Labour trend overtakes city's grass-cutting crew
Lawnmowing ladies represent 180-degree gender shift
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 17, 2013 06:00 am
Sitting on a riding mower with curled, blonde hair and carefully applied makeup, Erin Blake doesn’t look like your typical public works employee.
But the psychology student represents a growing trend in a summer job that was once male-dominated. Five or six years ago the city’s turf crew was predominantly male but this year there are 25 females and only five males (all in their early 20s) on the crew, which cuts grass, drives tractors and plants trees throughout the summer. It’s a trend that turns heads when the young women bomb around town on their tractors, Blake says.
“I think a lot of people are surprised that so many girls want to come and do it because it’s not the most feminine of jobs,” she said.
Public works director Dan Rites attributes the trend to growth in job opportunities and a strong Alberta economy.
“I think it’s just a sign that there are more opportunities out there for everyone so you will see more people apply for different jobs and different opportunities,” he said.
The city doesn’t keep statistics on the gender, age or race of its applicants, he said, which makes it difficult to compare year-to-year data.
The crew is versatile and that’s all that matters, said Umesh Chand, public works’ operations leader. He doesn’t hire based on age, race or gender, he said, focusing instead on people’s ability and willingness to work.
Turf crew employees earn between $14 and $16 an hour, working from early May until late August. Umesh said some of the women have returned for several summers in a row, often bringing a friend along to work with them. Most of them just like being outdoors, he said.
“Who wouldn’t want to come out here for a summer …We have guys planting flowers and then we have girls operating loaders, you know, big tractors and they drive tandems, they plant the big trees and operate the big spade truck,” he said.
Not all of the girls are like Blake though, who has worked with the turf crew for four summers. Nicole Bertrand started cutting grass this year while also working at a hair salon. She said the new job allows her to get her hands dirty and toughen up which surprised her friends and family but left her feeling more satisfied, she said.
“I think society is always evolving. There was racism in the 1950s and there are still problems with homosexuality. And I think feminism is part of that too,” she said. “Men are generally more dominant and like to take leadership roles as opposed to women so I think women are just stepping up now.”
Blake added that she likes the job because it's outdoors and there’s a good chance of getting hired back if you do well. She’s also a tomboy, she said, so it wasn’t surprising when she decided to work outside rather than in a hair salon.
“I want to be a police officer, for example, and 20 years ago not too many ladies were going to do that. Now there are tons of them that want to do careers that have been male-dominated,” she said.
“People are diversifying and there are still gender and equality differences but more men are becoming nurses and more women are working in the oilsands.”