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It's been discarded, but the fact it was once in place at a campus construction site is ‘very problematic,’ says St. John’s Status of Women Council
Hans Rollmann said they were disappointed, angry and sad when they saw a sexist construction sign on their way to work at Memorial University Monday morning.
The caution sign, which read "Men Working Overhead," was placed outside the Arts and Administration Building, where construction work was underway.
Rollmann is program director at CHMR-FM, the campus radio station, but a few years ago they were working with the student union when similar signs went up on campus. They said people were outraged at the time.
“We reached out to MUN’s Facilities Management, had some chats with them, and they committed — they said they got in touch with the contractors, the signs were taken down, and this would never, ever happen again. So, that was in 2016, then it happened again in 2017, and now it’s happened again.”
Rollmann said they were “floored” to see the sign Monday morning, especially considering the efforts in previous years to ensure construction signs on campus use gender-neutral language.
The sign was erected by Clarke Masonry Ltd. The company told The Telegram the sign is now discarded, and if they need to use such signs in the future they will be gender-neutral.
A Memorial University spokesperson said the contractor was told that the sign is “unacceptable” and was asked to use signs with inclusive language in the future.
“(In 2016), we reached out to MUN’s Facilities Management, had some chats with them, and they committed — they said they got in touch with the contractors, the signs were taken down, and this would never, ever happen again... Then it happened again in 2017, and now it’s happened again.” — Hans Rollmann
The spokesperson said Memorial’s Facilities Operations and Maintenance does have the expectation for gender-neutral signs built into the process for contractors, but Facilities Engineering and Development — another section of Facilities Management at the university — does not.
However, that expectation will be built into the process immediately.
"Contractors will be advised up front, as part of start-up meetings for new contracts, that we expect gender-neutral signage. Right now, only operations and maintenance does that. From now on, that will also happen with Facilities Engineering and Development contractors," the spokesperson said in an email.
‘It’s about representation’
Meanwhile, Laura Winters, executive director at the St. John’s Status of Women Council/Women’s Centre (SJSOWC), called signage such as the Men Working Overhead sign “very problematic.”
“That says the people working here are male, it says we don’t recognize that women are involved in this industry and it totally erases people who are non-binary or don’t fall into that gender binary when we don’t use inclusive language," Winters said.
“So, it’s about people’s experiences being recognized, and their reality being recognized in how we speak about things, in the visual signs around us.”
She said something like a sign might seem small to some people, but the language used on signage shapes how people think about reality.
Winters said the SJSOWC often hears from women who work in trades about their experiences, and the discrimination they face on job sites.
“It’s about representation, and women and people of other marginalized genders — people who are non-binary, two-spirited — being able to see themselves reflected in the literal signage around them," she said.
“I think that’s really important when you are a minority working in a male-dominated industry. What seems like a small thing — a gender on a sign — actually is really important to how people feel in their workplaces, and to what inclusion means and looks like within those spaces.”