Sexism in Trade Professions


Kate Harding over at Broadsheet asks why more women don't take up trade professions, presumably work like an electrician or plummer. These professions don't require a lot of costly education, she reasons, and the earning power is often on par or higher than other white-collar work. Some women already in the professions are trying to encourage younger women to take up the toolbox.

But I think that Harding forgets that there are plenty of women that already work in trades -- it's just that those trades are very gendered. The standard non-college career for a number of young women I went to high school, for instance, was hair dresser and not auto mechanic. Furthermore, the amount of sexual harassment that most women experience in blue-collar male-dominated professions serves as severe discouragement. For those who saw North Country, I don't think I have to remind you how terrible it was for women driving trucks in the iron ore mines of Minnesota. (Although the movie was set in the 1980s, such harassment still exists.) The problems with women entering high-end blue collar technical trade professions is more about systemic cultural sexism and gendered roles than it is about women just not realizing how lucrative trade work can be.

I don't disagree with Harding that women entering trade professions would be a great step toward gender equality generally, and probably earn those women a lot more than white-collar jobs as an assistant (or even a manager). What would help is first what these truck mechanics Harding points to are already doing, mentoring young women in non-traditional fields. Secondly, unions that represent those industries need to not only be free of sexism themselves, but aggressively pursue lawsuits that would discourage sexual harassment. This is happening with some larger trade unions already, but it's not as wide as it should be. Maybe then Harding's instructions to take up the toolbox rather than the curling iron will be a reality.