'They want to make sure that the products that are put on the shelf for their fellow sisters in the trades are exactly what they need'
While women make up 48 per cent of the Canadian workforce (CME), according to a 2016 report by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF-FCA) in 2012 they only made up around 14.2 per cent of all registrations in the trades.
Skilled trades covers a broad number of professions. Generally though, heavier industries have been more male dominated. Female representation in many trades such as automotive, service technician, electrician or carpenter, this number is less than five per cent (and the numbers are even smaller for women of colour).
“It’s not that women are not within the trades or part of the skilled labour force,” says Robin Skillings, Senior Director of Global Marketing, KEEN Utility. “But let’s be honest, it hasn’t been easy for women coming into the trades.”
Indeed, though they remain underrepresented, women have been in the trades for a number of years. For example, women who entered the labour force during WWII to support the war effort (think of the iconic imagery of Rosie the Riveter).
Though broadly, these professions remain largely male dominated, things are evolving towards more inclusion.
“[Women] are coming into [the trades] with more support from individual countries, individual states and individual businesses that are truly looking for labourers who aren’t only men,” says Skillings.
“There are so many amazing women that have such a passion for their craft,” she says, “so I think that moving into the future, it is incredibly important to not lose sight that women are becoming a very strong segment of workers within what has been historically a very male dominated market.”
And that is partly because of potential future job shortages in the trades: “That is something that no one can shy away from. The entire market is really looking at the need for the breadth of skilled laborers and tradesmen and tradeswomen coming into this market,” says Skillings.
Nevertheless, female workers still face a number of problems. One issue that comes up time and time again, and which plagues women in a number of industries, is the lack of properly fitting PPE – which workers need to stay safe on job sites.
“For women it is important […] that we have the correct safety products, to ensure our safety on our job sites,” says Skillings.
“There are product development teams and marketing teams that see this need and are making steps to improve the offering for women within skilled work and the trades […] so that they then can really focus on doing the job well each and every day,” she says.
Skillings says that it is important for the market to evolve to mirror the growing number of women coming into the trades: “There are a lot of individual companies, large and small, that are truly seeing the need for additional skilled labor.”
Back to the issue of PPE, wearing comfortable and well-fitting equipment and clothing during a job is essential for safety but also productivity.
Footwear manufacturer KEEN Utility created a program called Tradeswoman Tested to help change the experience of women on job sites.
“Tradeswoman Tested actually started from a few different focus groups that we as a brand assembled with women across various trades,” says Skillings.
“The biggest thing that I kept hearing from tradeswomen was that they just don’t trust work safety products, whether that be footwear or other, that is specifically built for women,” she says.
Indeed, she mentions some marketing around women’s products were actually just men’s products which have been shrunk down to fit womens’ sizes, “but it didn’t feel right or fit right which means it just isn’t safe,” she says. “On top of that, some were taking what they had built for men and building something similar for women, but women quickly found that [the product] wasn’t as durable as the men’s.”
There is an element of trust that tradeswomen just don’t have for ‘built for her’ type of language: “This program really started out from wanting to build that trust,” says Skillings.
Tradeswoman Tested means that tradeswomen have been involved from the get-go to on-the-job wear testing through to the final launch of KEEN Utility safety products in market.
“The women that are part of this program are varied in their trade skills,” says Skillings. “They have different backgrounds in how and where they grew up as well as how they came into the trades. And with those variances and awesome differences, they’re incredibly united in their passion to make sure that they are part of the next evolution of women’s work safety products.”
“They want to make sure that the products that are put on the shelf for their fellow sisters in the trades are exactly what they need,” says Skillings.