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From business to the trades, women report big gains on International Women's Day

CBC

The entire second floor of the Yellowbelly restaurant in St. John's was roaring with excited, emphatic conversation Thursday afternoon as women from the province's business sector packed in for a sold out International Women's Day lunch.

The themes in that conversation? Change. Empowerment. Inspiration. Action.

"I call it a women's revolution. It's a lot of things. It's inclusion, it's parity, it's equity, it's #MeToo, it's a lot of things. But it's about time," said Brenda O'Reilly, Yellowbelly's owner and operator.

Natasha Hudson, regional partnerships manager with the Business Development Bank of Canada, agrees. 

"In a traditional sense, men have always owned the business network," she said.

But she's seeing big changes.

"Women are finding a voice," she said.

And employers can help, said Paula Sheppard, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs.

Offering flexible work hours to accommodate child care needs is one big way to do that, she said, emphasizing that men should have the same opportunities to shoulder some of the child care burden.

"Employers need to be more accepting when one of their male employees says, 'I'm taking paternity leave,'" Sheppard said.

Gains in the trades

The tides are turning for women in the trades too, according to electrician Joan Greeley and welder Renee Sharpe. 

"We're leading the way across the country when it comes to the number of women in the construction trades and the retention [of those women]," Greeley told the St. John's Morning Show.

She said she was a on a job site recently with a crew that was 20 per cent women.

When that happens, she said, "the whole culture changes."

"We're not just seen as an anomaly, we're just seen as a worker. Which is what we all want."

Sharpe said that she was often the only female welder on job sites when she started in 2011. Now, women make up about five per cent of the union.

"I think we're doing fabulous," she said.

'Power in numbers'

Sharpe teaches self-defence to women in the trades and teaches them to deal with harassment in the workplace, which she said is still an issue for women in trades.

Harassment in her line of work looks a lot of like harassment in any line of work for women, she said.

"Inappropriate comments about our body that make us feel uncomfortable, men taking tools from our hands, saying, 'Here, I'll do that for you,' even though you're a trained journeyperson doing your job really well," she said.

But in the trades, where workers are often using dangerous equipment and dangling from perilous heights, harassment can be especially dangerous, she said, noting that she's burned herself with her equipment while distracted and upset by harassment from co-workers.

But like Greeley, she said that as more women join the workforce, fewer people are giving them a hard time.

"Harassment is actually lessening because of the numbers that are coming in," she said. "There's power in numbers."

Money for parity

Over at the College of the North Atlantic's campus on Prince Phillip Drive in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro joined the Women in Resource Development Corporation to announce scholarships aimed at boosting those numbers.

The scholarships will put $1,500 into the pockets of six women beginning trades programs in the province in September.

"We have shared responsibility for driving gender parity. It doesn't belong to any one feminist or organization," said WRDC chair Kerri Best. "It belongs to governments, businesses, educators, organizations and media."

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