Women breaking down workplace barriers
Progress comes at a cost for women in male-dominated jobs
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Saturday, Aug 17, 2013 06:00 am
St. Albert’s turf crew is only one of many examples of women establishing a stronger presence in formerly male-dominated jobs in the province and across the country.
Between 2002 and 2012 in Alberta, employment by women in the male-dominated industries of oil and gas, forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying grew by more than 50 per cent, followed by construction with an 84.5 per cent increase.
“A lot of it is that Alberta has a growing economy and a hot labour market and there are a lot of opportunities for everyone,” said Lauren Welsh with Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education.
The most common occupations for women are still related to health care, social assistance and retail.
In those male-dominated occupations in which women are making increasing inroads, one big draw is money, said Alison Taylor, professor with the department of educational policy studies at the University of Alberta.
In regions like Fort McMurray, the culture is pre-disposed to young people, both men and women, working in hands-on and trade-related jobs, she said.
“I think a lot more people are becoming aware that the trades can be fairly well paying occupations,” she said. “So if the choice is between working in retail and working in higher-paying areas with similar levels of education there are more young women that are wising up in that regard.”
But just because the market is more accessible today doesn’t mean women don’t face difficulties, she said. A woman working as a technician as opposed to a hair stylist is still a minority and struggles to compete with men in the same position.
Many companies don’t offer working conditions conducive to a family life, she added, and finding proper child care is difficult. Often women save money to go into higher education or leave the trades when starting a family, she said.
Pay equity remains another problem. On average, women in Alberta earn about $6 less per hour than men in the same position. Taylor said it was up to the employers to change their attitudes if they want to retain female workers or see them succeed.
“And when you are in a male-dominated workplace they sometimes found that co-workers or customers don’t cut them very much slack,” she said.
“The employers and the co-workers and customers are reluctant and so the women who are able to change are succeeding but women who find that difficult feel exhausted.”