Mary-Anne Bowcott (@the_ladyplumber) is a testament to perseverance and hard work. In a male-dominant industry, now a successful business owner, she is blazing the trail for women to look at trades in a different light.
Mary-Anne Bowcott has come a long way from the days of living on a farm— which housed a few hundred birds, larger livestock, but mostly poultry—to the 4H program where she would show her chickens and ducks.
Born and raised on southern Vancouver Island, Mary-Anne Bowcott was a near straight-A student, who, by her own admission, was kinda awkward, a bit weird, and wasn’t one of the pretty girls in school, and she was bullied pretty hard. As a result, she dropped out in grade 11. Around the same time, her parents were mid-divorce and, “I decided that in my infinite wisdom at almost 16 years old, I would get a job at Wendy’s and move out on my own. I partied, got into a lot of trouble, struggled with addiction, and going for a doctoral degree went out the window at that point,” says Bowcott.
After a couple of years, Bowcott decided to smarten up. She went back to school and got her grade-12 equivalency—the youngest student in an adult class; they almost didn’t let her in because she was too young. “I slayed that with flying colors but still didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Bowcott.
Bowcott recalls going on a date with a guy who owned a construction company and she mentioned how sweet it would be to get into construction, but at that time, it was an unrealistic option for women. “His response was, ‘Why don’t you?’ That got the wheels turning and I started handing out résumés at that time.”
It was a struggle to find employment at the time as being petite female teenager, says Bowcott, as employers didn’t exactly take her very seriously. She had no call backs on her résumés, and, in fact, she almost took her first name off of the resume so she would have a chance. Finally, Bowcott asked her friend’s uncle who owned a roofing and renovation company to hire her, and he did. She landed her first job in the industry as a roofing laborer. She worked that job, and a couple different companies for a few years, quickly working her way up to her boss’s lead hand on commercial and residential jobs. “I got bored of it after starting commercial, as we were stuck on the same jobs for months at a time. The spotty work during the winter months were hard too on the bank account so I started looking for other options at this point.”
Bowcott eventually, through more pestering, landed a plumbing apprenticeship and never looked back after that. “Honestly though, it was hard making the transition, as again, no one took you seriously even though you were in the construction industry. Yes, I had made a name for myself, but only in the roofing community, so switching out was like starting all over again.”
Now a 19-years veteran of the construction industry, a shingle roofer, Red Seal journeyman Plumber, Class B gas fitter and successful, award winning plumbing and gas business owner, “I hope that I can help pave the way for young women seeking a career in the building trades, showing first hand that you can do whatever you set your mind to with a little persistence, motivation, determination and a whole lot of pestering.”
It shouldn’t go without noting that Bowcott often times censors her career path story, leaving out the dropping out of high school and getting into trouble. She is not ashamed or shy about how she got into construction. “I just don’t want high school students to drop out because they see someone who did, and then become successful. On the other side, I’ve also done public speaking on the fact that one can hit rock bottom, be mixed up in addiction and bad situations and still come out on top,” says Bowcott.
Fast-forward to 2023 and for the past eight years, Bowcott has been the proud owner of Westcom Plumbing and Gas Ltd, as well as Westcom Roofing and Sheetmetal, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The plumbing company specializes in plumbing repairs, service, drain cleaning, renovations, gas service, repairs, retrofit and light commercial.
She finds the work particularly rewarding. “I really enjoy working with my hands and feeling like I’ve achieved something, helped someone, or made some sort of difference,” says Bowcott.
She always has been crafty, and coming from an artistic family, creating things has been something she’s done since she was a child. With plumbing and gas though—roofing as well—we are out there helping people, and she loves that. “Yes, the money is good, but it was never about that for me. It’s always been about helping and creating.”
Starting A Business
She knew she was ready to start her own company when she injured her back and almost went back to school to do hair. “But I couldn’t fathom going from my journeyman wage to minimum wage, especially with a mortgage,” says Bowcott.
