Being a woman in any male-dominated industry is tough. Particularly for women in trades, there are certain realities that are just outright hard to accept and should not be the norm. In this episode, Natasha Fritz, owner of Natural Carpentry, opens up about her experiences as a woman working in the construction business. She was recently engaged in a legal dispute after calling out a catcaller on a radio show, and that’s what brought her here today. Debra and lisa also weigh in on the kinds of expectations forced on women in these fields—and the kind of change that needs to happen. Tune in for a thought-provoking piece on gender bias in the workplace, tackling harassment, and more.
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Women in Trades: A Reality Check with Natasha Fritz
Natasha Fritz of Natural Carpentry Shares Her Experiences as a Women in Construction
This episode will be an interview I conducted with Natasha Fritz, the owner of Natural Carpentry. I originally came to talk to Natasha because she was featured in a news piece, which she will tell us a little bit about during our conversation. It involves a lawsuit that is still unfolding. She wasn’t in a position to give us all the details, but she has committed to keeping me posted on that situation. When the time is right, we will give an update on that situation.
It also led us to a deeper conversation about her experience in the trades and working in construction as a woman in a male-dominated field. How did she get into it? What some of the challenges were along the way? What advice she has specifically for women who are considering a career in the trades? Before we kick that off, lisa, I’d love to hear from you. You and I are about the same age but we grew up in different areas of the country. What was your experience and exposure to the trades growing up? Did you consider this ever a viable career path for you?
The answer to that last question is no. I was born in the ’60s so I grew up in the ’70s, Quebec, outside of Montreal. My father worked in mining and industry. I had two older brothers who my father helped them work in the same field. I didn’t work in any of that growing up. In fact, when my father asked me if he could help me find a job at the company, it was to be a secretary. There wasn’t even an option in terms of that.
I want to talk a little bit about my experience in high school. The high school that I went to was a traditional high school, math, geography, history, etcetera… but it also had a shop training program and other programs around working in restaurants, home ec and other programs. It was a vocational school and a traditional high school.
As young women, we were all sent to the home ec courses. The guys were sent in to shop but once a year, they would do a switcheroo. They would have the guys learn how to bake a cake and the women would learn how to use a tool and die type of machine. It felt to be mostly for laughs as opposed to helping introduce women to trades. That would probably be it for my experience of being exposed to trades, and never having thought about it.
I will say one other thing. I also grew up in a family where we never brought in trades to do anything. My father did all the work around the house. I was exposed to how to do things like rewire a lamp or basic stuff around plastering walls and sandpapering. I wasn’t discouraged from doing it but I certainly wasn’t encouraged to think about it as a career track.
It’s somewhat similar for me. In Ontario, where I went to school, it was Grade 7, 8 where the girls were sent to home ec class and boys went to shop class. If I remember correctly, because middle school was Grade 7, 8 so two years, a year and a half of that time, you were steered based on your gender. There was a short stint of that where we did the switcheroo where I remember doing a little bit of shop and the guys had to go to the home ec class. I do remember struggling in home ec. I was not a model student in the home ec class. I remember the sewing component and almost sewing my finger to an outfit I was attempting to sew. I did enjoy the cooking component because that’s fun and creative for me.
As my peers were moving on to making much more complicated design things, I was still trying to master the zipper on a pencil case. I probably made about ten attempts at the pencil case. I remember feeling like, “I’m not interested in this. I am not excelling at it. Why do I have to take this course?” It was also something that occurred to me. I do remember making a cheeseboard that I thought came together quite nicely, but it felt rushed. I don’t feel like I learned a lot there. It was so quick and we’re trying to get through this project.
I felt as though we weren’t getting a lot of help from the instructor to make that cheeseboard happen or whatever it was we chose as our little project. I do think that not a lot has changed, to be honest because my son came home with a little thing that he made in the shop in 2020. It looks like the exact same project that we did many years ago.
Many of the men in my family are in trades, including my father. My sister and I were never encouraged to learn a lot of those things. We picked up a lot by being around. Certainly, my sister and I have had conversations about this. Looking back on it, she feels as though she wished she had done a lot more in that area but besides that, for my own damn independence, it would be nice to know how a car works.
There’s a YouTube video for everything. You could figure it out if you want to but I would have loved to have gotten more exposure to things like that. Forget about the career path aspect of it, which was never considered as a girl. Not that I didn’t know anybody in my world who was doing that but even to be able to navigate your world with a little bit more independence. It would’ve been nice to be exposed and learn some of those things.
A pretty good chunk of women and possibly those of you who are also listening, I’ve had the experience of going to a hardware store with a male friend or partner and knowing exactly what it was you needed to buy and how it needed to be measured or cut, the tools you needed or the type of paint you were looking for only to have the person who is in customer service at the other end not look you in the eye and speak exclusively to the male person who you’re standing next to and doing the shopping with. A lot of what we’re dealing with are biases that are entrenched in how we think about gendered roles for women and men.
