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Ex-office worker finds her niche on utility lines

– Not many women have done what Jennifer Kinsey does when she goes to work every day. Kinsey is a line worker for Duke Energy – the first woman in Indiana to hold the position for the energy provider.

It was a different story a few years ago. Kinsey had a desk job in the human resources department at an energy company in Tennessee. She landed the job after she graduated from college. After earning her master’s degree in adult education and training, she found herself interacting with some of the company’s line workers while reviewing some of their training.

“I liked working with the guys,” the Illinois native told the Madison Courier. “What I found was a lot of the office personnel treated them differently because they weren’t as educated. So there was a difference there that I saw that bothered me. My thought was, ‘Yeah, they don’t have a college education, but they’re educated in a different way than we are.’ ”

After working for the company for six years, her job was outsourced, and Kinsey found herself out of work.

She started talking to a friend – a line worker – when Kinsey brought up the idea of becoming a line worker herself. She got the idea after seeing a website for a line worker training school.

Her friend said that would be the hardest thing she would ever have to do because of her educational background and the fact that she’s a woman. But he added that if Kinsey could make it, she could get a job anywhere.

“That was in October. I went down and visited the school in November. I quit my job in December, mortgaged everything I had and started school in January. It was one of those sink or swim things,” she said.

Enrolling at the school cost nearly $13,000.

While she said taking those initial steps was scary, things didn’t get much easier once she started school. On her first day of class, one of her professors called her out in front of the class because she’s a woman.

“He said ‘You. I give you two weeks.’ I didn’t say anything, but I thought, ‘If you want me out of here, you’re going to have to pick me up and carry me out, because I can’t afford to quit,’ ” Kinsey said.

She took the challenge, even though she was the only woman enrolled and was told she would be only the second woman ever to finish the line school.

Kinsey was one of 93 who graduated that year. There were 104 people enrolled the first day. At graduation, the teacher who challenged her apologized.

After graduation, Kinsey got a job working for Louisville Gas & Electric Co. She was the only woman working the lines for LG&E at the time.

“It’s a very physically demanding job,” Kinsey said. “We think in society, because of what year it is, that everything is (politically correct) and it’s not still just a man’s world out there and people can’t talk to you a certain way. But, when you get into these fields where it’s only a man’s world, that’s not the case. It’s still very much the way it used to be.

“I don’t expect them to change for me. I’m stepping into their world. They’re making special allowances for me, because there are things that I’m not strong enough to do that another guy could. I’m stepping into their world and I’m requiring special help from them.”

With each group of men she’s worked with, Kinsey said she just has to find her niche.

“Once you form a group with everybody you find out where you fit in. It just all kind of works together,” she said.

After working in Louisville, Kinsey took a job in the state of Washington as a supervisor. It was a good job, but she missed the camaraderie from working in the field, she said.

“In an office, your job might depend on somebody else, but you’re not physically out there physically doing a job together every day. I think that forms a bond because you have to rely on somebody else,” she said.

She started looking for work again when she saw Duke Energy was hiring. She got the job in October 2012. Kinsey said she knew Madison was where she wanted to live after she saw an image of a church in Madison.

“The first picture (of Madison) I pulled up was of the church steeple and the fall trees overlooking the river and I was like, ‘OK, that’s where I’m supposed to be.’ ”

So far, she’s happy with the move. Kinsey says she works with a “great group of guys,” and working in the field lets her do things not many people get to do on a daily basis.

“There’s nothing that I have done – not getting a degree or anything else – that is more fulfilling and powerful than going to a town that has been hit by a major storm and the people are just so thankful to see you there,” Kinsey said. “That’s something that an office job typically doesn’t supply.”

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