Women in the Workplace

Thursday, March 8, 2018

In November 2015, Justin Trudeau appointed the first ever gender-balanced cabinet in Canadian history - a monumental step for gender equality. Yet, women in Canada are earning $0.87 to men’s $1, only 4.5% of women in Canada work in skilled trades and only 28% in manufacturing (this manufacturing number has remained flat for the past 30 years). 

Where is our progress? It is hard to believe, but in 2018 we are still suffering from gender inequality and divide; especially in skilled trades and manufacturing. It is naïve to expect equality overnight (even though 30 years is a bit longer than that), but why such a large disparity? We know women are capable of doing this work, we saw it during both World Wars and of course, the 4.5% and 28% that are currently doing it. So, why such low numbers?

Misconceptions about these jobs, few opportunities, and lack of training for women, have previously, and continue, to contribute to the low number of women in these positions. At no surprise, women who do find themselves in these positions have high job satisfaction, enjoy flexible schedules, good pay, and even better benefits. While to some it may still seem an unconventional female role, it is time we start changing the narrative and encourage and support women who pursue careers in the skilled trades and manufacturing.

Candice Cahill is a current welder with Kubes Steel in Hamilton, previously employed with the Canadian Forces. Like many women, she chose her career because it provided her a space to be creative and do what she loves. “I love fixing things that are broken,” says Candice. “And welding allows me to do that and gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.” After doing some research and choosing to complete a 24-week Welder Operator Certificate program at Mohawk College Enterprise, Candice says she chose the program because of the “one-on-one practice with experienced trainers.” Candice is no stranger to the lack of women in her field either, during her 24 week program she was the only woman in class
and is currently the only female welder at Kubes Steel.

Many women choose this career path because of the numerous benefits. Marla Robinson, faculty and program coordinator at Mohawk College chose manufacturing because of the ability to secure a job that would provide a living wage and benefits. She experienced a few bumps in the road, however. Despite graduating from Mohawk College at the top of her class, with a diploma as a Mechanical Engineering Technician in Fluid Power Automation, she was the last person hired. “I even interviewed at an aerospace company who said they would love to hire me but did not have washroom facilities for women on the plant floor,” she remembers. “I
was finally hired because of a recommendation of one of my class mates who suggested one of their supplier companies hire me.”

Despite the challenges, Marla loved the work and knew it would be worth it. She’s been working at Mohawk College for almost 20 years developing and delivering curriculum, and also held a position as Acting Associate Dean. Proof that it is possible for women to be leaders in the skilled trades and manufacturing.

Owner and chief manufacturing consultant at Hall Manufacturing, Patti Hall, did not know this was the career path she wanted. After a couple of summer positions working at Dofasco and loving her work, she decided to pursue a career in manufacturing. Upon graduating as the only woman from Materials Engineering Technology from Mohawk College, she went on to pursue manufacturing positions. In her career, she speaks of supportive bosses and little opposition to being a woman in the field. The difficulties arose after she started her own family, “people’s opinions of your capabilities change after you have kids and there isn’t a lot of understanding of what women have to juggle with family and work.”

Women can and are successful in these fields, and organizations are doing a better job in acknowledging this. The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters have begun working to identify key areas necessary to attract and engage women in manufacturing including exposure to these careers and facilities, encouraging young women to pursue an education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) inclusive workplaces, and more. Women need to be inspired and have role models they can identify with and see these positions as a reality. It is time we start taking proactive action and continue encouraging women of all ages, to secure a promising future in these careers.