The Electrical Worker online
May 2017

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'We're Not There Yet.'
IBEW Canada Commits to Gender Parity

It's no secret that women make up a small portion of the electrical industry. IBEW Canada is taking steps to change that.

"We've come a long way, but we're not there yet," said First District Vice President William Daniels. "Women bring a lot to the workplace and the IBEW, and we owe them our full support. We all do better when women succeed."

Achieving full gender equality can't be done in a day, or by one person or industry. That's the philosophy behind the Leadership Accord on Gender Diversity for the Electricity Industry, an initiative from Electricity Human Resources Canada, a nonprofit focused on human resources in the energy field.

The accord, which IBEW Canada signed onto as a founding partner, was announced on March 8, International Women's Day.

"Diversity breeds innovation. Research has consistently shown that diverse teams are more creative and innovative, while better representing the customers they serve," said Michelle Branigan, who heads the nonprofit, in a press release.

More than just signing on to a statement, organizations commit to making changes in their sector, including improving workplace policies and practices to ensure a gender-diverse workplace, including gender representation in work contracts and promoting more women to senior leadership.

The IBEW joins other stakeholders in their support, including Ontario Power Generation, Algonquin College and the Energy Council of Canada. IBEW representative Andrea McQuillan, then a business representative with Halifax, Nova Scotia, Local 1928, served on the steering committee that reviewed the language.

Noting the barriers working women still face, consciously or unconsciously, the accord states, "The signatories to this accord recognize and confirm united action to expand the breadth and depth of the skilled workforce; ensure that women are informed of the opportunities available in the sector; and, once in the sector, are fully supported and provided with equal opportunities to grow and develop to their full potential."

Two women from Toronto Local 353 and two from Ottawa, Ontario, Local 586 shared their experiences in the building trades on the IBEW Canada website.

Karen Pullen, a business representative with Local 353, says society often discourages women and girls from entering the trades.

"It starts when we're babies," Pullen said. "People around us steer the girls towards the dollies and the boys towards the trucks. Why not let everyone play with both if they want to?"

They also shared their thoughts on being members of the IBEW.

"When I joined the union and started working on big projects, I found that my brothers would step in to defend me if some other trades were giving me a hard time," said Anne Schmitz, a member of Local 586, now retired. "It really is like joining a family."

The women also offer advice for aspiring electricians. Pullen suggested taking math and science courses and doing home projects.

"You'll find you're able to keep a lot more money in your pocket, which is especially important if you're a single mom," she said. "It's very empowering when no one has to save you."

Catherine Gorman, a member of Local 586, recommends taking the initiative to find a mentor.

"Walk into the IBEW union hall in your area and find a female mentor to help you get through the process. I try to be the mentor I wish I had when I was an apprentice," she said. "That's how I try and give back to the trade that has given me so much."

Even with the obstacles, the women shared a passion for the work.

"I love seeing the lights come on once I've done my work," Schmitz said. "It's a good trade, and it's good to know a trade. Our world is changing so fast, but so far, we still need electricians. It's a good way to earn a living and keep a family going."


IBEW Canada is one of several organizations that recently committed to a nationwide effort to bring more women into the electrical industry.