Leading by Example at UCSF: Women in Custodial Services

By Robert Hood on June 11, 2021


What’s it like being a woman leader in custodial services? We’ll let one of UC San Francisco’s lead custodians explain.

“First of all, you have to respect yourself and others,” said Lead Custodian Nadine Calhoun. “You have to be willing to listen. I don’t think of it as a job. It’s more than that to me. I love cleaning and being around people and I’ve been here since 2003.”

Calhoun (photographed, left), Jiahua (Anna) Lin (second, left), Jenny Low (far right), and Debbie Lozano Pena (second, right), all agree they enjoy the challenges of working as custodians at UCSF and would encourage others to join them. “Becoming a custodian is the first step in building a career in environmental services,” Pena said. “It can be hard sometimes, because we have a lot of responsibilities, but there are a lot of opportunities waiting for us.”

And one of the benefits of the job is working with customers. “I love seeing the happy faces of our customers because they enjoy being in a place that is clean,” Low said. At the same time, the job does come with challenges. “Unbeknownst to many, being a custodian requires a lot of strength. We are constantly carrying and moving equipment and supplies. It also requires a lot of stamina, because we’re on our feet walking around all day. But I would say to any female that wants to become a custodian, don’t let any doubts get in your head. We are just as strong as our male counterparts.”

Calhoun has been at UCSF for 18 years; Low has worked at the university for 15 years while Lin and Lozano Pena both joined about four years ago. Lozano Pena said one of the primary reasons she joined UCSF was the multicultural environment. Since joining the university, she has earned her bachelor’s degree and a certificate in management and supervision. “I will continue to seek more opportunities within the organization,” she said.

As for their day-to-day routines, each is assigned to a different area of campus. Lin works in Genentech Hall while Low is responsible for the entire Rutter Center. They all begin their day by checking in with their staff, organizing their team, and making sure everyone has the necessary supplies to get the job done. If an area is short on staff, they step in to help.

Custodial Supervisor, Elia Camacho, said it’s important for all of the university’s custodians to understand that they are often the first point-of-contact for the customer. “That relationship is very important,” she said. “Being a people person is critical for our lead custodians.”

And when it comes to communication, Lozano Pena can do so in multiple languages. “I’m fluent in Spanish and English, I know basic American Sign Language, and I have plans to learn Mandarin because of the multicultural environment at UCSF.”

Calhoun says she has a very good relationship with her customers. “I want them to talk with me so they can let me know what we are doing well and where we can improve,” she said. Calhoun also takes the information she receives from her customers back to her team. “Customer service is always our top priority.”