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Tips for women to survive, thrive in the trades

Don Wall
Tips for women to survive, thrive in the trades
SUBMITTED PHOTO — Ashleigh Kaliszuk, a Red Seal certified mobile crane operator, spoke recently at a Skills Ontario International Women’s Day webinar.

Crane operator Ashleigh Kaliszuk was introduced to a recent International Women’s Day webinar audience March 8 as a strong voice for women’s equality in the skilled trades.

Kaliszuk, an Albertan, is Red Seal certified and a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 955. Her presentation was billed as Tips for Women Entering the Skilled Trades and Technologies. The event was hosted by Skills Ontario.

“Even though I have made it a life mission to bring awareness on these topics for women in construction, I’m still learning and practising them myself,” Kaliszuk said.

Tips included:

Set boundaries — Our boundaries are both physical and emotional, and when we don’t set them, we can end up in avoidable dilemmas. If you let someone at work joke around with you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, but you let it slide, then they take it a little farther the next time, and then even farther the time after that, to the point where you’re so uncomfortable, and you’ve let it slide for so long, you almost don’t know how to deal with it anymore.

A lot of men expect us to be one of the guys, rather than part of the team. This rhetoric is their inability to accept and adapt to the changing landscapes of this industry.

Know your rights — Unfortunately, a lot of women struggle with this. So many of us have subscribed to the ideology that construction is a man’s world and that in an effort to fit in, we need to forfeit our rights. Newsflash, we have the same rights as anyone else. We have the right to be treated with respect. We have the right to not be harassed. And we have the right to a safe workplace.

The hardest part is speaking up when your rights have been violated. Voicing the desire for bigger opportunities, expressing concerns for specific co-workers or straight up reporting harassment can be some of the biggest hurdles women face. It’s easier said than done, and it takes a lot of work to develop that courage and stick up for yourself, ourselves, but when you advocate for yourself you advocate for all.

Develop your emotional intelligence — There’s a huge double standard when it comes to showing emotion at work for women.

If a man gets angry and reacts it’s just par for the course and totally acceptable. But if a woman gets angry and reacts, everyone assumes that she’s hormonal and must be having a period, and they make a lot of comments to that regard. This is where maintaining a high level of emotional intelligence will benefit you.

That refers to how you understand and process your emotions by driving your attitude and reactions towards challenging situations. If you can learn to slow down your reaction time and choose your responses wisely, you can alleviate a lot of workplace stress.

Take opportunities to build each other up — Since there’s already enough division in our industry, we don’t need it amongst us women as well.

Another woman doing the same thing as you is not your competition, she’s your sister. So if you see another woman at work, introduce yourself, be friendly and make her feel welcome. We need women to succeed.

Opt for equal treatment and not special treatment — The road to equality can’t be paved with special treatment. You need to do the grunt work, pay your dues and at the end of the day, you’ll hang your boots up just like everyone else.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and know when to deny it — Asking for help is a strength and not a weakness. That’s something I think a lot of people struggle with, just defining that difference. If you’re on a construction site and you have a question, there’s a 100 per cent chance that you should ask it since the consequences of not asking can be deadly. It’s imperative to never ever let your insecurities get in the way of your career.

Then there are those that wish to inject themselves into your work and try to take over even though you’re fully qualified to do it yourself, which is when it becomes important to know when to deny the help. Sometimes it’s simple, ‘it’s OK, I got it,’ and other times you need to really turn up the confidence in your voice and politely state your case. Your tone is everything in these scenarios.

Never pull the female card to take advantage of people — This will not only segregate you from your colleagues, but it shines a light of inability on women as a whole in this industry. We are here to work hard and show the world that there is in fact a place for women in the trades.


Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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Great advice, share widely!
Chair of Women in Construction, VICA


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