Women in Trades Blog Series: Lindsay T

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Road construction workers, Kamloops

Lindsay T. is a technician in civil engineering in Kamloops, BC. She shares her insights with us here, and I am really fascinated with what she has to say!

I asked her to talk about her job position and her work and education experience.

“I graduated from TRU’s engineering technology program in 2008. I am a certified technician in civil engineering technology with ASTTBC. I have worked for several civil engineering consulting firms in the interior of BC as well as a short contract at Highland Valley Copper.

As a civil tech I cover several roles. I operate Civil 3D and work with engineers to develop construction drawings for land developments and municipal infrastructure upgrades. I design water, sanitary, and storm pipes, roads, and develop the drawings that the contractors use to build from.

Additionally, I inspect civil construction. Typically I will be part of the design team and then be on site inspecting the work to ensure quality standards are met, conflicts are managed, and ensure communication is clear.”

I asked her how and if her gender played a part in her daily work life.

“I have always worked in male dominated environments so with a previous employer I decided that I would try and build relationships with the guys by joining the football fantasy league. With no knowledge or interest in football I made good picks and held the number one or two spot for the majority of the season. When I would tell the guys that I was making these picks based on a little research and stats they (on several occasions) called me a liar and cheat, insisting that I had my boyfriend or dad helping me.

During an inspection project I made a point of creating meaningful connections with the contractors. They were a group of older men who had a lot to teach me and we worked really well together. Throughout the project I ended up with several of the crew’s contact numbers as I would need to call for water on off days or contact crew when they were off site.

Several months later my male coworkers wanted the superintendent’s number but it was disconnected. They came to me for the information, and I had several numbers from the rest of the crew. After they got the phone number they came back to me and said ‘I don’t know what you did with those guys *raised eyebrows and wink* but they couldn’t stop talking about how great you are’. If I was a man they would have shaken my hand and said ‘thank you for your help and for building lasting relationships’.

Several years ago in a previous position I was offered the opportunity to work out of town for two months inspecting a construction project full time. I was told that my employer owned a condo in the town and I would stay there. I later found out that I would be sharing the two-bedroom condo with an older male who was also inspecting in the town.

I was so excited to have the opportunity that I didn’t want to rock the boat by asking not to have shared accommodations with an older, married man. I’m sorry to say that the gravity of the situation wasn’t fully realised until the following year when a female co-worker was told she would share a hotel room with an older partner of the company.

It was then I realised that my desire not to ruffle feathers had perpetuated the cycle of poor management.

I am noticing more men who don’t see gender. They see a colleague and abilities, period. I used to have men apologise to me for swearing or show dirty images to everyone but me, but that is starting to fade.

Being singled out is starting to be less frequent. It could, however, also be from my end. I am finding with more women in the field and more conversations about women in construction I am more confident being a female in the field. Before I would try and compensate for my gender; now I work with it.

Men will greet each other with handshakes, but that custom is often dropped when women are around. But the handshake is so powerful and binding that I often feel at a disadvantage when it doesn’t happen. Most of the time I initiate the handshake. That also leads to the topic of hugs. There are some really great clients, contractors, engineers out there who insist on the hug with women. It is genuine but can be confusing with everyone on the site and then I’m the one who gets the hug.

Pregnancy can be an issue. I am currently in the middle of a six month inspection project where I spend 14 days working out of town and 7 days off at home. If I were to become pregnant I would be taken off the project because I would be unable to do my job. I would be sent back to the office and a replacement would be found.

So, I’ve had to go on birth control because any slip would stomp on my career. I have had to alter my body’s chemistry to do this job, but if I was a man it wouldn’t even be a thought.

In terms of physically doing the job, I haven’t had as many issues because of my role. But when I open hydrants I need a longer key to get the torque. The biggest issue I have had was when I was surveying. Carrying a bundle of 4 foot stakes up a 45 degree slope and then getting the swing to pound them in the ground is hard when you’re 5’5”.

There is this myth that ‘you can have it all’, but women often leave out the part where they hire a full time nanny or are on the brink going on stress leave. The women who have ‘it all’ (rather, are as successful as men) are all stretched thin, looking at reducing their work hours, not focusing well. I don’t think we have figured this out yet, and what I am seeing is talented women pulling back in their careers to find balance in their lives.”

I asked her what improvements could be made for a better future?

“No more pink hard hats. No. I’m an inspector, I’m an employee, my gender has no place on a job site and I certainly do not need a marker on my head. There is a coding system with hard hats and every colour means something. To think that women need their own special colour is unprofessional and only underscores the gender disparity in construction.

Kind education. There are a lot of men out there who haven’t worked with many women and are afraid to say something out of line or crude for fear of reprimand. It is important to mindfully educate these men without malice. They are also part of this change and are working to correct what society has taught them.

Male mentors and advocates. The more men who are willing to stand behind a woman and mentor/advocate for her professional skills the more we all will succeed. It sounds silly, but there can be a tendency to seek out a mentor who is the same gender, because they are the same gender. We need mentors because they fit with us professionally. If you fit best with a male supervisor then stick with him and encourage him to throw his support behind you. Women need as many people on our team promoting and throwing their confidence behind women.

I would love to stop talking about gender in the work place. I will believe that women have truly become equal to men when these conversations about gender are irrelevant.

Can you imagine how great it will be when we just have promotions about trades rather than girls entering trades? I can’t wait for that. To reach that point, however, I think there are a lot of honest, humble conversations that need to take place to really figure out what is at stake… we have to get this right.”

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Wow, thank you so much for sharing. My favorite part was about the pink hardhat…. funny and true!! Also ‘kind education’ is a very telling phrase I have not heard before. Great points!

Please leave comments about what L.T. has shared with us.
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Lindsay T, certified technician in civil engineering technology

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