“My husband and group of women I knew suggested why not start my own company? That way I could pick and choose the jobs I could do with the injury. I was at that time a new construction plumber and it wasn’t uncommon to do a full 7-10 days of straight groundworks. So, I quit my job and opened up my own company, and it was the best decision I have ever made.”
Nevertheless, as a woman-owned company in a male-dominated industry, Bowcott did have some anxious times, worried about work coming in. “I actually didn’t even put my name on my business card in fear that people wouldn’t hire me because I was a woman. I was wrong of course.
“There are people that don’t hire us because we are women, but we wouldn’t work for them anyway with that attitude. I kept the name of the business neutral as well to hide the woman factor. But honestly, I’m from a small town where everyone already knew me from growing up there, and as soon as I opened the company, like I mean day 1, I’ve been slammed busy. I didn’t advertise. I still don’t advertise. It’s all been word of mouth.”
Talking about being a female in this industry, Bowcott says she definitely tries her best to be a mentor for as many women as possible. Or men if they want, “but we don’t really get those calls lol.”
“I used to be more involved with non-profits and local groups, but I took a step back—as it was getting super time consuming and a lot volunteer work—to focus more on my business as well as social media as I seem to reach more women on social media than I did before.”
The Social Connection
And because of social media, many doors have opened, more than Bowcott thought imaginable. “Being able to go to the RIDGID Experience 2022, going to conventions and trade shows and hanging out and becoming friends with the plumbers that you have followed for years, the supportive messages and the messages of people needing mentoring or advice, or simply messaging to say that I made a difference in their life as an inspiration to them is truly heartwarming,” says Bowcott.
“I am so grateful for the opportunities that have been dropped at my doorstep for simply taking a video or picture of what I did that day. And not that I needed to advertise, but I know a lot of my clients have called because of what they have seen on social media. They get to see what type of work you’re putting out there which really helps.”
As far as downtime, what does Mary-Anne like to do to decompress? ““I don’t decompress haha. I rock climb, do Crossfit, personal training, surf, park roller skating, and I also clean my van at any opportunity if there’s something out of place. I try and do as much as possible at home before its time to make dinner. My days are long and exhausting, I can’t sit still, I don’t relax, I’m always on the go, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
As well as hurting her back, she struggled with severe knee pain from, you guessed it, roofing and plumbing, and she actually thought she was going to need a knee replacement by 40. She met with a local athletic therapist and he said that if she didn’t do some sort of weight training to strengthen areas that needed it, her body would “implode by 40.” “S“So, I started at my local Crossfit gym, and shockingly after 2-3 months, I had zero knee and back pain. So, I am a believer. I now work out around 4-5 days a week depending on how busy I am.”
Though she already travels a lot, there’s a few items pending on her bucket list: going to Morocco, going to Turkey, skydiving, an Indonesian boating/surf trip, and a trip to Tahiti.
If you ask Bowcott about her tattoos, she’ll tell you she made a lot of poor tattoo choices in her younger days. “My first was a tattoo in a hotel room when I was 16 by a pretty dodgy character. Thank God I didn’t end up with a disease after that one. It was supposed to be a fairy, but ended up looking like a gremlin trying to bang itself with its foot. I got it covered up with a tiger on a waterfall landscape, but I hated that too as it was definitely too cartoonish. I ended up getting 12 laser treatments on it and finally found someone to cover it up, and that’s when I got the tiger on my back, which I’m super happy with.”
What’s next? Bowcott tries to live her life as each one is her last and she tries to experience as much as possible, “because you really don’t know when you’re gonna go and I want to make sure I do as much as I can before that day. My husband’s best friend passed away a few years ago at 50 and it really buggered me up. Ever since then, my life has been nothing but trying to do it all NOW!”
In the Tool Bag
RIDGID end 190” wrenches, adjustable wide mouth Crescent, RIDGID 154 quick acting tubing cutter, Stanley tape measure, Milwaukee flip knife, a Himor HVAC multi-tool, and a hacksaw.
In the Van
Milwaukee portable band saw, Milwaukee oscillating tool, Milwaukee Hackzall, grinder and Fuel Packout vacuum, and a Hilti jackhammer.