The sign said 'men working,' but girls told city council 'we've seen plenty of women doing construction'

John Tuohy, Indianapolis Star
·3 min read
Brienne Babione (left), 9, stands with her sister Blair Babione, 11, in front of Carmel City Hall on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, a day after the girls visited a council meeting hoping to convince the city to abandon the gendered signage it uses, like the one they're holding.
Brienne Babione (left), 9, stands with her sister Blair Babione, 11, in front of Carmel City Hall on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, a day after the girls visited a council meeting hoping to convince the city to abandon the gendered signage it uses, like the one they're holding.

CARMEL, Ind. – Two sharp-eyed young sisters were hailed as change agents and champions of equality by the Carmel City Council Monday.

While passing Carmel construction zones on their school bus, Blair Babione, 11, and Brienne Babione, 9, saw something that seemed wrong: signs that read “Men Working.”

The girls and their mother, Leslie, did some online sleuthing and discovered that the federal government, states and cities put the signs out of use decades ago in favor of gender-neutral signs, like a shovel, flag or a description of the work.

The girls wrote a letter to City Council President Sue Finkham.

"Why is this sign here? Why does it say, 'Men working' when we've seen plenty of women doing construction?'" the girls wrote.

They quickly got results.

Finkham introduced a resolution to enforce the gender neutral guidelines on Carmel construction projects. It passed unanimously.

“’Men Working” or ‘Men At Work’ signage communicates the false and unacceptable message that women cannot or should not work in the construction trades or other related fields,” the resolution reads. "Having been alerted to gender bias in this community by the thoughtful letters of two of the City’s youngest residents, Blair Babione and Brienne Babione, the Common Council chooses to take official action to promote equality and inclusivity."

Fact check: Sign on gendered language is from Australian cafe, not Whole Foods Market

Finkham said she wanted to reward the girls for their civic responsibility and promotion of equality, especially at the start of Women’s History Month.

“It is about empowering young people,” she said. “Instead of going on social media they wrote a letter to their city council. I’ve never seen that in 10 years on the council.”

Finkham said she inquired with the city and discovered the signs have been obsolete and are not used by Carmel. Apparently, a road crew subcontractor placed their own signs.

Governments now use signs that depict a worker with a shovel or a flag or signs neutrally describing the construction, such as “Utility Work Ahead,” “Mowing Ahead,” “Survey Crew” or “Shoulder Work,” Hamilton County Highway Director Brad Davis said.

Brienne Babione (left), 9, stands with her sister Blair Babione, 11, as their parents John and Leslie Babione stand in the background, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, a day after the girls visited Carmel City Hall hoping to convince the city to abandon the gendered signage it uses.
Brienne Babione (left), 9, stands with her sister Blair Babione, 11, as their parents John and Leslie Babione stand in the background, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, a day after the girls visited Carmel City Hall hoping to convince the city to abandon the gendered signage it uses.

"I don’t believe those 'men working' signs have been used in a long, long time,” Davis said.

At the council meeting female firefighters, police officers and other city workers, including a supervisor in the streets department, gathered around as Breinne and Blair read their letter. Then Finkham presented the girls with the "Men Working" sign as a reminder of their own hard work.

"You can take it home and spray paint it to say 'women' or destroy or hang it on the wall," Finkham said.

The resolution calls for sending out notices to companies that do business with the city to remind them that work zone signs should be gender-neutral.

The girl's mother, Leslie Babione, said she wanted their activism would encourage other young people to engage with their communities.

“We hope, by us calling attention to this matter, that we inspire others to know that their voices, big or small, can make an impact by getting involved in civic duty, learning how government and advocacy works and doing research on a cause you are called to before taking action,” Babione said in an email to IndyStar.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: 'Men working': Girls get Indiana city council to act on old sign