Supers Who Break the Glass Ceiling


Ms. Leon said, “Some people are just uncomfortable with a woman.”

Men may feel threatened by a woman super because, well, they themselves should be fixing the leak in the bathroom. Women, meanwhile, may feel uneasy about another woman carrying their parcels.  Let’s not get into how men might feel about handing off a package to a woman. 

“I’ve had managing agents look me in the eye,” Ms. Leon said, “and say: ‘You were such a good candidate. It’s nothing personal, but we just don’t feel comfortable hiring a woman at this time.’ ” What’s been astounding to Ms. Leon is how comfortable these agents feel about expressing their discomfort.

It is equally astounding to Steven D. Sladkus, a real estate lawyer. “It’s shocking to me that a building would be so brazen in its improper attitude,” he said. “Of course, it’s illegal to discriminate against anyone in connection with employment opportunities based on gender. That said, I’m sure many people are loath to pursue the matter for fear of being blacklisted by any other potential employer.”

As Ms. Leon put it, “I love this profession and wanted to keep working in it.” She is happy with how things turned out. “I have a good building,” she said, “and I couldn’t ask for a more welcoming staff and residents. I’ve been moved by it. But I believe that a man with the experience and education that I have would be able to get more benefits and a lot more money, and would have more opportunities, more choices of buildings to work in, than I’ve had.” According to Mr. Bragg of 32BJ, individual buildings set a super’s salary; the union contract spells out the rate of annual wage increases.

Photo

Ms. Kearney at Tribeca Park.

Credit
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Insensitive co-op board members and sexist handymen notwithstanding, more and more women are going to come into the profession, said Tami Veikos, a senior vice president of the Related Companies, which owns and manages Tribeca Park and Tribeca Green.

The role has changed, she said. “Obviously, the mechanical skills have to be there, but now your basic super is a much more rounded person with computer skills and things like that. As the job has evolved and as the requirements for the luxury market, particularly, have become more managerial and more hospitality-driven,” Ms. Veikos continued, “it’s becoming a business that women are seeing themselves in.”

Loretta Zuk is a case in point. “I go from doing work orders on the computer to greeting new residents to supervising the contractors, to figuring out new ways to be energy efficient and yelling at a couple of guys for not cleaning up after themselves,” she said.

You’ll pardon female supers for thinking they bring a little something extra to the table — a little more compassion, a little more cleaning. “I think women listen better and I think they empathize more with tenants about their apartments,” Ms. Kearney said.

Photo

Ms. Leon and her boss, Dee DeGrushe, observe a crew inspecting Addison Hall’s facade.

Credit
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Ms. Leon keeps a mini wet-dry vacuum on her tool cart as well as a dust brush and scrupulously polices the area after finishing a repair, she said. “As a woman I understand how invasive it can feel to have someone come into the home to do work, and I am mindful that I’m in somebody’s home.”

Residents of Tribeca Park, Tribeca Green and Addison Hall may see nothing particularly remarkable about having a female super, but visitors often express surprise. “One man who was here last week said, ‘Wow, you’re the first female resident manager I’ve seen,’ ” Ms. Kearney said, adding that she’s had nothing but support from residents and staff. “And I answered, ‘Yeah? Well, get used to it.’ ”

At Greenwich Tower, “people see me as a selling point for the building,” Ms. Davis said. “Realtors will say, ‘Oh, this is the super. She’s always here and she’s great.’ But I do find that contractors are often surprised. Every couple of weeks I’ll hear from one of them, ‘Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve never seen a female super before.’ ”

“A long time ago,” Ms. Davis added, “My father told me to ‘get a sign that reads, “See the lady super: $5,” and soon you’ll be able to retire.’ ”

Correction: October 16, 2015

An earlier version of a picture caption with this article referred incorrectly to a super shown with a colleague. The super, Janet Leon, is a woman, and is Ms. Leon, of course — not “Mr.”

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