Updated: Aug 6, 2019
Author: Rebekah Mechtensimer
I was reading the article Building space: Women break into the skilled trades and it reiterated one very important statement for me: “Another, even more basic barrier: many girls don’t get exposed to working with tools from a young age the way boys do.” A lot of us grew up in that traditional role mindset. If you were a girl, your mother typically was the one to take you under her wing and teach you things like cleaning and cooking. If you were a boy, your father would be teaching you things about being handy around the house and taking care of the outdoor tasks. The idea has always been that little girls shouldn’t get dirty or do things that would require more strength to accomplish and that little boys should be. This idea needs to change if we’re ever going to find true gender equality.
Now, I’m not saying that this is going to be easy. This is something that has been ingrained in us since birth and then reinforced with societal norms our whole lives. In many cases, this is unconscious bias. We need to stop seeing our children for what their gender is and more for what their interests are and give them the tools to figure out what they’re passionate about. This means giving them ALL of the tools in said tool box. Not just the ones that you “think” they should have.
“Women still represent only 3.4 percent of the construction trades workforce, says the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.” For me, this number is shocking and unsurprising all at the same time. My step-dad has been in the construction field since I was young. While my parents never told me that I couldn’t be in the construction field, it was never really suggested to me as an option until I was much older and couldn’t find a job. I think this mainly had to do with my parents protecting me. They didn’t want me to have a hard, labor intensive job, and I get that. However, being in the construction field, as labor intensive as it is, is a great line of work! You make good money, good benefits, and it’s unionized (most of the time) so you have people behind you who (ideally) have your back when problems arise.
Now, my point isn’t that I wish I was in the construction field. I stumbled right where I’m supposed to be ,but my point is that we need to put aside our bias of what “girl jobs” and “boy jobs” are and start teaching our children at a young age that they really CAN be whatever they want to be when they grow up. As a parent or mentor, it’s our responsibility to set our children up for success and that includes introducing them to all of the options available to them - including the non-traditional ones. This doesn’t mean taking away your daughters’ dolls and making her play with tools if she isn’t interested in that, but it does mean taking opportunities to show her other things.
This is where initiatives like “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” can come into play where it gives you a fun way to expose your child to STEM and see if it sparks interest and excitement. If it does, let them explore that. If it doesn’t, keep trying different things to incite that curiosity and passion. There are many steps that are needed for gender equality; however, I truly believe we need to start with kids and set them up for that equality goal.