Fem-industries: Men breaking new ground

From cosmetology to day care, these men have succeeded in fields dominated by women

Tony Spingola has faced years of stereotypical reactions because of his job as cosmetologist. The father of three, who has been married for 37 years, said that while it is far more common for men to work in his field on the East Coast, he continues to love the industry he has worked in since 1963.

Dan Hiestand
   This past June, while Michael Watters was watching his daughter’s high school graduation from the sidelines, he said he had a realization.
   “There were kids who walked with her who I potty trained 16 years ago,” said Watters, who is the executive director and founder of Kid’s World, Inc., a childcare company based in Whatcom County. “I’m proud of that.”
   In a sense, Watters is a pioneer for men in a field typically dominated by women. As he admits and as statistics show, he is one of the few.
   When he first started his business in 1990 in the basement of his home, he left his job in sales and marketing — as well as a lucrative career — and took a chance on his life’s passion: working with children.
   “A lot of people told me, ‘Michael, you’re a nut. You can’t open a preschool,’” Watters remembered people saying. “‘Nobody is going to bring their kids to you. Why would they do that? You’re a guy. Here’s my little girl, come change her diapers and potty train her.’”
   But parents did — and despite the skepticism of many, Watters’ company flourished.
   After starting with just 12 children (including two of his own), the company has boomed. Today, Kid’s World, Inc., works with approximately 400 children on four “campuses.” The company even boasts an aquatic center and gymnasium, and Watters said he hopes to open another campus in Ferndale in November.
   Not bad for someone who was going to have a tough time breaking into the industry.
   For some men, the path to career success comes via unconventional means — including professional forays into fields typically dominated by the opposite sex. These experiences can draw myriad responses from clients, family, colleagues and the men themselves — and perhaps even alter some stereotypes along the way.

Breaking through stereotypes
   Tony Spingola has been a cosmetologist since 1963. At the start of his career, he worked on Long Island in New York.
   “After I got my license, I found that I really liked it,” he said. After five years in New York, he moved to California, where he worked off-and-on in the field for nearly four decades.
   Nearly three years ago, he moved to Bellingham, and he currently rents a booth at Exclusively Yours Salon in Fairhaven. Along the way, he’s raised three kids and been married 37 years. Spingola said he realizes he is one of the few men in his field, but the decision to become a cosmetologist was a natural one from the start.
   “My brother wanted me to go into (the industry), my sister-in-law is still in it, her daughter is in it,” he said. “My aunt and my uncle were in it. Maybe that was the reason why my brother felt I should try this.”
   A family history played a role in Watters’ career path, too. Watters, whose mother and father were both hairdressers, said his family was very supportive of his decision to go into a “less traditional” field.
   “My father was in something that was a little less traditional, and he pioneered for me, where maybe I would have had some more fear and trepidation in trying to follow this dream,” Watters said. “My dad was really successful — and you can imagine the stereotypes as a hairdresser in the ‘40s and ‘50s and the ‘60s and ‘70s.”
   Spingola said his career choice has not been entirely without misunderstandings.
   “It was very uncomfortable for me, especially here in Washington,” Spingola said. “My manhood was questioned — and it was the same thing when I moved to California from New York. New York is different. Most of the men there are entrepreneurs. They go to school, they work a couple of years behind the chair and then they open a business. When I came to California, it was the same (as Washington). When I was dating (in California), as soon as women found out I was a hairdresser, they would ask, ‘Are you straight?’ Once you get to know and meet me, you know I’m not (gay). It’s that simple.”
   Stereotypes and professional isolation can be par for the course at times, said Bruce Gearhart, president and founder of Home Attendant Care, a home-care provider in Bellingham.
   “When you’re a home-health social worker and you go to a regional meeting of home-health social workers, there’s like three men and 40 women. It’s just something you get used to,” said Gearhart, a former lieutenant with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department in Colorado. “Sometimes there’s reverse discrimination. Usually males get to discriminate against women. I’ve had (colleagues) say that men have no business being a social worker.”
   However, Gearhart said colleagues in his industry have been very welcoming of him overall. Watters shared a similar viewpoint, even going so far as to describe the childcare industry in Bellingham as a sort of partnership.
   “I’ve been embraced and warmly received and I’m very active in director’s organizations,” he said. “The childcare providers and preschool owners … we’re partners. We all work together. If we have a child that maybe doesn’t work well with us, maybe they’ll do well (at a different school).”
   Men can also provide a different point of view, said Debbie Gann, director at Home Attendant Care. In this respect, she said Gearhart has been a valuable part of the company’s success.
   “I’ve appreciated the innate differences in how we view things,” Gann said. “Actually, Bruce has pretty much been a mentor to me.”
   She said there are times when Gearhart has been isolated by female colleagues in the field simply because he’s a man, but overall his impact has been very valuable and he has been well-received.
   “I think it’s been very advantageous for us to have a male perspective, because there is a little bit different way of looking at things,” Gann said. “You have to look at everything from all sides, so it’s been very valuable.”

