The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

I have one pet peeve about my employer, the City of Seattle Department of Transportation. Of the 99 field positions, only about 5 of them are filled by women. In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this, both of which could be solved if, in fact, SDOT actually wanted women in their field positions. But I see no real evidence that they do.

The first is that they don’t reach out to women who are qualified for these jobs. There are all sorts of organizations, such as the National Association of Women in Construction, Women Who Weld, and Washington Women in Trades, that they could partner with. I’ve pointed this out, but it goes unheard.

The most SDOT seems to do is set up a table at the annual Women in Trades convention here in town. And behind that table is the next reason that we have so few women in field positions: The cubic yard test.

As far as I know, this test has been SDOT’s way of weeding out the unworthy for field positions for decades. Before you’re hired, you must be able to shovel a cubic yard of sand (in other words, three feet by three feet by three feet) over a three foot wall in a ridiculously short amount of time. I know I couldn’t do it. (And why should anyone? Just get the dang dump truck to dump the sand on the other side of the freakin’ wall!)

Here’s the thing. I’ve spoken to many, many field employees about this, and when I ask them how often they are required to do such strenuous work, they all say that they’ve had to do something like that maybe once or twice in their decades-long careers. So why set the bar so high? Obviously, because there are certain people you don’t want to get the job.

One year, I volunteered at the Women in Trades convention. They had me timing the women who were shoveling the sand. In the hot summer sun. Without water. It was painful to watch. Only two women could do it.

I’m sure I’d understand this hurdle if it were logical. But since it isn’t, it never fails to set my teeth on edge. For such a progressive city, this is a backward test, not unlike the way the South used to require literacy tests before allowing people to vote. It’s time to make a change. And the most frustrating thing is that this change would be so easy to make.

And yet here we are.


Read any good books lately? Try mine!


7 thoughts on “The Cubic Yard Test

  1. Angiportus says:

    I thought it was going to be “Can all of your really important possessions fit into a cubic yard?” [Not sure, my bike does not fold up.] Now…how stupid to use an unrealistic fitness test, and don’t get me started on that.
    Enjoy the pink trees. When I 1st landed here I was flabbergasted to see trees that didn’t even wait to leaf out before turning into great pink clouds.

    1. Yeah, it is pretty amazing. Too bad the cubic yard test isn’t with cherry blossom petals instead of sand. Now that would be cool to watch.

  2. Somebody says:

    I think that test goes back to the days of when the winter sanding method used by the SDOT had been their field trucks with two employees in the back shoveling that cubic yard of sand onto icy roads. as they drove the streets. That WAS the winter snow response equipment Seattle used in the 1980’s. Times have changed; so should the city’s hiring requirements.

    1. That makes sense. But it’s definitely time to get with the 21st century.

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