There are very few jobs in which the genitals that you have in your pants are going to make a difference between your competence and the thing that you’re doing with your brain, hands or heart. They are already evaporating, but they need to evaporate even further. We need everyone’s skills, capabilities and smarts to create the world that we all want to live in. I’m looking forward to hearing some of the things that Natasha has to say about her experience working in what we would still consider unconventional for women to work in trades.
It is still considered pretty unconventional. Her experiences will shine a light on some of why that is. There is an effort to recruit more women into the trades. I see that around us in social media and commercials I’ve ever seen on TV, for example. There are a lot for women to consider. We can talk more about it. Let’s see what Natasha has to say.
Natasha, how are you?
I’m doing very well. How are you?
I’m pretty good. I want to thank you so much for joining me. For our readers, I’m going to set up how you and I came to be having this conversation. It’s an interesting story that’s still unfolding. We’re going to have to follow its conclusion whenever that happens. I had been reading a piece on CBC about how you had been listening to construction industry podcasts that you follow or used to follow because that’s your field.
The three men that were on that particular episode got into a conversation about catcalling on construction sites that you thought was a little inappropriate and you tried to address that with them. When you didn’t get a response, you ended up making a post about it and being sued by them, which had been dropped. I know that the legal matter is still unfolding and in the works. I know you can’t comment a lot on that but that is what’s brought us to be here.
We’re going to follow that case. You’re going to keep in touch with me and keep me posted on what’s going on because it’s an interesting story. In the meantime, I wanted to have a conversation a bit more broadly about women in trades and construction in particular because I know you’ve got a lot of experience there and stories. To kick us off, tell us a little bit about how you got into it. What made you decide to get into the trade?
When I was growing up, my grandpa was a carpenter. I did spend some time with him. He had a hobby shop on my grandparents’ property. I would spend a lot of time hanging out with him down there, building little projects. I built a dog house for one of my stuffed animals at one point, I remember. I was always interested in it and enjoyed it. When I went to high school, I took shop classes and I also enjoyed that. When I was doing my grade thirteen year, I took a co-op program. Half the day, I went and did a work placement.
When I did that, I had done a placement with a cabinet maker. This guy, Mark, was great and he worked by himself. Every year, he’d have a co-op student. That was when I saw it as a legitimate career choice. Before that, it had never been presented as such during high school and stuff like that. It was never something that was discussed much.
When I was applying for college in a university, I applied to some trade programs. I had gone with my mom on tour to different schools that I had applied to for the open house events that they do. When I went to Algonquin to check out their carpentry program, it clicked with me on a personal level. It felt like it was the right place for me to go to school. That was what I based my decision on. I’ve been doing it since then.
I’m going to ask this question because I’m interested in the early days of what gets into our minds as kids. It influences so much of what we do later in life. When you were doing that with your grandpa, were there ever moments where you felt like, “As a girl, this is weird for me to be doing this?” The fact that he did that activity with you says to be a lot about him because a lot of grandpas wouldn’t do that. They would’ve discouraged girls from even taking it up as a hobby.
I don’t ever think I thought it was weird. I didn’t feel like it was out of place until I was in a shop class in high school where I was sometimes the only girl or one of 2 or 3 girls. He never made it seem weird. Other cousins of mine, we would all hang out down there. There was cool stuff to do. I remember he would let me use the drill press sometimes. He’d be helping me but there were some of the tools where I was allowed to help him use them because they were basic. I enjoyed sitting on his workbench and watching him do the work that he was doing. I always found it interesting. It’s great memories for sure and an enjoyable time spent together.
When you’re just starting out in any career, if something is happening and you think that doesn’t seem correct, you’re far less likely to speak up about it.
Did you have any concerns about it being such a male-dominated field?
I didn’t think that I had concerns until I tried to get a job. I knew that this was an out-of-the-ordinary career choice technically for a woman but when you’re in a learning environment, it’s way more inclusive, even though some things were maybe physically a bit more difficult for me than some of the other students that were male. A learning environment is way more inclusive than a job site environment.
Towards the end of my second year of school, I started to realize like, “This might be pretty hard.” The reality of it hit me because a lot of the male students had jobs even before they had finished the college program. I didn’t have anything like that. I don’t know if any of the other women in the program did. Maybe 1 or 2 might have but I don’t totally remember. I remember thinking like, “I didn’t know that we were supposed to have jobs already.”
When I had graduated, it took me at least a month, if not more, to find work, which was a little discouraging. I felt like, “Am I ever even going to find a job?” Even going through the interview process some of the questions that people would ask me, looking back on it, were so insane and ridiculous. People would ask, “Are you planning on getting pregnant? How much weight can you lift? How many 2x4s do you think you could carry? Do you think you could do this?” I remember even in one interview, the person who was interviewing me told me, “We’re not to give you this job because we don’t think you can do it.”
