Sexism a non-issue for ladies in diesel tech program

(Photo by Amanda Siebert/SAIT Polytechnic)

(Photo by Amanda Siebert/SAIT Polytechnic)

Female students enrolled in SAIT’s diesel engine technician program are tough – so tough, that when it comes to dealing with sexism, they aren’t phased.

“[Sexism] isn’t as much of an issue as it would have been a couple years ago. It’s a lot less of a problem,” said Josette King, one of five females in a group of 60 students taking the eight-month pre-employment program.

“You have to know when you’re going into a trade, to expect that it’s going to be mostly guys.

“I’ve always been into ‘guy stuff’, and everyone knows we can do the same job, so I don’t really get [upset] so much.”

Although King and classmates Aaron Rautenberg and Sarah Smith choose to not let sexist remarks affect their learning experience, Smith said that dealing with derogatory and patronizing comments from both instructors and students—however mild or unintentional they might be—is a “daily experience.”

“Sometimes in shop they hover over us to make sure we’re doing it right, and it kind of pisses me off,” said Rautenberg.

“I just try to show them up. In the class, everyone’s pretty normal. People didn’t expect to see girls, but it’s not like we’re targeted or anything like that.”

In fact, all three girls said that while comments from instructors and male students are sometimes annoying, male students have proven to be more tolerant of their career choice than some females.

“You talk to guys about it and they’re like, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ I find guys are a little more accepting.

“The girls aren’t as inviting about it,” said Smith, who said she has received dirty looks from other girls while walking around campus in her coveralls and steel-toed boots.

“Outside of the class, people ask, ‘Why aren’t you doing a ‘girl’ job?’ It’s annoying that it’s such a shock.”

Though these three ladies choose to rise above it, the issue of sexism continues to plague their male-dominated industry at a fundamental level: wages.

According to Alberta’s women’s labour force profile, between the years of 2003 and 2013, the average wage of women was lower than men’s across all age groups and industries.

Although the number of women working as trades, transport, and equipment operators went up by 45.2 per cent over the 10-year span, the trades industry continues to have the smallest proportion of women, at just under 8 per cent.

A report by PayScale.com found that across Canada, only 3 per cent of all journeyman mechanic certifications are obtained by women. Once employed, these women make an average hourly rate between $17.49 and $28.50 per hour, while for men, the average hourly rate is between $23.85 and $35.85.

When asked if it would be more difficult to find a job after school, King said that it might “be easier because we’re girls.” Many companies have now changed the term from ‘journeyman’ to ‘journeyman/woman’ in their job ads to reflect their emphasis on equal opportunity hiring.

Rautenberg, who plans to work on rigs in northern Alberta after completing her program, said that although some companies may be inclined to hire females to even out gender balance, she’d hate to get a job based on being female.

Either way, being a minority doesn’t discourage them.

King had her heart set on this career path long ago:

“I was strong willed and I wanted to do it, so I’m going to do it.”

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