Antoinette (Toni) LeClare is a woman who saw an opportunity at Seattle City Light and seized it. As a hydroelectric operator, she is something of a rare breed; very few women have made a career out of the work she does.
Toni is quick to credit pioneers like Heidi Durham and Megan Cornish with paving the way for women in electrical trades at City Light, but despite her modesty Toni remains a ground breaker at the utility. After almost 34 years at City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project, Toni has proven herself to be persistent, tough and very good at her job.
Toni’s work ethic has been rewarded with a leadership position. She is currently working as an out of class generation supervisor, one of five supervisors at the Skagit Project. In this week’s Seattle City (spot)Light, Toni talks about her career in the electricity-generating business.
OOC Generation Supervisor Toni LeClare
I came to work for Seattle City Light because they invited women into the workforce, just like the RSJI initiative today is trying to make our workforce look like the community at large. It’s flattering to me that people think of me as someone who broke ground for other women (and I probably was to some extent), but there were women before me who really took risks. They were very politically-minded and outspoken and really opened the doors for other women to come to work here.
Now women are supervisors, crew chiefs, lineworkers, operators or anything they want to be. But in my career, I’ve only known two other women who were hydro operators.
I am a high school graduate, with two years of college. I was working at an aluminum plant in Vancouver, WA, where I was apprenticing with the electrical maintenance crew when I got laid off. I had only been in the program for one year, but the aluminum company continued to pay for my school after I got laid off.
Minimal qualifications for applying for my City Light job were two years’ experience or the equivalent. City Light considered my time working at the aluminum plant in combination with my schooling in order to qualify me to take the test. I did well on the test and I must have had some OK interviews, because I got hired and started as a hydro operator in 1983.
It was challenging when I came to work at the Skagit Project. Operator jobs are very sought after, and I took a lot of flak. There was a rumor mill going that said I hadn’t passed my test and lots of other things. I had to overcome people’s preconceived notions about me. I thought about leaving, but I’m pretty stubborn. The harder it got, the more determined I became to stick it out.
So it was difficult for me at first. When you’re an operator, you eat, sleep and breathe the job. My son was eight years old when I started working in Newhalem, and I was a single parent. The operating job is very demanding of your time. When he was playing sports in school and I was working all these weird shifts, I still made it out to support him.
I lived in the camp for 27 years and responded to callouts during that time. I’m proud of the fact that I would go out by myself, in the in the middle of the night and the worst weather imaginable, to respond to a bad situation. I was in the volunteer fire department for 20 years and I was an EMT for 13, so most people see me as very competent. I have a sense of accomplishment about that, and it gives me confidence.
The way I look at things, if you have an interest, you pursue it. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the traditional jobs women have had over the years. My mother was a very good secretary, but I always knew I didn’t want to do what she did. When you have an opportunity, you can either make the best of it or let it pass you by. Now I make a very good living here.
I get along with men really well, but that doesn’t mean that I look at things the same way men do. And I don’t keep my mouth shut if something needs to be said. I hope my presence here brings some balance. I really care about what happens here, and I’m emotionally involved.
The most satisfying things in life are often not the easiest ones. I don’t think I am anything special; I just take things one day at a time and put one foot in front of the other. If I’m anything, I’m persistent.