Did you have any other experiences that you felt like, “This is because I’m a woman,” in terms of encountering either inappropriate stuff or difficulties either getting the job or on the job?
Yeah. Getting a job was pretty difficult. I found that the more experience I gained, the easier that part became because then I could say, “I have 2 or 5 years of experience.” I found that the experience helped with that. I would assume maybe because people were more inclined to take the risk and try hiring a woman if they claim to have experience, whereas having no experience was more difficult. There have been lots of inappropriate comments being called sweetie, princess, honey, all that stuff onsite while at work, which is very demeaning, especially if you’re in a position, which I have been in the past, where you’re in charge of these people.
There were lots of inappropriate things like touching. I remember one of the first jobs I got was in a shop environment and this guy that we were working with, he and I were passing by each other in a tight area close to one of the machines. He felt like it was necessary to touch my hips and rub up against me while passing by each other. That was very uncomfortable and I quit that job shortly after. The other biggest thing I would say is people straight up not listening to you or listening to your idea or suggestion and then somebody else might say it and they’re like, “That’s a great idea.” You’re left standing there like, “If only someone had mentioned that idea before this moment.”
Not that it’s probably going to make you feel any better but this has all happened in boardrooms too. It’s not totally isolated to the construction industry. That’s for sure. Although some aspects of it are different in construction. What do you find help in those situations? What’s your strategy to deal with these things when they come up?
The strategy is ever-evolving. It also has to do with having more confidence and being more self-assured. When you’re starting in any career, if something is happening and you think that doesn’t seem correct, you’re far less likely to speak up about it because you think, “I’m probably wrong. This person is my boss. They know what they’re doing.” The reality is they might not know what they’re doing. It’s because they’re your boss doesn’t mean they have any idea what they’re doing. It means that they hired you. That is something that has progressed.
I have been in a situation where I will respond in a very aggressive or even belittling way like, “You want to call me princess?” I’m going to say something super emasculating to you in front of all of these dudes, which in hindsight is probably not the best approach. Sometimes you feel at a loss of what to do or it’s an emotional reaction so you’re not thinking it through. I am getting better at responding to it in a calmer way and calling it out in the sense of asking them a question.
For example, if someone interrupts you, which is something that happens all the time, guys talking over you in a meeting or in a situation where you’re trying to brainstorm a solution. I find that if the second that you get interrupted, you stop and say, “Did you mean to do that just now?” It gives whoever that person is a moment of self-reflection, hopefully at least where can they say to themselves, “What did I do? Did I mean to do that? Why did I do that?”
Being a bit more constructive and trying to call it out more so in a form of a question, allowing someone to draw their own conclusions is probably the most effective way but it’s also not always going to work. It’s a choice. You can choose to recognize at that moment you were talking over me because I’m a woman or you can choose not to.
I’m encouraging women more to call things out and share their stories. I don’t think that things will change if we don’t start making it apparent what is happening, obvious that it’s happening and the frequency with which it’s happening. When the #MeTooMovement started, I shared some stories with my husband. We’re in the past and I’m not reliving them every moment. I certainly remember them but I hadn’t come up.
When I told him some of those stories, he was so surprised. Often men are surprised to hear some of these stories but yet it’s prevalent. Women know that. As you’ve experienced, it’s hard but at the same time, it’s an important thing to do. It takes a lot of courage. Have you ever felt nervous or scared for your safety or wellbeing in any way?
I have. One incident in particular that I remember was I was doing this project. I was the super of the site. There were these concrete guys there. They were forming the footings for the new foundation of this edition. My job was to supervise these people and make sure they didn’t mess anything up. They needed a lot of supervision. They were struggling to function. I remember noticing at one point where they had placed one of the footings was very much so in the wrong spot based on where I had laid out the centerline to be. We were also there pretty late.
It was in the summer. It was one of those things where we got to get this done because the concrete’s getting poured tomorrow so this has to be ready first thing in the morning because there’s a truck coming in at 7:00 AM. I noticed that this footing was off. They were trying to pack up and leave. I said, “This is not correct. We have to move it. It’s not going to work.” We have to move it over 12 inches or something, like a massive amount. It was so far off.
They were like, “No, it’s fine.” They’re trying to explain to me why it was fine. I was like, “I can see that it’s not fine. I don’t know what you’re explaining but it’s not fine.” They were arguing with me. I jumped down into the hole. I started pulling the stakes out and smashing apart the footing being like, “We are moving this. Whether you like it or not, we are doing it.” They got extremely upset to the point where they were yelling at me, getting right up in my face and physically shoving me.
