A toxic work environment affects both women and men, but we have the opportunity every day to change it.
I realize that there are many opinions about the recent spike in publicity regarding sexual misconduct in various industries. Let me start off by making clear that I am absolutely against the mistreatment of any person, female or male. It doesn’t matter if it’s an insult or abuse, nor which form it takes (physical, emotional, sexual, etc.)
On the shop floor, I have been grabbed at while pressing out a bearing, told I liked being abused while cleaning a brake caliper bracket, called terrible names more than I can count, etc. I share this not to get your sympathy but to let you know that I didn’t have a perfect and sheltered time in the trade. Yet I love our industry.
While the damaging behaviour has to stop, the way that government, media, and some organizations are doing it is concerning. Recently, there has been more funding to increase awareness for women and indigenous people to enter the skilled trades. While it’s good to take advantage of these programs, some of these initiatives subliminally send a message that without them, these people couldn’t have been successful.
For example, all-female auto technician programs strive to promote an environment where women can learn without feeling judged, but some give an underlying tone that women can’t work with men and therefore need this program.
Trial by alleged behaviour
Men, in general, are painted with a broad brush as being the abusers and harassers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. After speaking with fellow tradeswomen at a recent mentoring event, we shared the same sentiment: we were all given a chance by a man and taught by greatly skilled tradesmen.
There are men in the trade who have told us that they don’t engage with women at work because they don’t want to be taken the wrong way. In a day and age where you can lose your job based on ‘alleged’ behaviour, these men start closing off interacting with women because they don’t feel safe. It’s ironic, isn’t it?
While we’re trying to create a safe place for women, some good men don’t feel the same. The irrational judgment that comes against alleged behaviour is toxic. Can we support the alleged victims, while allowing justice its due process?
Are we part of the problem?
At another high school girls’ mentoring event, I stood beside a boilermaker who outright said that she uses her sexuality to get men to help her at work. You can only imagine my shock that she was trying to inspire girls with that mindset. There are women in skilled trades who undermine efforts to bring equality to our industry. When we recognize inappropriate behaviour or language from a tradeswoman and hold her accountable for it, we take one step closer to empowering young women (and men) coming into the industry.
There are many pieces to the larger issue of abuse and harassment, and there are no quick solutions. These issues deeply affect both men and women. By thinking and improving one piece at a time, little by little we can change the narrative.