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Women at Work: ’Tool-Timing Babydolls’ Don’t Allow Men

Mon June 02, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Chandra Broadwater -ST. PETERSBURG TIMES

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) A pink extension cord snakes along the recently exposed hardwood floor, next to piles of sawdust.

The shrill squeal of a handsaw echoes throughout the one-bedroom garage apartment, part of the latest renovation job for one of the only all-female construction crews in Tampa Bay, the Tool-Timing Babydolls.

“This took us about three weeks,” said owner and president Cathi Chamberlain. Walking through what she calls her “doll house,” she points to the newly painted walls, the tile floor in the bathroom and the kitchen where new countertops will be installed.

Her brown hair in braids that flank her face, Chamberlain wears the same black T-shirt as the rest of her crew. The pink lettering screams the name of her company, the “T” in “Tool” a hammer. She pulled up to the site moments before in her pink Chevy pickup. With the idea of attracting men who want women to do their dirty work, Chamberlain poured her retirement savings into her startup venture last year. After nearly a decade’s worth of remodeling experience, the St. Petersburg resident was working on her seventh fixer-upper when the thought of an all-girl crew popped into her head.

“I just couldn’t see myself on a job site with a bunch of guys,” Chamberlain said, walking from the apartment to the main house. She passes yet another dismantled kitchen, where a pair of hot pink hard hats rest on the floor.

“Aren’t they cute?” she asked.

So far, her hunch has proved right. Though working in a jittery economy, she’s had about 30 jobs over the past year. While men have been calling, she’s found that women also like the idea of hiring her crew.

Women can be more comfortable with other women working around their house and their kids, she said. Plus, female customers appreciate that they have “an eye for detail that men don’t. We’d never use a brass nail to install a chrome fixture.”

With seven full-time women on her payroll, including herself, Chamberlain found her crew with ads on Craigslist. Her ladies have at least five years’ experience, and can do drywall, electrical, tile — just about anything a man could do.

The building contractor has a few rules. No drama, no short shorts or low-cut shirts.

“I drive around with these really ugly work pants,” she said. “One time I caught one of my girls showing her G-string every time she bent over. We don’t do that.”

Ashley Turner, a single mom with three children, loves her job. The Dade City resident, who has worked for Chamberlain about two months, said she faced discrimination at other job sites as often the only woman around.

“They’d restrict me to only doing the painting,” she said. “You have to work harder if you’re a woman. Here, you know you’re not going to be limited.”

As she continues to grow her company, Chamberlain hopes to create franchises her employees can one day head themselves. She’s also on the prowl for investors to raise more capital.

“There are going to be pink trucks everywhere,” she said. “Just wait and see.”

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