I was by myself on this site with three men. They were not having it. I yelled back as loud as I could at them to get away from me. We were in a neighborhood. I was hoping that if I started yelling loud enough to get away from me that people would come outside and be like, “What’s going on?” That is exactly what happened. When they saw that people were looking, they calmed down and backed off. We fixed it and went our separate ways for the day.
I have two questions. First of all, did you feel adequately prepared? I know that you felt well-prepared to do the work. Correct me if I’m wrong, but based on my conversations with you, you left your training program feeling well-equipped to do the work. You are well-trained so you were very interested and motivated to do the work. Did you feel well equipped and supported to be one of the few women in a male-dominated industry where these things go on?
Quite frankly, no. There are still situations that arise where I feel unprepared for that kind of treatment. There are still to this day situations where I’m like, “Is this still going on? Are we still being treated this way?” Once I started a business, I remember thinking like, “This isn’t going to happen anymore. I am an operator of this business. I know what I’m doing well enough to operate a business, employ people and be hired by people. I’m qualified.”
I would still encounter these situations where people discriminate me because of my gender. I remember the very first time that it happened. It was me and this one other employee that I had, who was a young guy on site. There was this plumber there. I had framed some walls. He disagreed with what I had done because of something to do with his plumbing that I didn’t care about.
He came up to me and in front of the homeowner said, “Sweetie, have you ever done this before?” I got so angry. I looked at him and said, “What the fuck did you say to me?” He was like, “What?” He immediately backpedaled. I was like, “You better get out and leave. If I am here, you’re not here. If you’re here, I’m not here. That’s it. Don’t talk to me. We’re done. Please leave.” The homeowner was there and I was like, “You heard what he said. I refuse to work if this man is here and if you want him to be here instead of me, that’s fine. I will happily leave.”
I went into my van and cried because I got so upset. I was like, “I passed that fine line of, ‘Is this an acceptable level of emotion? Am I being hysterical?’” I felt like I had passed that line onto the hysterical side. I lost my cool about it. This guy’s like, “It’s because she’s a woman and being hysterical, she’s probably on her period.” Fill in the blank.
Men are certainly allowed a much broader range of emotion. They can yell, scream, swear and get angry.
Be a bit more constructive and try to call it out more in the form of a question. Allowing someone to draw their own conclusions is probably the most effective way.
They’re allowed a much broader range of any form of anger but they’re not allowed any of the other emotions. They’re only allowed different forms of anger and rage.
Is there anything in the industry in terms of support for women and also men too? If something’s going to change, it’s men’s behavior that needs to change. Men need to be the focus of it and involved in it. I get troubled when I see a lot of effort being made to attract women into these fields. I saw a post trying to attract women into the trades, which is fantastic. Women need to be everywhere.
However, to your point when you go through, it’s not training, preparedness or can you do the work issue. All of that’s fine. It’s the work environment when you get out there. Is there anything that is a support for you or that you can go to if something happens? Is there a way to lodge a complaint? Maybe you don’t even want to do that. I know in business, when you lodge a complaint, it doesn’t always go that well.
To my knowledge, there’s no governing body that I can go and complain to or get support from. You have to get permits and all this stuff. Construction businesses and how they operate is a highly unregulated industry. It is severely lacking in regulations of a lot of different kinds. Men need to be the focus of the conversation because the issue isn’t women on job sites. It’s how men behave when women are on job sites or overall lack of preparedness.
The number of times I’ve been on a site, they don’t have a proper washroom or washrooms serviced enough. I always end up being the one that has to complain about it or I’ve even gotten to the point where even if I’m not paying to rent the Porta Potty, I call the company and say, “You need to come and service this immediately. It’s gross.” It’s always me who’s the one who usually needs to deal with that.
Everybody deserves to have a clean place to go to the washroom that’s regularly serviced, has a garbage can in it and some toilet paper. One of the issues with the culture of construction is the concept that men will put up with almost anything not to appear a certain way in front of other men, whether that’d be weak, they’re complaining or not man enough. Fill in the blank. However, you want. That is a huge issue.
If we talk specifically about the bathroom thing, I’ve been on many job sites that they don’t even have a Porta Potty. If I want to go to the washroom, I have to go and drive to a Tim Hortons or something. It’s ridiculous. That’s the situation for everybody. Guys are then expected to probably pee somewhere in the corner or whatever it is that they’re doing.
All I think is like, “What this person that you’re working for is saying to you, ‘I don’t value you enough as a human being. You don’t deserve to have a safe, clean space to go to the washroom.’” That’s what that behavior is saying. That’s a major systemic cultural issue in the industry. It’s devalued. It’s in a lot of ways looked down upon as this industry you would go into if you don’t have a lot of choices.
That’s a big contributing factor. It’s difficult for anyone in the industry, especially women because women to a certain point don’t tolerate things in the same way that men do in my personal experience. I find that men are not great at setting boundaries in general as a whole. To me, we have to have a washroom onsite or we are leaving. I’ve worked with so many guys that are like, “There’s no washroom. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out. Here’s a bucket.” It’s ridiculous.
