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How to Survive as a Woman in the Trade Industry

Jamie McMillan
Jamie McMillan

Jamie McMillan discusses barriers she’s faced as a woman in the trade industry and shares advice for young women interested in pursuing a career in it.

Mediaplanet: How did you get involved in the trades? Why?

Jamie McMillan: I was intrigued after running into an old high school classmate, who told me their pathway to a successful career as an ironworker through an “earn while you learn” apprenticeship. I applied, received a letter in the mail addressed to “Mr. McMillan,” and began my journey into the trade.

Who was your biggest mentor in the trades?

As a contractor, I move from job to job working with different crewmembers each time. Often being the only woman on site, I have had several amazing male mentors over the years, however my biggest support troops are some of the 2,200 other tradeswomen I network with daily via social media, phone calls, and at meet ups.

As a female pursuing the trades, what was the biggest barrier you faced? How did you overcome that barrier?

The barriers I face are ongoing. With each new contract, I meet new crews and have to start over proving myself again. Employers want employees to have a good attitude, great work ethic, and to do their job safely. I try my best to be respectful, do my work with integrity and lookout for the safety and wellbeing of my coworkers.

Jamie McMillan

As one of the only women in the trades, what was the biggest barrier for you once you were in the trades? How did you overcome that barrier?

There will always be ongoing barriers in all workplaces for workers regardless of gender or occupation. The important thing is to find a career you’re passionate about and maintain a positive attitude. I have often been told I should not be in the trades, nevertheless, with my knowledge and skills, I have demonstrated time and again that I deserve a rightful place in the industry. Some of those who were once my biggest skeptics are now my greatest allies.

What is your biggest piece of advice to young women thinking of pursuing the trades?

High school is your last free opportunity to explore a variety of options before you have to make the most important career decision of your life. Take advantage of every possibility to explore the shop, tech, and co-op programs offered. It can significantly change your pathway and lead to a rewarding career in skilled trades.

What is the most rewarding part of being a tradeswoman?

I love my career for many reasons. It has offered financial stability, independence, and the freedom to travel for work across the country. It keeps me physically and mentally engaged. I have worked with wonderful people from all over the world. The best part is, I take great pride in knowing I had a small part in constructing some of the structures that decorate our country, bridge our gaps, and provide workplaces and homes. Many of those structures will stand strong and proud for centuries after I am gone.

Since you have started working in the trades, what changes have you noticed in terms of gender diversity?

Prior to social media many women had never worked with or met other women in the trades. Some thought they were the only ones. Social media has brought us all together into networks with women representing globally. Now we are all working together to advocate, join committees, and climb the ranks to establish equality and diversity across the board. Government and employers are supporting our efforts by making bigger strides to provide inclusive work cultures and hire more women. However there is still a huge shortage gap coming in the skilled trades that we are having trouble to fill. Sadly, not enough women or men are choosing pathways in skilled trades to fill the gap.

How do you see this trend moving in the future?

Many acknowledge that change is needed but some are not willing to take the steps necessary to make change at this time. We need champions in the industry to move forward. As the younger generation moves in and begins to climb the ranks, I believe things will positively evolve. It will take time for change to trickle down from upper echelons of management to the back corners of the shop floors however as time passes those of us who want to make a difference are growing stronger in numbers and inevitably we will continue to create change.

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