The Pipe Wench: Lesley McGlenen Breaks Ground for Women in Skilled Trades

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Mechanical Hub, Taco Comfort Solutions, The Pipe Wench, Pipe Wench Plumbing and Heating, Lesley McGlenen, heating and cooling, plumbingLocated in rural British Columbia, Lesley McGlenen has a much greater impact on the skilled trades than her small company would lead you to believe.

Online, McGlenen goes by @ThePipeWench. She’s a plumber, gasfitter and hydronic professional. Most of her work is residential, but she dabbles in commercial work from time to time. From her shop in Scotch Creek, she travels to jobsites around Shuswap Lake, typically venturing up to two hours from home.

McGlenen’s father was a general contractor when she was young. She’d lend a hand where she could, cleaning up and helping on jobsites. Eventually, a plumbing contractor noticed her work ethic and offered her a job. She enjoyed the job for a while before trying her hand at cabinet making, all the while picking up skills that would aid her journey in the trades.

Mechanical Hub, Taco Comfort Solutions, The Pipe Wench, Pipe Wench Plumbing and Heating, Lesley McGlenen, heating and cooling, plumbingEventually, plumbing called her back and she endeavored to finish her plumbing apprenticeship. Today, 17 years later, she’s sole proprietress of Pipe Wench Plumbing, Ltd.

“I love this trade, and the variety it provides,” said McGlenen. “I’d get bored if I did the same thing day in and day out. The diversity of work creates a few challenges, but they’re not overwhelming. Different people, places and the occasional challenge keep me on my toes.”

She loves the job so much that she felt a calling to help other women become part of the skilled trade workforce.

A heart for women in the trade

“I want to impact and empower women to see the trades as a viable career,” said McGlenen. “There’s no proper direction in school. School systems aren’t asking young women what they really want to do. Even if they did, few would say they want to be plumbers, pipefitters or HVAC techs because the awareness isn’t there.”

McGlenen’s father didn’t push his own kids—two daughters and a son—toward the skilled trades because from personal experience how it can be hard on the body.

Mechanical Hub, Taco Comfort Solutions, The Pipe Wench, Pipe Wench Plumbing and Heating, Lesley McGlenen, heating and cooling, plumbing“Because the school system doesn’t present the trades as a high value career path, young men and women alike are left to find their own way. The big difference is that the skilled trades are more intimidating for potential female apprentices.”

“I hear comments from time to time that young women are afraid of sexual harassment on a jobsite full of men,” said McGlenen. “I’ll admit, I’ve encountered some of that, but it’s always been a ‘bad apple’ scenario. The vast majority of men I encounter at work are very respectful. The ones I worked with early in my career were great guys.”

“There’s one other thing to consider,” she continued. “As sad as it is, women will face harassment in any job. Harassment isn’t exclusive to the skilled trades and it shouldn’t hang over the trades like a dark cloud. And it goes both ways. Men face harassment in the workplace from women, too. Harassment should not be a deterrent from this industry, and the fact that it’s still perceived this way shows a lack of knowledge and poor communication on our part.”

There’s a trade shortage in general, and women represent only two percent of the field—that alone represents a huge opportunity and room for improvement.

Because women in the trades are still such a rarity, McGlenen believes it’s important for women who’ve found their path as trade pros to speak openly about the broad range of possibilities.

“Women represent half the global population, yet we’re a tiny fraction of the skilled trade industry,” she said. “Why aren’t women jumping into the industry? Why do we feel our only path to success lies in a college education? It’s lack of representation, and that’s what I want to change.”

Taking it to the turf

After moving to Scotch Creek in 2020, McGlenen, an avid golfer, planned to host 30 of her friends at her local golf course. Then an idea struck her.

“I had this big group of women coming to golf, so why not make it a benefit tournament?” she said. “So, I made it official.”

