Breaking with Tradition: Women in Blue Collar Work


Virtually every cliché or stereotype we have heard for many years about women in the workplace seems to become magnified ten fold for women in trades and other non-traditional occupations. As an employment equity practitioner, I have used investigative skills to uncover negative attitudes with the intent of providing positive experiences that will change those attitudes.

Women who enter non-traditional occupations face fear and hostility in their male co-workers

Women in the workplace are often measured by two yardsticks; how as "women" they carry out the functions of the job, and how they live up to the images of "womanhood." In the non-traditional or blue collar areas, mechanical abilities and physical strength are seen as critical characteristics which women are lacking; characteristics which have historically been perceived as masculine. If women possess these characteristics and are able to perform the job, they are perceived as selling out on their womanhood. Sex role stereotypes work against women in non-traditional occupations to the extent that they face a situation of double oppression, on and off the job.

To be more specific, one of the most visible barriers women who enter into non- traditional occupations face is fear and hostility in their male co-workers. The resentment may manifest itself in unwillingness to assist or train the new woman on the job, harassment, or complaints to superiors about the woman's lack of potential. At this point, the chronic complaint that "the guys' wives don't want a woman here" may surface. Fortunately, as the saying goes, the best defence is a good offence, and once a woman ignores the hostility and simply concentrates on the job at hand, the resentment seems to dissipate.

Another major barrier which women in non-traditional occupations may face is the unusually high performance expectations. If she does not meet those expectations she will have fulfilled the prophecy that she did not have potential for the job in the first place. For example, in my experience as an employment equity practitioner, I encountered a situation where a very competent woman had been hired as a field worker with a major oil company. Six weeks after she had been hired her supervisor and co-workers were complaining that she did not have the ability to become an operator. In discussions with the supervisor, information inadvertently slipped out regarding a similar situation with a male employee who had been given six months to allow for a learning curve. I pointed out the discrepancies in treatment between the male and female employees and successfully influenced the supervisor to allow the woman a fair period of time to become skilled at the job.

Rompre la tradition : les femmes «cols bleus»

Dans n'importe quel milieu de travail les problèmes peuvent se multiplier par dix pour celles qui exercent un métier spécialisé ou occupent un poste de nature non traditionnelle. Au travail, la majorité des femmes vivent une situation de deux poids et deux mesures: comment en tant que femmes effectuer son travail et, si on accomplit bien celui-ci, que perdons nous de notre «féminité».

Parmi les obstacles les plus fréquents que les femmes exerçant un métier de nature non traditionnelle ont à surmonter, il y a le ressentiment et l'hostilité de leurs collègues masculins, lesquels peuvent se manifester par une mauvaise volonté au niveau de la formation ou par des plaintes à propos du manque de qualifications des femmes. En raison donc de la façon dont on la traite, une femme risque d'être empêchée de former facilement des liens avec ses collègues ou son employeur, liens qui sont aussi importants à sa réussite que ses compétences.

Mais, comme les métiers de nature non traditionnelle sont mieux payés que ceux traditionnelle et comme la technique exige moins physiquement de la main-d'œuvre, les femmes ont le droit de s'essayer à tout emploi. On peut prendre certaines dispositions pour rendre les choses plus faciles : des séminaires de sensibilisation peuvent être organisés en milieu de travail avant qu'une femme prenne son poste; on peut faire débuter les femmes à un emploi deux par deux, ce qui semble donner de meilleurs résultats que si une femme est seule; les femmes qui peuvent exercer un métier de nature non traditionnelle doivent se sentir encouragées, soutenues et être mises au courant de ce qui les attend.

Les femmes continueront à choisir des métiers de nature non traditionnelle et à être des cols bleus puisque les employeurs cherchent à renouveler leur main-d'oeuvre.

Back Contents Next