I want to preface this by saying that I’m not some PC ideologist or a ‘lefty pushing gender quota rubbish’ (as I’ve been called), in fact, I’m quite the opposite. My opinion is based on many years of working in this industry in management roles, where I’ve been responsible for hiring many engineers and tradespeople. Things have certainly changed and we have come a long way, but we still have so far to go. There is an injustice in our technical industries and it is time it STOPS.
When I did my mechanical trade in the mid 90’s, we had a lone female join our class part way through our first year. At the time, we all thought it was a bit of a joke, after all, girls didn’t do mechanical trades, it was an all-male environment, the teachers were male, the students were male, the tool shop manager was male and there were no other females enrolled.
The teaching staff must have been somewhat concerned, I mean, a classroom full of teenage lads, in a heavy male dominated environment and a lone female joining the crew – what could go wrong? I doubt it would happen today, but we were all scurried into a classroom where the teacher proceeded to give us a stern lecture. We were told we needed to behave ourselves, and not harass or intimidate our new classmate. We were also given a warning to keep our hands off! I also specifically remember the jeers and laughing when the teacher explained that females bring a completely different thinking to the engineering world, one that is based on strategic thinking instead of brute strength and bravado.
This lecture has stuck with me over the years, and in hindsight, I now ask myself why this discussion around a female joining our class was even necessary. It was the mid 90’s, not the 70’s, and we were a progressive inclusive society; well, it felt that way at the time. Fast forward 25 years, and we are now seeing more and more females taking up engineering and technical trades occupations, it’s fantastic, and at Australian Engineers and Technical Tradies, we love to feature articles and editorial celebrating their successes.
Given that these days we are even more inclusive (than the 90’s), and most of the of negative stereotypes from the past are long gone and peoples opinions appear to have completely changed, why is it when we publish articles or editorial featuring a female theme, they always spur on more debate and commentary than when we profile men in the same industry? It’s important to note that the majority of these commentators are men (according to their profiles). A lot of it is encouraging, some also celebrate the diversity of a modern work place, although, you only need to read some of the comments that we delete, that highlight we still have a serious problem, and a long way to go in respecting our female peers. Take these for instance:
Last month we featured Louise Azzopardi, a now qualified heavy vehicle and plant mechanic, who spoke with us about her journey. Since we featured Louise, she has written further about her journey in her blog. We have a couple of excerpts below, that give insight into the real life experiences of a female in a male dominated training environment.
“Attending training as a female in a male dominated industry is a mixed experience, I got along well with all the guys in my class and I would call them my friends. (except that one guy who wrote “I suck d#$k” with a picture of a penis on my book when I went to the toilet one time…)”.
“The confirmation that I was being looked at come in the form of bathroom graffiti. I had friends scattered all through TAFE, all different years, all different courses which meant I got a few different pictures of this particular piece of graffiti when they realised it was about me. It said – “(company name removed) chick with glasses is hot” – “Whats her name? – Stalk her on Facebook?” – “Someone find out”.”
Unfortunately, Louise’s story is not uncommon! We speak to many extremely talented female engineers and tradies, who are at the forefront their industries, and the sad thing is, they ALL have a story to tell. They are also all committed to gender equality in their chosen professions, and well… SO AM I!
Why is this still a thing?
As a father of two daughters (5 & 7), I am shocked that women are still subjected to this form of harassment and bullying at the hands of male colleagues. I have always said to my girls they can do, and be, whatever they want when they grow up, and at this stage we’re heading towards careers as a popstar/ballet dancer and a professional MMA fighter. However, if that changes and they decide to take up technical careers, without further cultural change in the industry, I’d be very concerned about them. The above behaviour is just not right, and I personally, as a father, wouldn’t stand for anyone treating my girls like that! Why should they suffer whilst pursuing what may be their dream career, all because of the shallow mindedness of some immature, insecure bloke trying to impress his mates?
So now it is my turn to give a lecture! Fellas, we are better than this and we need to change and be part of the solution. We need to call out this behaviour and put a stop to it. We need to rid the industry of these archaic views and opinions. Gender equality is not about taking away your manhood. Gender equality is about everyone, despite their gender being treated the same and with respect. Being inclusive does not make you less of a man, it just makes you a decent person.
You may think it is ‘just a comment’ or a ‘laugh’ on social media, however it’s not cool! It doesn’t make you tough and frankly, there is no place in a modern society, not to mention a workplace, or place of study, for these opinions. What gives you the right to treat someone, or judge them, like that anyway? If you are doing it because they are female, then perhaps you need to consider how would you feel if it were your daughter, wife or mother being treated like that? And… God help you if you do that to my daughter!
It is time to stop the jokes and the comments. It is time to lose the misogynistic attitudes… no matter how funny you think they are!
It’s no secret that Australia is suffering a talent shortage in engineering and technical trades. We need more skilled people, but not just any skilled people, we need those with locally obtained, high quality and well paid skills. A solution to this shortage is to increase the participation rates of females in these industries; but why would a female want to get involved in an industry where they know they are only going to be humiliated and demeaned?
We need to change our attitudes and be more accepting of our female counterparts in order to attract more women to the industry. Tapping into this resource would only be a good thing, as it would create a strong locally educated talent pool. The more highly skilled talent we have, the more the industry will grow. The more the industry grows the more work there is, the more work there is the better the pay and conditions… and so on… If we don’t increase our talent pool locally, then we will have to continue to import the skills we need, and we know by doing this that it floods the market with engineers and tradies with substandard skills, and that ultimately drives down local salaries and wages. So how does this whole gender equality thing sound now?
Whilst things have changed over the years, it appears that there is still an element of those pushing dated stereotypes and opinions. I take my (hard) hat off to all the ladies who have battled through these attitudes and are now an integral part of our Australian engineering and technical trades industries… you really are the future of Australian industry and I thank you for that! To all those blokes, still sneering, making jokes, and demeaning their women colleagues – YOUR attitudes have no place in our industry, so either change or perhaps it’s time you moved on so the rest of us can move forward.
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