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How to effectively challenge gender bias in the workplace

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by Startacus Admin

Gender Bias in the workplaceHow can women effectively challenge gender bias in the workplace? Hayley Mackenzie from Boiler Guide, shares here thoughts and experience.

"According to the Gas Safe Register, of the 100,000 Gas Safe registered heating engineers in the UK, less than 500 of these are female.

The reasons for gender imbalance in the trades are many and complex, but the roots of the issue can be traced back to antiquated gender stereotypes and social conditioning. 

Despite anecdotal, social and scientific evidence to the contrary, there is still a large number of men and women who believe (to reference a somewhat ironic statement from gender biasthe UK’s second female prime minister) that there are ‘pink jobs’ and ‘blue jobs’. Supposedly, men are suited to practical or technical work while women should be in caring and supportive positions. All too often this means that when a woman establishes herself in the STEM or trade sector, she will still face the adversity and stigma from employers and potential customers of being a woman in a typically male-dominated field. 

How can women effectively challenge this gender bias in the workplace? It’s a fascinating issue and what prompted me to attend the annual Women Installers Together (WIT) conference in London on 4th July. 

Set up and run by Stopcocks Women Plumbers, the conference is in its third year and invites female plumbers and heating engineers to come together and share both their good and bad experiences of being pioneers in a typically male environment. The founder of Stopcocks, Hattie Hasan, opened the event with remarks on the presence of unconscious gender bias in all of us.

Hayley Mackenzie twitterI asked the women at the WIT conference about their experiences of gender bias and how they would advise women to challenge gender bias when they encounter it, without being seen as ‘combative’ or ‘negative’. 

Proactively start the conversation

Sarah: ‘If you get into conversation with your customer or someone and actually find out what their views are. Talking about it naturally, positively and confidently before you join a company or start work on a job can help to remove any awkwardness.’

Be confident in your skills

Kelly: ‘I stand my ground. I’m too confident in my abilities and my knowledge and I don’t think I even give customers the opportunity to doubt or question me.’ 

Prepare positive responses for when you meet for negativity

Jo: ‘My own mum still thinks I am not a plumber and never will be. She says that women should not do that kind of work. She even had her kitchen done recently and asked a male plumber to do the work. I told her I didn’t mind because she can’t afford me anyway. I try to keep it lighthearted, but you have to have a thick skin.’ 

Call out gender bias when you meet it

Sarah: ‘I attended a college open day and told the head of construction at the time that I wanted to do plumbing. He told me I couldn’t do plumbing as there were child gender bias workplaceprotection risks involved in having a 35 year old woman in a class of 16 year old boys. There were older men there, but they were not seen as a problem. It was a ridiculous statement but even more so considering I was a teacher at the time. I reported the conversation to senior management and I believe it was one of many incidents which led to his dismissal.’

Laura: ‘I was working on an extension in a home as the plumber. When the builders came in they looked at me like they’d seen a ghost and said, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m Laura, I’m the plumber’, and he said, ‘I thought you were the babysitter’. After that, he was very overbearing and kept suggesting how I should be doing my job. I was working for someone else at the time and I said to him that I refused to return to the job if that individual was still there. Thankfully, I was supported and he was moved to another assignment, but I don’t know if he was told what he had done that was inappropriate.’

Show your expertise and professionalism

Rose: ‘I find that the best response I can give people who doubt me is to simply get on with the job and to do it well. I know I’m thorough and can do the job as well as any other engineer out there, and once they see that my gender doesn’t matter. Most of my customers find me because I’ve been recommended by someone else, and several times the recommendation has come from someone who wasn’t confident in my ability at first. That’s a good feeling, because it feels like I’ve gone a little way to changing someone’s mind about female engineers.’ 

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Published on: 15th July 2019

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