Breaking the Stereotype Workshop Summary
On her first day of elementary school, Tanya James got in a physical fight with a fellow male classmate, which resulted in her breaking his arm. Since then, Tanya hasn’t “taken no bull from nobody.” This fierce attitude ended up serving her well years later when she would start work in a mine in West Virginia at age 19 surrounded by men.
Tanya faced several instances of sexual harassment on the job and decided, like many women do, to not publicly expose the mistreatment. Instead, she took matters into her own hands.
“I handled things myself, in my own way,” she reflected with a chuckle. “I never told the company.”
Unfortunately, Tanya is not alone. During the CLUW (Coalition of Labor Union Women) convention’s workshop focusing on stereotypes and women working in male-dominated fields, she was joined by two other female panelists who have faced many struggles while pursuing “men’s” careers.
Hazel Powers walked onto the Boeing floor in Seattle when she was 20 years old. As a woman of mixed ethnicities and as a self-proclaimed Army brat of divorced parents, Hazel always felt like an outsider. As a woman entering a plant overflowing with men, her 38 years spent at Boeing have been no different. But through hard work, finding male allies and mentors, and encouragement from her union, Hazel has found her place as a tool inspector and as an undeterred woman.
Diana Limon faced some pushback as well when she decided to go through an arduous apprenticeship in the 1990’s to become an electrician. Admittedly, she wasn’t totally prepared.
“I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into,” Diana said.
What she got into was physically brutal labor, but it was labor she was more than excited to put forth.
“For the first time, I was waking up every morning looking forward to going to work.”
Finding other women like herself who undoubtedly have the brainpower and the drive to work in construction is a top priority for Diana and her entire IBEW local union. Through her entire career, she has not ever worked with another woman out in the field.
“It is really hard to recruit women,” Diana said. “It’s even harder to retain them.”
Fields like construction, mining, and aerospace lack female representation for many reasons. Many women do not want to face harassment from male colleagues who see them as inferior or who see them as competition. Many women are also discouraged from a very young age from taking up these kinds of jobs. Instead, they are encouraged to enter careers like nursing and teaching.
Tackling the biases that exist within mostly male-dominated fields is not easy. But according to Tanya, the most important thing for every woman to remember is the value and power of persistence.
“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” Tanya said. “Keep fighting. Keep swinging.”