In 2023, the first annual Babes GDGT (Goddamn Golf Tournament) was held at the Talking Rock Golf in Chase, BC, which benefitted the Women in Trades program at Okanagan College. “Funds raised at the golf event helped provide what women in the program need, including making the transition from the program to employment.”

Mechanical Hub, Taco Comfort Solutions, The Pipe Wench, Pipe Wench Plumbing and Heating, Lesley McGlenen, heating and cooling, plumbing

“The goal of the event is to help women achieve the highest level of success possible in their selected skilled trade field,” said McGlenen. “We had 78 women at the golf tournament last year. That was a perfect number. Any more would have been too much for the first year, since I organized that event myself.”

McGlenen draws similarity between the trades and the game of golf. Both are arenas in which women often feel intimidated.

“I think it’s important for women to find excitement and challenge in golf – just as it is in the skilled trades,” she explained. “They need to make an initial push to overcome any hesitation they feel. I use golf as a business tool. Men do it, but women less so. The game can offer great networking opportunities. It’s just a matter of stepping out of your comfort zone.”

Intersecting interests

In 2022, McGlenen was signed into one of Taco Comfort Solutions’ Monday Night Live training sessions when Mike Miller, with Taco Canada, brought up the AHR Expo, suggesting that those in attendance meet up for a round of golf in Las Vegas.

So began the Taco Ryder Cup, in which a US team and a Canadian team go head-to-head on the golf course.

Mechanical Hub, Taco Comfort Solutions, The Pipe Wench, Pipe Wench Plumbing and Heating, Lesley McGlenen, heating and cooling, plumbing“It was great to meet Lesley in person and play golf with her, especially after seeing her on so many of our online training sessions,” said John Barba, Director of Training at Taco and an accomplished golfer. “She plays very well. For the record, Canada has beaten us both times, but neither of those losses were my fault! Lesley won both her matches and I won both of mine!”

“Meeting the Taco trainers and so many of the people I’d seen on social media was so much fun,” said McGlenen. “I became a part of their learning community during COVID and it’s been invaluable since.”

The COVID lockdowns increased the need for online training for tradespeople across North America, but for McGlenen, the remoteness of her shop means that she needs to look online for training opportunities anyway.

“It’s nearly a three-hour drive for me to get to a training session hosted by a rep or wholesaler, and if I want factory training, it requires airfare. Instead, I just sign in to the “Taco After Dark” or “Taco Tuesday” training sessions. I can learn a lot from Dave Holdorf, John Barba and Rick Mayo without leaving my office. The availability of Taco’s tech support crew and the training I’ve received online gives me the confidence to tackle things I may not otherwise undertake.”

Taco appreciates what McGlenen is doing for the trade, so they’ve stepped up as a key sponsor for the 2024 Babes GDGT event. Mechanical Hub has also stepped up to help support GDGT this year with sponsorships.

Babes GDGT moving forward

The next Babes GDGT (@BabesGDGT) golf event will be held at Talking Rock Golf on June 8, 2024, and it’s already sold out with 128 golfers, and more than a few on the waiting list.

Unfortunately, Okanagan College’s Women in Trades Program was recently cut due to lack of provincial funding. But there are other schools in BC with similar programs.

“The fact that the program was cut illustrates how important it is for the trades to present a compelling and attractive pitch to women,” said McGlenen. “We hope to raise twice as much money this year, and we’re taking a close look at how best to support women in the trades with the funds we raise in June.”

In McGlenen’s battle to increase the skilled trade workforce, she’s quick to remind all tradespeople, not just women, that there’s more than enough work to go around. “Me against you” is the wrong mindset.”

“I hope that offering a new perspective, and enthusiastic advocacy for the trades will help to shift the demographic of tradespeople in Canada,” she continued. “There’s so much opportunity!

“With broader awareness of the trades, especially among women, it could lead to a win-win for all—from home and business owners to everyone in the trades,” she said. “We need to collaborate and develop better processes. It’s realistic and achievable, and I’ll do everything I can to help.”