She who shares her story of…

Speak Up!

The Story

I always wanted to be a Tradesperson. I tried three times to be accepted at the place where I work today. You can’t help but wonder if a male would have taken as long to get the role that I felt I had to fight for. That didn’t matter any more, because I got the role and I was the happiest girl to think that my life long dream of becoming a “Tradie” was about to begin.

After I moved through the emotion from being accepted, the nerves set in. At the age of not far from 18, I was about to be the only female working on the workshop floor of a business that had never had a female Tradesperson before. I had been the only female around a group of boys before, but this was the first time it was going to be a group of men that I did not know.

I remember my first day. I was there early, which was lucky because I spent a lot more time sitting in my car in the carpark than I expected. I am no doctor but I just know I was suffering from anxiety. My heart was racing. I was breathing deeply. I just felt so unsettled with anything and everything around me. I was not feeling myself.

I couldn’t understand why I was feeling as I did. I had wanted this opportunity since I could remember. I kept telling myself “get out of the damn car!” I was not going to let the nerves overcome me. This shaking had to stop and I just had to get out there and show them they did not make the wrong decision.

I was greeted upon arrival and my nerves were put to rest. My Foreman and my Supervisor made me feel so comfortable. They treated me with respect. They treated me like they did others that were starting that day. I knew I had made the right choice to continue with my dreams, and I was made to feel like they knew they had made the right choice too.

It was only weeks into my new dream role that this respect was tested. I was asked to observe an experienced gentleman who had been working as a Tradesperson for a number of years. He was struggling to complete the task. He was getting frustrated. I could see what needed to be done. I could see how his problem could be solved. There were voices in my head going over this, and all of a sudden that voice was out and I heard myself ask, “hey, I reckon I can see what is happening, do you think I can have a go?” He looked up from the machine that he had worked on for more than 15 years and just glared at me and continued to informed me that I would be better placed to sit and watch – that I wouldn’t understand – that I – was just – a girl.

I felt powerless. I felt small. I wondered how I was ever going to work with people like him and be able to be more than “just a girl”. I stood tall and didn’t let his words get me down. I responded “I just thought I could help”. Then all of a sudden he got so frustrated that he moved away from the workspace and said to me in front of the others that had now come closer to where we were working, “fine, then you give it a go!” This was it! This was the moment that I used all of my energy to not shake, or quiver, or faint! And I prayed that my solution would work!

You know what…it doesn’t matter the outcome of that moment. I was so happy that I spoke up and said to someone that I believed I could do it. I was so pleased with my voice that came out from within and asked to be given a chance to show them how it could be done. I stood tall when they doubted me. I then stepped forward and I gave it my best shot. That is all that matters and that is what I will continue to do…

…THAT…AND…I so got it right!

The Message

Unfortunately, it is still a reality that women face workplace challenges, such as lack of respect, simply because they are women. These challenges are magnified for women working in male-dominated fields.

This can start to happen from the recruitment stage, or when someone does manage to get in to the business, from the whole “bro-culture” right through to assumptions they just don’t know how to do the job purely on the basis of the fact they are female. Women working in these fields go to work already saddled with the task of proving their worth and abilities, which is a weight their male colleagues don’t have on their shoulders.

Women need to be encouraged to speak out when they are confronted with these circumstances. They need to demand the opportunity to be treated as their male colleagues of equal experience and capability are. We have to focus on increasing the self-confidence of women in the workplace. We need to help them to have the courage to take risks and have a go, and the courage to speak up and be heard.

The Call to Action

It takes everyone in a business, regardless of your role, to support women from the first day they enter the organisation. It starts from the very first day that you greet a new starter – whether you are the Supervisor or the more experienced peer that will support them through their initiation. You have the ability to influence the success they may have in their future.

Within the industry, we need to be constantly challenging unconscious biases – there is a lot of evidence that people hire people who remind them of themselves, so if you don’t fit into the industry norm it’s harder to get a break. Make sure you are being open to what unconscious bias may be influencing you in determining who really is the right person for the role.

It’s proven that more diverse teams are often more innovative and creative. People from varied backgrounds and experiences will have unique ways to solve problems. Studies show us that women bring different experiences and different perspectives. Don’t let an unconscious bias make your mind up on whether the individual standing before you can or cannot do the job – support them and work together to get the best outcome for the circumstance before you.