Winter Park resident and local artist Matt Umbers is currently working on an effort to replace standard “Men Working” signs with gender neutral signage that are used to warn passersby of nearby workers around the City of Winter Park and surrounding areas.
Umbers was inspired to kick off this initiative when a large, orange “Men Working” sign caught his eye near his Maitland-based art studio, Nan’s Place. While most people don’t think twice when they spot these signs, he happened to notice a woman among the team of nearby construction workers. Curious as to how this sign might make her feel as a woman in a generally male-dominated industry, Umbers felt compelled to ask. The female worker explained to Umbers that she finds signs like these to be “unmotivating and challenging.”
Following this interaction, Umbers decided to take action and find a way to coordinate the removal of these “outdated,” gender-specific signs that exclude women. He began by contacting the City of Maitland and City of Winter Park to request the replacement of these signs with gender-neutral versions. The City of Winter Park was responsive to Umbers’ concerns and just last week replaced one of its “Men Working” signs with a new sign that reads “Workers Ahead.”
What Umbers has found, however, is that most of these signs are owned by third party vendors such as landscaping, maintenance, and construction companies working in the community. He is now offering to remove these gender-specific signs and replace them with new ones free of cost for any company willing to participate.
While Umbers is thrilled that this project has taken off with the removal of one city-owned sign, he is looking forward to involving more of the community in this effort. “I want to thank the City [of Winter Park] for taking this seriously, but I also want the community to understand this can’t just be a city project,” Umbers said. “It’s got to be people and local businesses taking action here.” Umbers also credits much of the initiative’s progress so far to Michael Voll, vice president of the Winter Park Library Board of Trustees, who has helped him in the process of communicating with the city.
Umbers’ goal is to remove and replace all “Men Working” and other gender-specific signs from Winter Park by the end of 2021 and to encourage community involvement in this initiative. Currently, Umbers has one “Men Working” sign at his studio, but he hopes to eventually gather enough of the “outdated” signs to create a larger installation.
“I want to make these [signs] into artifacts as opposed to disposing of them as if they never existed,” Umbers said. “That way we can have a reference to understand our past so to speak.”
Umbers welcomes any locals who would like to become involved in this initiative or point out similarly “outdated” signs to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.