Women in the Trades Industry

As a woman in a primarily male dominated industry I have been asked on many occasions “Why aren’t there more women in the trades?” This is something that in recent years I have been asked at almost every student expo and event that I attend. For the longest time I didn’t really know. The stats are there and we see the increase in women entering the trades and STEM programs. But the stats then show that the trades & STEM workforce is still very much dominated by men.
I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I have realized something. Root cause analysis led me to realize that at the end of the work day, it comes down to childcare.
Putting aside maternity leave, parental leave, equal division of housework and all those things, at the end of the day, day care in Manitoba is limited at the best of times. Most day cares known for availability are open from 7am to 6pm. The majority of daycares provide hours that are much more limited than that. Many manufacturing jobs start at 7am. What do you do with the kid from 6am-7am? A lot of time there is shift work on a 2 week rotating basis. Childcare is usually only available for the same maximum 10 hour window each day, Monday to Friday. What about weekends?
Now let’s talk about field work. Construction crews in summer, typically work 6-7 days a week 10-15 hour days. Stop pouring the concrete; I need to get to daycare before they call child and family services.
Imagine that you have a two parent home and equal division of household workload, plus a great child care arrangement that gives you 10 hours of childcare each day. One parent drops off, one picks up and each parent can put in a normal 8 hour work day (remember the hour for lunch makes a 9 hour day) But today little Beth has a fever and is throwing up, so she can’t go to day care. Who stays home?
How about the end of the week, when a big project is done and everyone is heading out to celebrate with the clients, the contracts, the big bosses, this is known as “the soft time”. It isn’t paid work, it isn’t required, but you know that this is where you can have your boss’s ear, and talk about some new ideas that you have that will help with growth and make a connection with the client for future work. But damn; daycare closes at 6pm. Opportunity missed.
Now let’s talk travelling. This can be every industry from STEM, trades, sales, and executives. A conference is coming up in fall, it is the 2nd week of school and you have the chance to present a paper that may be leading edge in your industry. It involves hours of outside of work time to prepare, plus 3 days away from home. The debate becomes, is it worth it?
I was incredibly fortunate. I had my parents and friends help when my son was small. Then when my son’s dad and I divorced, he was there half time until 2 years ago and again, when he was with me, I had my family to take him anytime when he was sick or had days off school, or there was an evening that I needed to work.
Every situation is different and there are many women who are incredibly successful in Science, Technology, Engineering, Manufacturing and Trades, but I would venture to say many of them have at some point in their career sacrificed something, and many of these sacrifices may have come because of family.
The solution for attracting and retaining women into trades and STEM work is not a simple solution, but I strongly believe that we need to look at childcare before we can even begin to make a significant change in this.

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