Part of it has to do with having a penis too. It’s easier for them to go behind a tree.
As far as support for me, I have a couple of close friends that are also in trades that are women. We talk about this stuff. If we’ve had a hard day dealing with some specific mansplaining situation or whatever it might be, we text or call each other. We talk about it. There are associations and even some more informal groups where you can get together for a meetup. It’s different women in the trades and stuff like that. Those are the only things that I’m aware of as far as support that’s available other than my family and things like that.
What would you say to a younger woman who is considering going into the trades? What advice would you offer?
Try to always remember that none of these issues with regards to people talking down to you or a situation where you’re being discriminated against are issues to do with you as a person or even you as a tradesperson. They don’t have anything to do with you at all. They have to do with whoever the person is that is treating you that way. That is their problem 100%.
Unfortunately, you are going to experience these things, guaranteed. The sooner you call them out and the more you call them out, the better. Looking back to when I was starting out, there are things that I wish I had spoken up about, even if I was in an interview for a job and someone asks me, “Do you plan on getting pregnant?” I wish I would have told that person, “That’s a super gross and inappropriate question. Why are you asking me this in an interview? Did you ask the guy that you interviewed before me if he plans on impregnating anyone? No, you didn’t because it’s none of your business.”
I wish I had the confidence then that I do now to be like, “This is unacceptable. Stop doing it.” The sooner you do that and the more frequently you do it, the better. It will also help you try to find a good working environment. If you’re calling those kinds of things out and then people are getting super reactive or offended about it, it’s probably not a great place to work.
That’s a lot to think about, Natasha. I can’t wait to hear how your story ends with the legal piece of this. We’re going to come back to that. I so appreciate you doing this. This was enlightening for me. It’s potentially going to help a lot of other women too. I hope that they don’t see it as, “I shouldn’t go down this road.” What I hope is that it starts to be the beginning of understanding that a lot of change needs to happen and how we can start to make that change. I personally would like to see this addressed in the training programs from day one. It’s going to happen to your point, guaranteed.
It’s an unfortunate thing. I hope that more women get involved. It can only benefit the industry because it will create a much less toxic work environment if there is more inclusion.
Thank you so much for doing this.
Thank you for having me.
lisa, there are a number of things that stood out to me about the conversation with Natasha but one is how much I love her grandfather. You and I spoke in the very beginning here about those early childhood experiences. From the moment we’re born and the world sees a penis or vagina, we start getting steered down certain paths, get different messaging and treated a little bit differently. Those early childhood experiences are so important for what we even see as possible for ourselves.
Thankfully this is changing but we’ve managed to shut down all the powerful caregiving and connective qualities that men have and would want to contribute to professions that involve that skill set and have prevented women from working whether it’s in trades or in all kinds of scientific endeavors. You and I have touched on pushing women to work in STEM, which in and of itself is not a bad thing.
These cultures are not necessarily welcoming to women but the converse is also true for men working in more caring professions. We’ve done this from day one or earlier. When a woman or a family knows that they’re going to be giving birth to a boy or a girl, look at these gender reveal parties with pink glitter or blue balloons. We start these tracking people and do what we believe they’re capable of whether or not they are interested and capable of doing those things. I give huge credit to Natasha for following in what she loved from very early on and having that powerful influence in her life.
An important point that we always need to remember is that these gender stereotypes are harmful to men too. Not that we’ll go into it in depth here, although it will find its way into future conversations. When I look at the world around me or I watch international news, for example, I see a lot of angry men. In certain international news, in some countries, you barely even see women. They’re not even allowed out of the house or something. They’re not participating. Men are perpetrators of violence against other men and women.
To me, that is also evidence that men are being harmed by gender stereotypes and patriarchy. Our whole world is being harmed because they’re being denied all of the amazing talent out there that could be harnessed if we took away all of these expectations that we layer on because of gender. Those early childhood experiences are so important to what we are exposed to, should do or are capable of all of that stuff. It bleeds into our thinking about all of those things.
I was also struck when she talked about women in trades and on construction sites. She talks specifically about some of her experiences and some of them were pretty disturbing, the one that she talked about being shoved. I asked her what her support system was. Was this addressed in the school program that she took? She talked about feeling as though the education system, the course that she took was a bit more supportive.
Men need to be the focus of the conversation because the issue isn’t women on job sites; it’s how men behave when women are on job sites.
It was getting out into the world of work where she started to struggle. Is it even a safe place for women? Where do you go and get support if you don’t feel safe? That aggravates me that we have women going into these male-dominated spaces without consideration for their safety and the supports that are going to be needed in order for them to be viable in that career path.
