Women in Welding

#WomenofSteel Article on Women in Welding

Women in Welding

In 2015, 54% of legislators and senior government managers and officials were women, up 17% from 37% in 1987.  Women's participation rate in business and finance increased more than 44% from 1987 (38%) to 2009 (51%) (Catalyst, 2018). Women account for just 4.5% of skilled trade workers in Canada.

Looking at some of the statistics above, it is glaringly evident that women are making leaps and bounds in many areas of the workforce, but their involvement in the trades remains alarmingly low. There are many reasons why women are not seen in the skilled trades market, some of which can be blamed on common misconceptions and others on unfair treatment in the workplace. However, there is no doubt that employers have realized that there is a gaping shortage of skilled workers that can be fi lled with the right training and a change in attitude towards welcoming women into the trade. It is no secret that that working in the welding sector and many other trades can often be physically demanding work. This is one of the top concerns when promoting welding to women; the idea that a woman is incapable of working in a job that requires physical ability. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The team at CWB Group had the opportunity to speak to many women currently employed in the trades, specifically in the welding sector and found that not only are they working as welders but are taking on various leadership roles in the organization. They believe that although physical strength is essential to getting certain aspects of the job done correctly and effi ciently, it takes more than just power and muscle.

“There are preconceived notions about whether women can handle themselves in a male-dominated environment. However, we at the Bucket Shop quickly realized that skills show themselves. Whoever is making sparks will be seen pretty fast, and that is what levels the playing fi eld. When a worker, be it male or female, is placed beside a large piece of equipment, and the output is identical, it drops a lot of barriers between people and allows for many women to be welcomed as productive, contributing employees,” shared Jamieson Pouw, Market Development Manager at the Bucket Shop.

This organization is dedicated to providing solutions for all mining bucket applications and has been in business for almost 30 years. The organization haswitnessed and experienced many signifi cant changes over time including watching the organization transition from being an all-male environment to one that is eagerly opening its doors to women. “Our culture has evolved… [and we are] embracing a flat model that collaborates for more learning opportunities. We view mistakes as our biggest opportunities to learn and want to create an environment that employees are excited to be in.” The Bucket Shop quickly learned that they were no longer part of a working environment that had the pick of the land regarding the tradespeople. They adapted to the growing needs of the skilled trades and adjusted their company culture to recognize the importance of placing the right people in the right jobs. They put great emphasis on the character of a person and a desire for their employees to learn. That became the benchmark against which each potential candidate was measured, and they quickly found themselves hiring more women into the organization. They now boast about 20% women in their production environment who are some of the best welders on their floor. Their appreciation for details, desire to learn, and a strong willingness to share ideas and feedback has allowed them to become some of the most active employees in the organization.

After speaking to a number of women that work in the trades or did at one point enjoy a career in welding, it is natural to assume that the trades have always been an old boys’ club. Considering that every person entering the workforce has the desire to grow and prosper in their chosen path, there is some hesitation for women to pursue acareer in welding with the fear that they would be overlooked for a promotion or learning opportunity. There is little doubt that many women have had negative experiences which have reinforced their fears that the shop floor isn’t the place for them. One woman’s account of her experiences in the industry played into thegeneralization that the fi eld is no place for a woman. “Why do you work here anyway? You should be a teacher or something, you shouldn’t be out here with us,” were just some examples of the discrimination that she had to endure. In instances such as these, we need to focus our resources on educating men on the benefi ts of diversityin the field and the value that women can bring to the job.

With that said, many women have had a very positive experience, and their male colleagues have not only accepted them but helped them prosper in their jobs. Employers who recognize the dire need for women in the workplace have made significant changes to their training processes including implementingcross-training in which employees can share their expertise with each other creating a more symbiotic environment for company employees. The Bucket Shop began hiring women into the organization about seven years ago, but instead of pushback, they experienced a level of  curiosity by the men that had never worked alongside a woman welder. With the  changes and shortages in the welding industry, the company was more than happy to open up the labour pool to various workers and worked with schools, colleges, and universities to change the negative perceptionabout the trades which included educating women about the benefits of pursuing a blue-collar job.

Jennifer Carr, now a Specialty Gas Territory Manager at Praxair, started off as a welder in 1999. Jennifer advises women pursuing the trades to be aware of the physical aspects of the job but not be overwhelmed by them. Adequate training and understanding of all aspects of the job is an integral part of maintaining a safe work environment which can help prevent injuries. Although an adjustment in the beginning, Jennifer found that as time went on, her male counterparts became more accepting of her as a welder and many of her employers even brought temporary bathrooms onsite to ensure that she was comfortable on the job. Stephanie Hornby, Human Resources Senior Manager at Praxair, encourages hiring managers to champion, model and drive the values and benefits of diversity and inclusion within the organization. These behaviors will allow the business to benefit from the different skill sets and backgrounds of all employees. "As a manager, you are constantly looking for creative and innovative ways to provide solutions for customers. To find the best talent requires us to cast a wide net including candidates from all backgrounds, industries and skill sets. Engaging the best talent drives innovation. To help employees engage fully, Praxair is committed to providing an inclusive working environment, whether in the field or in an office environment for all employees.”

In order to address the issue of discrimination across the workplace, new legislation has been introduced to ensure that all persons are treated equally regardless of immigration status, genetic characteristics, police records, and social condition with respect to services, goods and facilities, the occupancy of accommodation, the right to contract, employment and membership in various types of organizations. See Figure 1. for Bill-164, 2017. Employers in industry are not only encouraged but required to treat all employees justly and have been made aware of the legislation. This is indicative of acknowledgment from the welding industry that changes need to be made and as Jamieson Pouw from the Bucket Shop said, “With the revised Bill-164 legislation coming into effect, we’ve hadto learn how to deal with people differently. In the old boys’ trade, there was certain conduct that occurred and had been in place for years. However, we had to learn how to act differently with thepeople that were in the environment, and it became a sensitizationprocess where we had to learn how to conduct ourselves appropriately. We had to do it naturally, and there were provincial policies inplace that forced us to do it correctly.”

Being a tradesperson is a fulfi lling career path and should be opento all those with interest in working in a hands-on industry. With governmental laws and the keenness of employers to widen thecandidate pool, our industry and economy will be greatly prosperous going forward.

Bill-164

Employment 5 (1) Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, immigration status, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, genetic characteristics, police records, social condition, marital status, family status or disability. Harassment in employment (2) Every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace by the employer or agent of the employer or by another employee because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, immigration status, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, genetic characteristics, police records, social condition, marital status, family status or disability.2

References:

1 Wheaton, Margo. “Working It Out: Employment Experiences in Trades and Technology.” The Hypatia Association.

2 Rosiers, Nathalie. “Bill 164.” Bill 164, Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2017, Legislative Assembly of Ontario, 4 Oct. 2017, www.ola.org/sites/default/fi les/nodefi les/bill/document/pdf/2017/2017-10/bill---text-41-2-en-b164_e.pdf.