Michael Watters, executive director and founder of Kid’s World, Inc., said he wishes more men would get involved in the female-dominated field of childcare, because men bring a different set of skills that complement those of their female peers.

Men moving in?
   Slowly, men are starting to creep into his field, said Gearhart. Of the approximately 120 employees at Home Attendant Care, just 10 are men, he said.
   However, this is up from closer to zero not so long ago, Gann said.
   “Five or six years ago, we had trouble placing just one male,” she said.
   Gearhart said the industry’s growth is spurring the interest of more and more men.
   “At this point, I think there is much more integration,” he said. “Men are moving in to the field … Now that it’s a growing field, I think you’ll see a lot more men. But they’re going to come in probably at ownership level or management level.”
   Watters said stereotypes and ego often have a lot to do with men making career choices.
   “I think we still have real socially defined, society defined role-pressure. Men do this kind of work. Women do this kind of work.”
   He said he still feels pressure at times, despite his company’s success.
   “When you say, ‘I’m a preschool teacher,’ everybody goes, ‘Oh no, not really, what do you do?’ A lot of guys don’t want to do that,” he said.
   Another roadblock — for Watters in particular — involves safety concerns.
   “There are concerns — especially for men — of false allegations and these kinds of things (in childcare). I was very conscious of it. I still am,” he said. “When we build our new facilities, you can stand on one side of our center, and you can look into a classroom through the classroom, through the hallway, through the next classroom, through the window and out to the other side of the playground because we have windows everywhere.”
   And then there is the issue of pay.
   “(Childcare) doesn’t pay very well, No. 1,” Watters said.
   “You don’t get into social work for the pay,” added Gearhart.
   Interestingly, women’s work-force dominance in these fields doesn’t translate to higher pay for women. According to data collected in the second quarter of 2005 by The Quarterly Workforce Indicators, males in the same field as Gearhart, Spingola and Watters all pull in more monthly earnings than their female counterparts.
   Gearhart said the reason for that is simple — but not right.
   “I don’t think women have a power base,” said Gearhart, who is handing off the reins of full company ownership to Gann this fall when he retires. “(Unfortunately), the people who have the power haven’t valued many of the things that women have done over the years.”
   For the men who do make it in these industries, women play a pivotal role, Gearhart said.
   “Most of my colleagues are women,” he said. “Men couldn’t make it in a female-dominated field without real, genuine support from the women around them.”
   Concerns, stereotypes and problems aside, these men love what they do.
   “It’s very interesting. I love my work,” said Spingola. “I’ve been doing it for so many years and I’m glad I went into this profession. It’s been very lucrative for me. I’ve raised three kids and always had a house.”


Tony Spingola, 65
Occupation: Cosmetologist, Exclusively Yours
When did you start? 1963
What do you like about your job? “I like working with people. I’m just a one-to-oner. I like being creative. I like the challenge. It’s like a sixth-sense: it’s like you’re an artist … you’re dealing with a very personal subject, and it takes time to find the right thing.”
Is there a difference between the East Coast and the West Coast regarding your industry? “It’s totally different in the east than it is in the west. I’ve done people that have never had a male stylist before … Back east, they request male stylists because we see things differently than women … I’d say (the work force seemed to be) half men, half women in New York. Here it’s mostly women.”

Bruce W. Gearhart, 58
Occupation: President/Founder, Home Attendant Care
When did you start? 1983
Why did you get into the field? “No one was doing it. It fit me pretty well. I have a lot of comfort with the concept and the ideas (of what I do).”
Statistics indicate that women in your field are paid less than men. What do you think about this? “There is no reason why they should be paid less. I’ve had a lot of help along the way, and most of that help has been from women. I wouldn’t be here without women.”

Michael Watters, 50
Occupation: Executive Director, Founder, Kid’s World, Inc.
When did you start? 1990
Why do you like to work with kids? “I like their imagination. I like their desire to learn. I like their creativity. I like their innocence. I like that kids trust and kids believe. I like that kids believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and in good and in the Easter Bunny. They believe that all things are possible. I am absolutely passionate about what I do.”
What can men bring to the industry? “I wish more men would get involved because they could have a real profound impact. Men and women are different — and not just physically. Young kids need positive males in their early learning experience.”

Salary equality?

Childcare services, cosmetology and home care services are all female-dominated in terms of workforce population. In terms of salary — that seems to be a different story.
The following numbers are based on The Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI), which are derived from state administrative records and basic demographic information from the Census Bureau:

Child Day Care Services
Whatcom County:

Total workforce population: 390
Number of men: 49 (12.6 percent) avg. monthly earnings — men $1,612
avg. monthly earnings — women $1,362

Personal Care Services
Whatcom County:
Total workforce population:
Number of men: 22 (9.5 percent) avg. monthly earnings — men $1,648
avg. monthly earnings — Women $1,299

Social Assistance: Individual and Family Services
Whatcom County:
Total workforce population:
Number of men: 185 (21 percent) Avg. Salary — Men
Avg. Salary — Women



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