Women in Trades Blog Series: Shalyn

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Shalyn with some classmates, Winnipeg

Here we ‘meet’ Shalyn who is currently in Winnipeg training to be a train conductor. She completed the residential construction program at TRU and then had some twists and turns looking for the right ‘fit’ for herself and her child. As you will learn, being a single working mom is far from easy…

“I have been all over the map when it comes to jobs/careers. Just going where the work is I guess, trying to find the place where I know I’ll be bringing enough in to support myself and my son.

In 2012, I completed the residential construction program at TRU and went on to become a carpenter’s helper with a local restoration company. From there I went to work at a large cattle ranch in the area. I was hired as part of the irrigation team and ended up working as a farmer.

During the following few years I worked for a construction company and was sent out to Alberta and northern BC, starting as a labourer and working my way up to running equipment.

Then, with a child to support, I needed a steadier job. I received my health care assistant certificate and have been doing that for the past year and a bit.

I miss the ‘ruggedness’ of my previous jobs and the income they brought in; sure being an HCA is a bit steadier of a job if you work long enough to have some decent seniority. But, I would never be able to own my own home, or buy myself an updated vehicle. So that is why I am currently in Winnipeg, training to become a conductor.

I asked her talk about how her gender has played a part in her trades industry experiences.

“There are a few for sure. Sometimes they are intentional and sometimes they aren’t. When I was working as a farmer I was the only female outside of the cookhouse or office. I always felt like the men just didn’t think I was capable; they ignored me and always made a big sigh when I asked a question for clarification, as though I was an inconvenience.

More recently, the morning after finding out about a change in start times for class, I mentioned how it would be a good idea for all of us to have everyone’s number in case something like this happens again.

One of the guys said, ‘smooth, Shalyn…’. The whole class chuckled and I told him off. Next thing you know, we end up writing our numbers down and it’s not a big deal because it was one of the male students who initiated it.

Speaking to the snarky guy from earlier, I jokingly said, ‘What? You’re okay giving out your number for T?’ He replies, ‘I am okay giving my number out to T’.

It kind of surprised me and made me feel embarrassed. All I was doing was looking out for my classmates, but it had to be twisted around.

I think being female in a male dominated career we have be cautious of what we say and how we say things, so stuff is less likely to be twisted into something sexual.

I haven’t been in this type of work for too terribly long and I am not sure what it was like way back in the day. But, since I started six years ago, I have noticed more acceptance of ladies being in male dominated careers.

Management and HR are standing behind us supporting what we bring to the table. I know I will get push back in my new career as it is probably still new to some of the old timers, but we have to take everything with a grain of salt. We have a lot more support now than we did in the past I’m sure.

Adding onto the bit above about watching what we say and how we say it… I think it is more about being cautious about everything when at work, not giving an opening or a reason for a male co-worker to make any comment or action that would make you uncomfortable. It is easy to gain the wrong kind of attention in any situation. Just try not to set yourself up for it is what I am trying to get across.

I am a larger gal. I am built sturdy and I have some extra padding. Muscle mass hasn’t been a big issue for me in the past careers.

I haven’t had much of an issue with my period in the work place; I am always prepared and try to be as discreet as possible.

Emotions are a big one for me lately. I tend to get emotional and upset instead of angry. For the first time in six years I had a meltdown in front of my instructor/boss. I was so frustrated with myself and that’s how I let it out.

He talked me down and reassured me we would get through this. I was so ashamed I cried in front of my boss because in these fields of work you don’t cry. You buck up and get it done!

Being a single mom, childcare is the biggest issue for me. I want to spend as much time as I can with my son but at the same time I need to put food on the table. With my new career it is going to be an even bigger challenge than before, being on call 24/7 and possibly being sent away for shortages.

I asked her what improvements need to be made for better future trades workplaces.

“I think with more and more women getting into these careers there will be more acceptance from the men. To be honest, if I did have an incident where something happened to me due to my gender, I think I would still be scared to speak up, depending on the situation and such. I know they all say everything’s confidential, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t get crap from male employees for speaking up. Just my thoughts on that.

Being able to go to work and not have to worry about unnecessary comments from a male co-worker is needed. Just being comfortable to go to work, to be myself and enjoy my job.

We are all here to make a living and we all have either families to support and/or dreams we want to achieve. Pissing on someone else’s grass isn’t going to make yours any greener.”

***

Thank you so much for sharing your story Shalyn. The part about wanting to spend time with your son while needing to put food on the table hit me emotionally. I feel like there needs to be a serious improvement in support services for single working moms.

For those following along, please stay tuned as we are about to take a little turn and read some perspectives from educators in trades programs!

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Shalyn, training to be a train conductor

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