Shayanne Tensen was prepared for a few playful jabs from her male colleagues, and she said it wouldn’t bother her because most of her friends are male and she can play that verbal game when required.
Her first apprentice job in the trades, however, was worse than she could have imagined, and she said it was all because she was a woman.
“I was expecting it to be more like guys being derogatory and stuff like that, which is … whatever. It wouldn’t have bothered me at all, really,” Tensen says. “But it was unequal pay and just comments like, ‘You can’t do that’ or ‘You can’t lift that’ instead of being like ‘This is heavy. Let me show you how to properly pick that up without hurting yourself.’ It was like, ‘You’re too weak.’ I didn’t last very long, because I wasn’t into it.”
She didn’t let that experience deter her, though. She changed her specialty from plumbing and joined ComfortTech Heating and Cooling Ltd. four months ago as a refrigeration mechanic apprentice. She has loved every minute of it.
It all starts at the top of any organization, and Terri Wilkinson clearly sets the tone as co-owner and managing partner of Comfort Tech. She works alongside her husband, Jeff Ballard, managing their heating and cooling business that they built together from scratch.
“I was scared I would have a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth because of the experiences I had, but I thought I might as well just give it another go with a different company—doing a totally different thing, mind you—but it was literally night and day,” she says. “I think maybe that’s because the owner is Terri. She’s female, and she was a female in the trades. Maybe that’s why, but it’s way different.”
Despite the night-and-day difference in her experience with two trades companies, Tensen believes the landscape is much different for her generation of workers.
“The stereotypes aren’t as bad as they used to be,” she says. “I think my situation was circumstantial.”
The situation has also worked out for Wilkinson, who said she is committed to hiring the right employees, regardless of their gender.
“We think it’s exciting that we now have more opportunities than ever to hire women in our business, whether they want to work in the office or out in the field,” Wilkinson says. “Shay is one of two women we have in apprenticeship programs working in the field right now. They aren’t the first, and they certainly won’t be the last.
“We also have an amazing group of women who work in our office alongside the men who have extensive technical knowledge, and they are just as responsible for the success of the business as any of the guys.”
Getting more women in trades has been a focus of government and the industry itself, so they will be happy to hear Tensen believes her poor experience was a unique one. She also feels her path so far has been a rewarding one, starting with her education at Okanagan College. She said she has received plenty of support from the post-secondary institution, both financially and emotionally, that has continued while she works. The words of one of her female professors have always stuck with her.
“Don’t ever give up, and don’t ever let anybody tell you you’re worth less than you are,” the professor said on the last day of class. “If somebody’s not treating you right, you can quit and there’s work elsewhere.”
This article is written by or on behalf of the sponsoring client and does not necessarily reflect the views of Okanagan Edge.
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