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Sex discrimination in the cabinet industry?

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This question is from Flora in San Francisco:

Dear Katie,

I'm an interior design major at San Francisco State University. I want to be a residential interior designer and I heard that kitchen designers make the most money but that it's a male dominated industry and that women don't last very long. You're a kitchen designer, what do you think about this?

My answer:

It depends on who your employer's target customer is. Female kitchen designers have the most success in showrooms that attract families who own their home and make their own design decisions instead of relying on a building contractor or an architect to make decisions for them. With that said, many showrooms pay straight commission with no base salary, not even minimum wage. Also, they have "contract" workers, not employees.

People who work on straight commission can't get financing from banks such as auto loans and mortgages. Lenders require two years of pay stubs or tax returns in order to verify that your income is high enough and steady enough to qualify for their loan program. Usually folks don't stay in those jobs that long.

There are a few showrooms that pay an hourly wage or a flat salary and I worked at two of them. I worked at The Home Depot for over two and a half years (2001-2003), and during that period my coworkers and I talked about our pay rates. It turned out that Linda, who had over thirty years of experience, was making $22 an hour, and that Steve, who had 20 years of experience, was making $23 an hour. They both had the same sales quota which was $20,000 a week.

The other company was Savage Designer Cabinets in Rocklin. I was one of four drafters, and I was the only female. No one talked about their pay rate but it was clear that the guys had money. They owned houses and they had spending money to eat out and go shopping and go on vacations. By sharp contrast, I rented an old apartment and I had no spending money at all, and no savings. I overheard the shop foreman tell the manager that I was their best drafter by far which seems to indicate that my reduced pay rate had nothing to do with performance.



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