Wednesday, March 2, 2011

WRDC contributes to gender diversity by “Thinking Forward”

Okay, so you’re an employer in the oil and gas industry. You’ve read the writing on the wall, and are ready to make gender diversity a real priority in your workforce.

Now what? Where do you turn to learn more?

The Women in Resource Development Corporation (WRDC) has just what you’re looking for. It’s called “Thinking Forward: A Practical Guide, Increasing Women’s Participation in the Industrial Workplace”.

It’s a compact handbook, prepared by the WRDC’s Daphne Hart and Meredith Quaile, that will help employers and sub-contractors understand the challenges that women encounter when they are looking for work or working in the natural resource sectors.

“Issues and solutions surrounding recruitment and retention of female labour, as well as ideas to help prepare the industrial workplace for women’s participation, are presented as recommendations and practical checklists for application,” the authors write, in the booklet’s preamble. “The forecasted skilled labour shortage related to trades, technologies and operations in the natural resource sector should be considered as an opportunity for women and industry to move forward together in a new direction.”

Daphne Hart will introduce and explain the booklet to conference delegates during her presentation on March 9.

“One of the things we’ve learned, is what men want and what women want in the workplace are basically the same thing,” Daphne said, in an interview. “Research has shown this. They want an opportunity to hone their skills, feel good about the job they do, be rewarded for it, and feel like they are part of the team.”

Getting to that point can present challenges, however, when the workplace is dominated by one gender.

“There’s much to keep in mind,” Daphne said. “When you hire a woman, make sure when she arrives at the workplace that she knows where to go, who to speak to, that there is someone to meet her and that she knows where everything is. It’s important to prepare the workplace, when women are hired into what was an all-male environment. It's important to involve your male employees. You’ve got to communicate to the men what’s going on, and what your expectations are. Also, address any concerns they may have about women joining the team.  For example, the employer might say: ‘We’ve just hired a carpenter and an electrician. They are both women. They are trained, and we are going to integrate them into the team. We do have a respectful workplace policy in place and we will certainly work together as a team.’ In other words, communication is one of the keys to successful inclusion and integration of women in traditionally male worksites.”

Many positive things are happening in the push to increase women’s participation in non-traditional roles, Hart said, including change from the top down, such as the requirement to include gender diversity plans in developments agreements for major projects. And the numbers of women working in engineering, trades and technology is gradually increasing. However, there is still much work to be done.

“I like to think positively about our challenges, and change does take time,” Daphne said. “But just recently, I was talking with a young woman who is working to become a heavy equipment operator. She approached an employer to ask about possible work opportunities, and he said, ‘No, we don’t hire women.’ And that was four months ago. So it is still out there and unfortunately it still does exist.”

And there are unseen obstacles for women, even after they’ve been in the job for a while.

“I was speaking recently with a female electrician, who works with a large organization, and she’s been there for many years,” Daphne said. “She said to me, ‘I love my work and I do very good work, and have a good rapport with my teammates, but the thing that I find hardest is that, if the team changes or I move to a new team, I have to prove myself all over again.’ This was a very real problem for her. Many women are still fighting this.”

Most often, male workers are unaccustomed to working with females, and unsure of how to conduct themselves within this new dynamic. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, including milder forms of sexual harassment.

“I deliver gender awareness in the workplace training, and I say to people, ‘The men in the workplace are not Hannibal Lecters. They’re not monsters. They go home, volunteer in the community, take their daughters to skating, and so on. But in the workplace, there’s an embedded culture, that’s very traditionally male, because it’s always been that way. I use the following scenarios to demonstrate a point. Let's assume that Joe is a man working on site and he's looking at Melanie, and he's wondering if what he is about to say to Melanie is appropriate, we suggest that Joe do a mind check and ask himself : 'If my wife were standing next to me, or if Melanie's husband were next to her, would I say it then? Or, if this were my daughter or sister, would I want someone to say this to her? So it’s a matter of changing the mindset. Things are changing. Companies really do want an unbiased, gendered workplace. They don’t want any kind of harassment. And it's a wise decision for organizations. It's best to have respectful and harmonious workplaces where both men and women can do their work.”

Today’s organizations have a strong safety culture, Daphne said. “Now, we need to bring gender inclusion up to the same level as our safety awareness, and make it a part of the corporate philosophy and identity.”

Fueling the Future: Women in Oil and Gas takes place March 8 and 9, 2011 in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It is presented by the Harris Centre, of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Please visit the official conference site, for more information or to register.

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