Women only events just don’t cut it.  


Dear, Ask the Lady in the Hard Hat


I work in a Manufacturing facility with 80 per cent men. My shift has 95 per cent men. I attended a WIM event and it’s 100 per cent women.  How can we build understanding and respect when we are talking to ourselves? – Randy, Kitimat, BC.




Recently I attended a workshop on diversity and inclusion. My leader indicated that one other person in the department and I (out of 14 employees) should attend. Our common denominator was that we were both women. Women only events just don’t cut it. I didn’t need to attend the workshop since I already know there’s a problem – I rather think the other 12 should attend. Why were they not considered the best candidates for further learning? Honestly, I think the system is getting it wrong.


What is the “norm” the system supports? 

My leader was trying their best. However, if you were to ask them or the average management or leader in Manufacturing how inequality works, I don’t think they would be able to tell you. This is a real problem since you cannot solve a problem without identifying the root cause. Tackling inclusion starts with understanding what it is.


The system is set up to support an employee “norm” – like a school supporting the perceived average student. Traditionally in Manufacturing, the employee norm is male. As a male in this environment, you fit in by default. You are inherently more likely to look like your management team, and resultingly, identify with them on matters of opinion, conflict, or other workplace proceedings. It’s easier for you to be heard, and not by choice.


The reverse happens for women – the more you differ from the norm, the more challenges you will have fitting it. Your experiences and opinions are often considered less urgent during decision-making or left out altogether. Many leaders, including mine, have very good intentions and don’t want their employees to feel left out. So, what can they do about it?


What can leaders do to identify the root cause?

The answer is simple, yet very difficult – become aware. We need leaders to become aware of what inequality is and disrupt their existing way of thinking. I have worked with several very qualified industry leaders who simply don’t believe that inequality is an issue in their workplace, their team or their personal lives – frankly, this is denial. But I ask, how can they know if they have never experienced it or tried to educate themselves? Ownership of the problem is the first step.


Communication starts with listening.

As leaders who fit the norm, and who want to be educated, they just need to start. Getting all the women in the organization into a sharing circle will not solve the issue. Yes, it creates shared experiences and supports a team of talented professionals, but it puts the responsibility on women to “fix” the system, not the system itself.


Leaders need to become aware and do the work. They need to reflect on a personal level. When you hear a news report, read a book, talk to a worker about an experience – I encourage you to reflect on what you would do in this instance regarding your personal behaviour to support inclusion in a positive way. What are your blind spots or biases that enable a non-inclusive culture? I hear leaders all over saying, “You are asking a lot.” I hear people say, “Yes, I support inclusion, I am curious about behaviours and make changes when I can.” I say, “Great job, great start, but dig deeper.”


Inclusion is not just for “them”.

Tackling inclusion is every leader’s job. Inclusion in the workplace is the ultimate privilege.

So, if you are part of the norm, or if you are a leader, it is your responsibility to remove barriers that you yourself probably don’t even know exist. Yes, I know it’s confusing. How do you remove barriers if you don’t even know they exist?


  • Re-define the employee norm within your workplace,
  • Understand your privilege,
  • Find your own definition of inequality,
  • Set standards for your own behaviour,
  • Try, fail, try, succeed – manage the experiences when they happen.


Randy, as a Woman in Manufacturing you should attend any sponsored events, find your people and celebrate this amazing industry. Your leader should join you. Inclusion is not just for “them”; it benefits everyone. Next time an event comes up, a teaching moment happens or your leader asks you, “What are your barriers working in Manufacturing?”, reach out and let me know – I love watching change happen!

"I work in a Manufacturing facility with 80 per cent men. My shift has 95 per cent men. I attended a WIM event and it’s 100 per cent women. How can we build understanding and respect when we are talking to ourselves? - Randy, Kitimat, BC.