the workshop with the girls.”
What do her parents think? “Oh, they love it!” she says. “You see the changes in your daughters; They see their daughters beaming with confidence.”
Cassidy admits that she struggled with self-confidence early on, partly because she has dyslexia.
“I didn’t know that until later in life, but I struggled with the math part of the plumbing trade, not so much the theory and hands-on exercises,” she explains. “It wasn’t an obstacle because people with dyslexia always find ways to compensate and make what it is work. A lot of entrepreneurs have dyslexia, so I now consider it my superpower.
“I have no issues with my confidence in being a plumber. I leave with the utmost pride and an “I know everything” attitude – in a good way! – around when it comes to plumbing.”
Cassidy wants more parents to see that construction can offer their daughters a good living and a rewarding job: “Be open-minded; College isn’t the only path to success. It’s recession-proof, COVID-proof – even zombie apocalypse-proof! Plumbing and other jobs can set your daughters on the path to entrepreneurship and enable them to run their own businesses.”
She also wants more visibility and retail rebranding. “The focus isn’t so much on the blue color aspect, but on showing that we earn as well as other people, which comes with pride,” says Cassidy. “Technology also plays a major role in construction today; We have to get that message across too.”
Growing up, Cassidy was extremely poor; Working as a plumber was a turning point for her. And she wants young women to have the same experience in a profession that really helps people.
“I think there’s nothing more satisfying than building something with your own hands, even if you get it in the mail and you have to assemble it,” notes Cassidy. “How do you feel when you’ve made it? That feeling is what the girls get. build a table or solder something; If I can do that, I can do anything. That’s what we want to convey to them, that they can do anything.”
Kelly Faloon is a writer for CONTRACTOR magazine and director of Faloon Editorial Services. A former editor of Plumbing & Mechanical magazine, she has almost 35 years of B2B publishing experience, including 25 years as a writer on the plumbing, heating, cooling and piping industries. Faloon has a degree in journalism from Michigan State University. You can reach her at email@example.com.