On Wednesday, August 2nd, the Women’s Centre’s Social Issues Discussion topic was on the challenges faced by women who work in male dominated industries. We had six panelists from a range of industries – legal, trades, oil and gas, and public services.
The discussion started with Lawna who is General Counsel for a transportation company. Lawna brought up her constant struggle of not being heard or taken seriously because of her gender, including in meetings. She also mentioned the lack of accommodation to women who go on maternity leave, often causing female lawyers to lose their clients.
Ali, who is a bike mechanic, followed with a discussion on how customers would constantly assume that she was the receptionist and not the mechanic. Ali also highlighted how exhausting microaggressions were- they are “subtle but offensive comment[s] or action[s] directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.”
Jane is a Red Seal Journeyman Carpenter and business owner. Jane provided a positive spin to our discussion, stating that she, as a business owner, was now able to gain respect from men in her industry, while acknowledging that she felt she had to be “better” and more skilled because of her gender, a perspective Ali had also shared with us.
Kaila, who is an Electrical Engineer, told us about her discomfort being in a working environment where she felt conflicted between her desire to be accepted as a team member, especially being a junior engineer, and confronting her co-workers about derogatory comments about women she witnessed. Moving forward Kaila remains determined not to normalize those behaviours and find ways to challenge them.
CJ is an Automotive Mechanic and business owner. She began experiencing difficulties early on in her journey to becoming a mechanic due to her gender. For example, why did she change her name to CJ? When she finally found someone to take her on as an apprentice, whenever her boss would tell customers her name, Carole, they would refuse to have her work on their vehicles!
Nina, who currently works as a Superintendent for Calgary Police Services, mentioned how she felt she had to go through a process of de-feminization in order to fit expectations from her co-worker and once again bond with her team; keeping in mind that in her line of work you trust your co-workers with your life, team bonding is essential. She also invited us to think about how the lack of women at the table meant that mentorship and sponsorship became a crucial issue.
These women’s stories were received with passionate reactions from the attendees who clearly identified with the specific examples from each panelist. During our Q&A, the focus was on finding ways for women to cope with and combat these problems. Some ideas that were discussed included:
- Having support groups with other women in the same industry to share experiences and help empower women.
- Working harder than men in the same job in order to prove oneself as a capable person.
- Raising awareness and reducing stigma
This post was written by Jenna and Sarah, members of the Social Issues Committee.