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Former apprentice overcomes biases to make history in male-dominated field: 'I knew that I was going to do my part'

"During the pandemic, I thought to myself, 'If we're all going to die, I might as well die doing what I love.'"

"During the pandemic, I thought to myself, ’If we’re all going to die, I might as well die doing what I love.’"

Photo Credit: Women Do Everything

Tonya Hicks overcame numerous biases against her to make history in a male-dominated field, and now she is helping other women forge their own paths into lucrative industries. 

The founder of electrical engineering firm Power Solutions, launched in 2000, spoke to Canary Media about her rise from apprentice to electrician to president and CEO of her own company, which has 10 people on staff and is increasing its impact in the clean energy sector.

"During the pandemic, I thought to myself, ​'If we're all going to die, I might as well die doing what I love,'" Hicks told the outlet of her motivation to make renewable energy projects, including solar panel and smart home installations, her primary focus.   

Local governments, churches, hospitals, and organizations are among her clients.

As detailed by Canary Media, Hicks' journey to this path began in the 1990s, when she was enrolled at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, with a full scholarship in mathematics. 

Despite her talent, Hicks explained that she was repeatedly discouraged from pursuing her passions, including by a male professor who told her that "women don't do those [math] jobs," advising her instead to become a teacher. 

The world of electricians piqued her interest when she was working a part-time job at a construction site, mostly as a cleaner, as the electricians regularly used mathematics in their day-to-day activities.

This led her to join a 40-hour-per-week apprenticeship through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, and while she regularly faced bias from others, she persisted. 

"They'd put me in the office trailer and anywhere there was something to clean up," Hicks, who is Black, told Canary Media of her time in the program, explaining that even though she was being underestimated by her professional peers, who were mostly white men, being confined to the trailer gave her time to understand how to run the business side of things.   

Hicks ultimately became the first woman electrician of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Local 917, as well as Mississippi's first certified Black woman journeyman.

Today, in addition to being CEO of Power Solutions, she is running the career-training agency Women Do Everything, which she established in 2015 to help women break into well-paying, male-dominated industries. 

"Women need equitable career and job opportunities that pay a livable wage, benefits that support women's health, and access to affordable housing," Hicks said in a statement on the agency's website, which notes that only 2.4% of electricians in the United States are women.

Hicks also has her eye on educating younger generations about beginning a career in trades, and she is working on establishing new brands to empower women to make eco-friendly decisions.

Hicks founded sheEV, a company focused on helping women overcome hurdles that prevent them from switching to electric vehicles, which are mostly purchased by men

EVs don't produce harmful pollution when driven and require less costly maintenance, but concerns about safety during charging times are among the things that can hold women back from reaping those benefits. sheEV, though, plans to manufacture charging devices to alleviate some of those worries.

Next up on the clean energy front is She Solar, which Hicks intends to launch this spring. 

"I've always been a big-problem person. And while I had no clear plan of how I was going to help save the Earth, I knew that I was going to do my part and that I was gonna bring other women with me," she told Canary Media. 

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