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Women are Killin it in the Funeral Industry

The image of a funeral director most people have in their mind, is a middle aged or older man in a dark suit, polished cap toed oxfords; with a freshly shaved face, a bald head or perfect hair, and he may have recently gotten a manicure. He is soft spoken and uses a lot of euphuisms. He drives a newer dark sedan, which is always clean.

In the past few years, there has been an influx of women joining funeral services. When I began my embalming course a number of years ago, only had 2 men in it, and one of them dropped out. I had done a market research paper on the industry and found that it was a male dominated field, but that is all about to change, based on the number of young women in my class and demographic of new employees.

Often when I greet a new family at the front door of a funeral home, they assume I am the office administrator. I announce to them that I'm their funeral director, they're often surprised. Many funeral homes are becoming solely staffed with women. The vision of the euphemistic gentleman is gradually disappearing.

Most women in the industry (myself included), wanted to be embalmers. They have been putting makeup on that giant Barbie mannequin head since they were five. Tie that in with a love of murder mysteries and true crime anything; add a fitted black suit and a pair of flashy pumps. Women are proving they got this!

There is an increase in demand for cremations, therefore a decline with embalming. Setting features can be done in about 20 minutes. There’s always arrangements to be made, so the employee must justify their wages. Most funeral homes want someone with a dual license, and women make great funeral directors.

In my personal experience, a great funeral director will do whatever it takes to accommodate a grieving family. Provided it is within the legal boundaries of their jurisdiction. Even if that means working 16 hour days on an 8 hour salary. We take a heavy workload, offering to go over and above making ourselves available at all times. This is how a lot of female funeral directors operate and that’s why we are leaving our aging counterparts in the retort dust.

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The struggles of being on call 24 hours a day, working late and coming in early is difficult. If you have a family or any type of social life, you certainly don't sleep much. I would always make comments about how I wish I had a wife, who had dinner on the table and spent the afternoon ironing my shirts, like the guys at my work do. SoonI'll be washing my underwear in the bathroom sink and living on breath mints and cigarettes.If the job paid well enough to have a house husband or a nanny, I am sure that women would have taken over the industry already.

When employers hire a woman in funeral service, in the back of their mind, are they thinking, "Can she move a 400 pound person? Is she going to get pregnant? Will she go on maternity leave and then I'll be short staffed again, with no budget to hire someone?"

If you do decide to have children or end up being a single parent, how do you handle a night removal? Are you going to put the car seat beside you in the hearse or next to the body on the stretcher? Many larger cities have transfer companies to take care of this, but it can still be an issue. Is your employer considering this? I’m not saying you can't be a funeral director and a mom. There are women who do it, but I don't know how. It’s all about choices, and women have always struggled with the decision to balance kids and career.

I worked for an equal opportunity company for many years, and was paid far more than my counterparts, who worked for family run funeral homes. I know this from the networking discussions which took place at provincial symposiums. One day, when I came home from work, complaining after the realization that some other students had their tuition paid. My roommate said, "have you asked them about reimbursing you?" I hadn't. When I did ask, it was granted. I was shocked.

I began asking for permission and funding to execute new ideas, regarding community involvement. I even asked for a company therapy dog and was told it would be considered. I believed that the more I offered of myself to the company, they would understand how valuable I was and reimburse me accordingly.

I filled the job tasks of more than 2 people. With dreams of becoming the CEO and make enough money to live by myself, own a standard poodle and help my mom in retirement. That was not to be. Statistically women are less likely to ask for a wage increase or better benefits when compared to their male counterparts and funeral service is no different.

One day I was having a discussion with a non licensed funeral attendant, and found out that

I was getting just over a dollar of what he was paid hourly, with no credentials. I was salaried, making funeral arrangements and embalming for 2 funeral homes now. I was burning out, while he was living the stress free life of no student loan, instructing people to sign the register book and follow me in a car to the cemetery.

It was as much my fault as my managers. My salary hadn't been discussed since I started a number of years ago. I thought I was doing well, and my brain kept saying you're making more than the women at that other funeral home.

Are we actually killin' it? We tend to compare our value based on what others are doing. As women, we need to be asking for the appropriate wages and treatment if we have worked hard for them. Nobody is going to read our minds. If we are told no, we need to evaluate whether the place we are at, is where we want to be and if there’s room for growth.

If funeral homes want to keep their hardworking staff, managers need to support employees regularly by reviewing salaries and ensuring their ideas and input are valued. There is a budget, but if your staff find a better opportunity are you going to kill it on your own?

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