I see two broad issues at play. One is bias. We think that women are not suited to particular professions. You and I were talking not that long ago about even referring to tools. I consider my phone to be a tool. I have smaller hands than a man. I can’t hold a bigger phone. It doesn’t mean I can’t use a phone. It’s the same thing with tools. I can drill a hole in a wall but the drill has to fit in my hand. If it’s too big, it’s harder for me to hold.
It has nothing to do with my competency about getting a straight hole into a piece of wood or a wall. Right before we had this conversation, I had this little tweak in the back of my mind of seeing something that annoyed me. Years ago, I was in a Walmart in the United States needing to pick something up for a camping trip. They had a section of tools that were exclusively reserved for women.
I love the fact that the tools were a bit smaller and you could hold them in your hands but I resented the fact that they were pink. It’s this gender characterization of a tool. It’s not a male or female thing. It’s a thing that you hold in your hand to accomplish something that you’re trying to do. We design the world in two ways around these biases we have.
The other thing that you touched on that is the other core part of this is the behavior. Nobody should feel unsafe anywhere in the world, least of all at work. You’re going there to contribute your skills, to accomplish something, to be intimidated and made to feel that you don’t belong. The one piece that Natasha was talking about with a plumber who she had this interaction with and the way that he communicated to her in front of the client, nobody should have to be treated that way, regardless of who you are or what you wear.
These are things that we’ve accepted over long periods of time that you can treat some people who are maybe not White and not male as being less deserving of respect. To me, those are the two broad things, the biases that we encounter in the workplace and then the behaviors that emerge from those biases. Your job is to do your job. If, in addition, you have to take on the mental and emotional labor of self-protection whether it’s emotional or physical self-protection, that should not be part of anybody’s job expectations.
I have a quick story similar to the tools piece. There’s an amazing book by Caroline Criado Perez called Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. She has done an unbelievably amazing job of looking at data. First of all, the data on women is missing in many areas, including the medical profession, like significant areas that impact women’s lives. It’s amazing, although somewhat depressing at times.
One of the things she talked about is how so much is designed for the average male. She calls it the default male. Tools is a perfect example of being designed for the average man’s hand. The average man has a hand that is larger with greater grip strength than the average woman’s hand. These are data points and facts.
If you want women to be able to participate in these fields and use tools, they need to be designed better. Pink is not part of the design that we care about so much as make it work for a woman’s body. In the case that you’ve described, a tool that you have to hold in your hand. We have this outdoor space and heater. During COVID, it’s been amazing because we use that space a lot more.
First of all, for me to light this thing, I have to stand on my tippy toes, grab around the top of it and push a button in with my thumb while I’m holding this thing. At the same time, you’re pushing the button in, with your other hand, you have to turn the thing of a jigger for the gas to come on. I was getting so frustrated because I always had to ask my husband to do this for me.
It made me feel like, “I’m this weak girl.” I was taking on a bit of shame quite frankly about this because I thought, “I should be able to do this by myself.” I had the experience with a girlfriend where it took two of us to get the thing going. She’s a bit shorter than me. I had the height. Even though I was still on my tippy toes, it took two of us to use our hands.
I had this moment after reading this where I thought, “It’s not designed for me. Why should I feel bad about this? This is nothing for me to be made fun of or feel embarrassed about. It’s not designed for my height, my strength, the size of my hand, my grip strength. Nothing about it is designed for this to be easy for me.” It changed my lens when I think about that. The part of the challenge is not to get overly angry about that but to somehow channel that knowledge in a way that’s healthy, which I work on.
The book is remarkable for highlighting things to me that I knew subconsciously but then when I read them, I thought, “Absolutely.” One of the things that stood out, if I recall correctly, was that women tend to get more carsick in cars. The way that the cars are designed for bodies, typically male, that have a higher center of gravity.
There’s less agitation in the body and less propensity to be carsick than women with a lower center of gravity. The cars aren’t designed in terms of their vibration or the way that the seats are built. There are many examples of this. The good thing is once we know it, we can do something about it. The problem is we’ve known about some of this stuff and we’ve done nothing about it.
Women are maybe a teeny, slightly higher percentage of men on this planet, probably because we typically become a little bit older before we die and yet when you look across the industry, let’s set aside the trades, that line that came out in the Harvard Business Review years ago, that there are more men named John in CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies than there are women, regardless of what their names are.
I’m going to say it loud and proud. It’s a myth, meritocracy. This idea that if you’re better, you will naturally rise to the top is in the realm of fables and dragons living underneath mountains. We are biased human beings. We are born into bias systems and workplaces that consider particular roles better suited to women or men, depending.
You have to look at pay data. Regardless of whether they identify as men, women or somewhere else on a binary or non-binary spectrum, we pay people less if they don’t fit the norm of being as you called it. Caroline calls it the default male. The one line that stood out for me in her book is when she says something along the lines of, “Men are universal and females are niche.” How can you be niche when you’re even more than 50% of the population? That’s a hard one for me to understand and get my head around.
