Challenges for Women Working in the Trades
Are you the creative and hands-on type? Do you welcome a challenge? Does the idea of travelling for work appeal to you? If so, you might consider a career in the skilled trades.
There are many options available, from construction and transportation to manufacturing and service. Trades pay well, the average salary being double that of a retail position. Not to mention, there is a shortage of skilled workers in Canada, meaning plenty of employment opportunities.
Skilled workers are the backbone of society and the economy. What can be more satisfying than that? That said, like any career, the trade industries are not without obstacles, especially if you’re a woman entering the field.
These days more women are pursuing skilled trades more commonly associated with men. There are also bursaries, apprenticeships, and training programs geared to women. Companies are even encouraged by the government to hire female workers.
Nevertheless, women are still underrepresented in the trades, making up less than 10 percent of the workforce according to Statistics Canada. Being a visible minority on a job site often comes with feelings of isolation and alienation. Hypatia, a Nova Scotia women’s organization conducted several focus groups with female skilled workers (Working It Out, 2008).
Here are some of the issues that were raised:
• Lack of accessible washrooms for women.
• Ill fitting work attire and safety equipment.
• Inappropriate images of women displayed on work premises.
• Being downright ignored by male co-workers.
One of the more obvious challenges a woman might face is discrimination. Remember, the skilled trade industries are male dominated.
Several women have reported discrimination from male co-workers, supervisors and even clients who are more used to dealing with male workers. According to the Hypatia study, discrimination can range from passive criticism, like a male co-worker telling a female co-worker she should pursue a more traditional line of work, to being denied the same rights and privileges given to male workers (i.e. Equal pay). Other women have reported harassment from male co-workers. This can range from insults and intimidation to catcalling and even sexual assault. Remember that under no circumstances are any of these behaviours to be tolerated. It is important to speak up and get help if this happens.
A company should have a strong policy in dealing with discrimination and harassment. It is their duty and responsibility, by law to provide a safe and supportive environment for all employees. This is a basic human right.
Of course, many female workers have also reported positive experiences on the jobsite. Before accepting a position, it’s always a good idea to find out about a company’s policies to ensure that they accommodate the needs of a female worker and that they promote safe and supportive work practices.
It’s important to remember that, with these challenges, comes great support. Female workers can reach out to one another through professional associations, annual conferences, mentorship programs, and even social networking platforms. By taking advantage of these resources you can and will succeed!