This article first appeared in print in the August 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.
Words and photos by Cara Smith
“Welder” isn’t always the first thought that comes to mind when meeting Em Lougheed. She says she’s seen a flicker of confusion or doubt on the faces of many people who’ve walked into her workplace. But decked out in heavy overalls, work boots and a formidable welding helmet, it’s impossible to deny that that’s exactly what she is.
Em Lougheed is more than a welder, of course. She’s a passionate artist, mountain biker, skier and undeniably tough human being. Lougheed is also a woman, a fact she says does not make it easier for her to succeed in a trade she loves.
Having worked in male-dominated industries for most of her career, Lougheed has had to work harder than many of her male counterparts to succeed. Despite more and more women starting careers in the trades, Lougheed finds the attitude that a woman simply shouldn’t be doing this kind of work is still present.
“It’s not one big thing that’s happened. It’s more so the little things. With my job, when there are outside companies coming in and delivering things, they’ll look at me and it’s just that look,” she says.
“They’re usually like, ‘Is anyone else here?’ And I’m clearly welding. I’m clearly there to work and I’m on the crew but it takes them that split second and you can see it. You can totally see it.”
Lougheed says she and other women like her sometimes have to find a balance between standing up for themselves and not being seen as sensitive or easily offended. Rather than allowing comments and looks to discourage her, Lougheed uses them as motivation to prove those who have little faith in her wrong.
“I do love my job and in the end, you’re there to work. You do a really good job and people respect you,” she says. “Women can even be better at certain things because we are more precise and more attentive to detail and we want things to be perfect. That could be really advantageous. It’s not a bad thing at all,” she says.
“I don’t think we should narrow our choices and our field of vision of what possibilities there are. You can do anything you want.”
Meg Wallace works as a wildfire fighter and ski patroller and has similar thoughts about the advantages of being a woman in the workplace. She notes that she has to work harder than many of her colleagues as well, primarily because of the disparity in physical strength.
“It would be silly to try and match a guy in one way because there are so many aspects to the job. I have a crew leader position now and I find it’s good for everyone to find their strengths and really work off those,” she says.
“If you can just do a really good job with what you’ve got, sometimes you can do an even better job.”
As slow as things are to change, they do seem to be moving towards women being better included in fields where they’re underrepresented. Wallace says in her field, and in Revelstoke in particular, workplaces are becoming not only more inclusive but more mindful of other social issues, including mental health.
“I have heard that sometimes in other places it can be a little harder, whether it be because they’re not as inclusive or because of crude comments that are made that girls feel uncomfortable about. I find here is pretty welcoming for females,” she says.
“I think the trend now is trying to open things up for females a bit more. I definitely don’t think they should hold back because I think it’s a benefit to have females in these industries for sure.”
In many industries, the change towards encouraging more women is happening not only in the workplace but through education and training.
Megan Moore, the head distiller at Jones Distilling, says she knows of very few women in her field, but that formal brewing education programs are making it easier for women to enter the industry. She sees this as a positive change as there is a very specific image of a head brewer or distiller established in the minds of many.
“It’s definitely an industry that is male-dominated and I think that’s mainly because of the history of it. When a lot of people think of a brewer or distiller, they think of a big bearded dude. That’s just the image around it,” she says.
“I’m usually assumed as a salesperson or the event person. I’m never thought of as, ‘Oh, you must be the head distiller.’”
Education programs are enabling change in the trades as well. Tara Fong, who manages Equity Trades Programs at the Industry Training Authority in BC, says they have been working to make a career in trades more accessible for women by arranging for funding of tuition, daycare, transportation, tools, and work gear for women looking to begin a career in the trades.
“I don’t think it’s an option that women even think of. Trades and technology and sciences aren’t often what women have presented to them,” she says. “We want women to see trades as a viable and sustainable career pathway.”
“We sit right now at just over 5.4% of women in underrepresented trades being apprentices and we’d like to see that double.”
As governments commit to reducing the disparity between men and women in the workplace and legislate pay equity, and educational institutions establish ways to encourage inclusion, there’s no question that times are changing. But for women working in male-dominated industries, the change can’t come soon enough as they strive not only to do as well as their male counterparts but even better.