I’m going to bring us back to Natasha but before I do that, I want to make sure I make a mention because the author that we’re talking about, Caroline Criado Perez, was on a podcast I listened to. I would highly recommend listening to this podcast. If you want to get a little bit of an understanding of the depth of her research and how profound it is, get the book too. The book is fascinating. It’s a good chunk of reading. To your point, you feel a little overwhelmed almost at times with the data. This podcast was with Annie MacManus called Changes with Annie Macmanus.
They are both British. She talks about the auto. It’s not just car sickness. Women are over 40% more likely to experience a serious injury in a car. It was around 17% more likely to die in a car crash. It is a major health and safety issue as well because crash test dummies are designed on the average male size. She goes into great length about it. A lot of other things, including why do women have to wait longer for the washroom? There’s a ton of data as to why that is. It’s not because we’d like to flock to the washroom together, hang out and put on lipstick. That’s not why. We don’t want to wait to go pee any more than anybody else.
I want to come back to another piece of something that Natasha shared around the washroom situation on the job site. I found this so fascinating. The way she made it sound like was the men that she works with don’t want to be perceived as complaining or weak. It’s almost there’s this certain manliness to not caring about what the bathroom facilities are like. It tends to fall on her. The point she made was we all deserve that. We’re on a job site. We all deserve safe and clean facilities.
Let’s get to basics here. Regardless of the body you have, if you’re a mammal, you have to help your body get rid of things that are no longer needed. That’s thing number one. Thing number two is that you don’t want your employees getting sick because that means they’re off the job. It behooves you as an employer to provide sanitary conditions for people to wash their hands and do whatever they need to do to eliminate whatever needs to be eliminated from their bodies. I don’t even see why this should be a male-female thing.
Let me add one other thing to this. I am not interested in male-bashing. This is not about men being bad or stupid. This is not it at all. We are all capable people. We are all in the grips of ideas around what should be women’s roles and men’s roles. We all benefit from cleanliness, respect and the ability to do our jobs without being harassed, attacked or belittled. This is a human issue. I don’t want this to be a male-female issue. The fact is we have lots of data that says that things are not working as well for women and we have the opportunity whether it’s at work or in any other aspect of life to make some significant changes that are beneficial for all of us.
The sooner you call them and the more you call them out, the better.
To that, when she talked about it being a reality, she said, “For women going into the trades, prepare yourself. This will happen to you.” That’s a striking thing. I started to go down that path a little bit but it’s this idea that it’s a career reality for women. In her case, in the type of work environment she’s in, aggression and unwanted attention came out in certain ways. I’ve experienced similar things in an office environment and many women have.
It’s the norm on some level. I have at least three pretty obvious and significant #MeToo type of moments. The good thing about getting old is this type of thing does happen a little less. I’ve talked a little bit about these as it’s come up in conversations in some previous episodes but I will share another example.
The reason why I share this is that it’s important for women to start to share their stories so that we all understand that men and women understand how common this is and how much women are adjusting their behavior to protect themselves and I believe in many cases are diminishing themselves to stay in the background and not draw as much attention to themselves because quite frankly, it’s safer.
One example, when I was in my twenties, I was working in an office environment and I had two bosses. One was a woman and one was a man. I enjoyed very good relationships with both of these people. I liked them. The job was fine. It was pretty junior but it was all good. The male boss, I quite liked him. He had a family, married, three kids, pictures of his children all over his desk, seemed like a nice supportive person.
One day, he resigned from the company. He had a new opportunity. As part of that, as he was preparing to leave, his final days, he was offloading some additional information and work to me that I would be taking over. There was a warehouse area that was attached to the building. He wanted to walk me through this space and show me some things. I take my notepad and off we go.
We’re walking through this space. He’s telling me some stuff, none of it seems very earth-shattering but we get to this point where he pauses, turns to me and says, “Can I have a kiss?” My twenty-year-old self was so shocked. Everything that I thought about our relationship went to shit at that moment. I remember thinking, “Am I still going to be able to use you as a reference?”
This is the first time I’ve heard you tell this story and my stomach clenched. Here’s something that makes me crazy. People are like, “You were in your twenties. It was a long time ago.” It wasn’t appropriate then. It’s still happening and it’s not appropriate now.
This is an extra thing I had to navigate in the workplace. It also made me wary about trusting men. If this guy who was a nice guy, had a family, beautiful children and seemed very attentive and loving towards them, was going to do that, any guy could do that. Who was I going to trust in the workplace? It made me rethink how I approached everything in the workplace in terms of, do I want to travel with a male colleague? It’s this extra layer that women have to think about and navigate that I don’t think men fully realize.
