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“I bet you didn’t know this,” a smirking man says, pointing to a vinyl LP and launching into a long-winded story about a particular track by the displayed musician.
I refrain from rolling my eyes, instead putting on a wide smile, and listening intently to the details of a musical history lesson I already know.
I won’t interrupt him to explain that yes, I actually did know that, because he is the customer, and I am just a woman, standing behind the counter at a record store.
I wonder how this little interaction would have unfolded if I had been a man. How would the conversation start? Would he have prefaced his story in the same kind of condescending way?
Judging by the thousands of male customer on male colleague conversations I’ve heard over the years, I know the answer is “no.”
Still smiling, I put the album in a bag and tuck in the receipt. I consider correcting an inaccurate detail of his story, but I decide against it – It’s been a long day, and I still have to head downtown to a music venue after work, to review a show for the local daily newspaper.
I often caught myself thinking, if I was experiencing this level of sexism and gender discrimination in a rad record store full of passionate music collectors and “woke” hipsters, one can only imagine what my female-identifying friends in male-dominated industries have to deal with on a regular basis.
So I sought them out. I was inundated with all-too-relatable content, from a diverse group of women in various industries.
Sources requested anonymity, fearing backlash for speaking their minds on this potentially polarizing topic.
“Since I started working in trades, I realized women need to have a voice and not be afraid to use it,” a third-year scaffolding apprentice shared.
“I feel in order to be heard sometimes you have to speak up a little more or aggressive to be taken seriously sometimes,” a mechanic added.
Just be the nice girl
But not all women are willing to speak up. Even raging feminists like myself have days where we just aren’t up for fighting the good fight.
“As a woman in my trade, I tend to put my head down and work instead of socializing just to avoid any confrontation that could potentially end my career. Am I overly cautious?” an industrial mechanic asked. “Probably.”
Dozens of women reported that they refrained from “rocking the boat,” in fear of being “that girl who called Human Resources,” and being silently black-listed from potential jobs.
In many cases, women tended to “put up and shut up,” working diligently to get the job done, regardless of the obstacles they were forced to overcome.
“I have definitely been paid less, given fewer resources and been expected to do more than my male counterparts on many projects,” a film director and producer shared.
“Women routinely make miracles happen with minimal resources. That’s an amazing quality if trying to survive an apocalypse, but can be a detrimental habit when it comes to the workplace.”
Sometimes, just getting through the workday without flying into a murderous rage can be a miracle.
A vehicle accessories sales manager, who calls herself “an open book about the sexist reality of working in automotive,” faces near-daily gender discrimination in her field.
“It’s intimidating knowing that I can confidently do a vehicle build with accessories or paint your door, but there’s gonna be that doubt that I could in the first place. There’s always this feeling, whether I’m serving a customer or applying for a job, that I need to prove myself more than I should because I’m a woman. It’s like they doubt what I say or think I have no idea what I’m saying,” she shared, exasperated.
“If I was commission based I’d be screwed,” she added. “I get tons of, ‘Is there a guy around I can talk to?’”
A journeyperson electrician has experienced the same kind of gender-based profiling.
“I cannot tell you how many times a contractor has come to talk to me, only to talk to my male apprentice, who had no idea what [the contractor] is talking about.”
Her frustration is echoed by a compliance coordinator who is sick of having her authority called into question by subordinate male colleagues.
“I think if you are going to call me a bitch, at least get it right – it’s Miss Bitch to those who are insecure and unable to express and live above those insecurities.”
Though speaking privately, many surveyed women unknowingly carried the same message about equality in the workplace: people of all genders should have equal opportunity in the workforce, based on their individual skill set.
A Red Seal chef with years of experience in gender unbalanced kitchens has some advice for employers looking to create more hospitable work environments for female job seekers: “Hire based on talent and references. Take a step back and look at your employees’ talent – what they can do, what they bring to your business. Also, listen to your employees and their troubles. If there's sexism happening in the workplace, it needs to be dealt with immediately and not ignored in hope of it going away on its own.”
“I think it’s really important that women have solidarity in the workplace,” another shared.
“This is best facilitated by creating women’s support groups, professional associations – safe places to share concerns and experiences with other women.”
One woman is hopeful that with so many ongoing discussions about gender equality in the workforce, more men will join the movement to end gender discrimination in the workplace.
“If we, as a sisterhood, support the brothers that support us and give them the tools to shift the culture, then we can start to change things,” she said, noting that in many different industries, men are the majority – hence the term “male-dominated.”
“[Change] has to come from our brothers. They are the majority, and that’s where the cultural direction shift and accepted behaviour examples begin and that’s where it changes.”
Wendy Rose is a freelance journalist living in St. John’s.
Read more from our International Women's Day edition of Now Atlantic!
“When you support women everyone rises together”
In honour of International Women’s Day and the 2019 theme of #BalanceforBetter our entire edition has been crafted by women, about women and for women in Atlantic Canada.
In the meantime, we’re also making a commitment to diversity and gender equality in this publication. Whether it’s through the writers we hire, the people we interview or artists we collaborate with, diversity and equality remains an integral part of the stories we tell and who gets to tell them.
As Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once explained, “The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”