If you don’t experience it, you don’t see it. You’re reminding me as I listened to you. This is a bit of a different story, but very early on in my career, I was a manager of a bookstore. Next door to the bookstore was an ice cream parlor. The name of the ice cream parlor was the name of the owner. Every once in a while, he would come by with some little sample that he would give to me and my staff. At one point, after sharing some of the ice creams, he grabbed me and hugged me. It felt awkward. As a woman, you learn to write these things off. It became a bit of an expectation on his part.
Anytime he delivered ice cream, he’s like, “Can I have a little payment?” It’s in the form of a hug. He would do this to me and my staff. My staff were all women and we were like, “This is disgusting. We don’t like it.” We all closed the store and went over. I made sure his wife was there so that she could hear the conversation that we had with him. This wasn’t to shame him. This was to help him understand that this is unacceptable behavior. We weren’t even his employees.
We accepted this behavior for a few weeks before we confronted it because we didn’t want to be seen as not appreciating the fact that he was giving us ice cream when the whole point of him giving us ice cream so he could grab us. Any women who are experiencing any of this in the workplace, it’s not okay. You can speak up and you have to speak up if you’re feeling uncomfortable. You don’t deserve to be treated with your physical boundaries being trampled on in the workplace. You don’t deserve it anywhere but particularly not at work.
It was interesting to listen to Natasha talk about her struggle in terms of figuring out how best to deal with this. How to confront it? When to confront it? You have a lot of considerations. You have to choose your times and places. Call out the behavior and make sure people know how it makes you feel and that you think it’s unacceptable. Do it right away.
My way of dealing with things like that was always to use humour the first time. I would be very direct but I would be tongue-in-cheek. I did it with some humor and a smile but it usually got the point across. Fortunately, I was mostly able to navigate things and not let things get too out of hand by taking that approach.
That’s emotional labor. It’s diffusing bombs with language. The thing that Natasha said when you asked her directly like, “How do you deal with this?” She said, “My strategies are evolving because as you become more confident, you know how to address things.” Sometimes you’re going to choose humour and sometimes you’re going to choose the direct route. Sometimes you’re going to walk away because you’re tired of this shit. All of those are legitimate.
In the same way, any woman out there can relate to thinking about the path you’re going to walk home from something. Pretending to be on a phone call when you’re walking home after dark, putting your keys in your hands in case, all the ways in which we modify our behavior because of these other considerations. We do this at work too. A lot of women don’t want to draw attention. When we talk about being confident, volunteering for projects and looking for ways to stand out sometimes women are not that comfortable drawing that attention to themselves.
For me, the way I can relate to it was my personality. I’ve gotten a little grumpier over the years. When I was younger, I was this happy, go lucky. I always had a smile. I was very friendly towards everybody. That was who I was but it was often perceived as flirtatiousness. I ended up trying to reel that in or be more cognizant of how and when I use that. I had to deal with unwanted attention. I don’t say that because there was anything special about me. I think that’s what women encounter in the world of work.
As we wrap up this conversation, I want to thank you for having that conversation with Natasha. I wanted to add something to what you were saying there about toning yourself down but also this idea that, “Women, you need to speak up more.” Why do women always have to be more like men in order to succeed in the workplace? I’d like to see some men tone it down a little bit and not get away with yelling and banging on tables. That’s unacceptable to me. Some calmer, more compassionate and empathetic approaches to dealing with challenges in the workplace, as opposed to getting angry and spewing off, would be something I would like to see more of in the workplace.
To judge women by saying that they’re not aggressive enough forces them into a situation where they’re like, “Either I’m going to have to be assertive and aggressive or likable.” We don’t want to put anybody in that position at work. We want people to be understood and listened to for their great ideas. Everybody wants to be challenged to grow and develop. Let’s start knocking off these biases in the workplace to make work user-friendly. My line is, “You’re losing us. We’re going to take our talents and go elsewhere. If we’re not welcome in the places where we belong to be, we’re going to start our own businesses and work with people who believe what we believe in.”
Think of someone like Natasha, a perfect example, how much stronger she’s had to be? How much braver she’s had to be than the average guy going into those fields? Anybody who thinks women are weaker, that’s crazy talk because we’ve had to be so much extra more to get to the same place, put yourself in that situation and stay there. The other thing about male-dominated fields, traits being one of them, is not getting women into those jobs. It’s keeping them there.
When you have all these extra issues and challenges to deal with and to the point where maybe you don’t even feel safe, it’s difficult to justify why you would continue to subject yourself to these things. We need to bring into balance the male and the female imbalance, which is how it’s meant to be. We’re meant to co-create on this planet together. It’s not about the male-bashing. It’s about how we can bring this into greater balance. lisa, thank you so much for this conversation. Thank you to Natasha. Until next time.
- Natural Carpentry
- Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
- Caroline Criado Perez
- Changes with Annie Macmanus
About Natasha Fritz
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