(WARNING: This story contains offensive language) Imagine for a moment you’re a 30-something female.
It’s your first day at a new job as a construction worker. You drive to the location and climb out to meet your new colleagues.
You notice you’re the only female on payroll. But that doesn’t bother you. You have the skills, you have the training and you’re there to do a job.
As you walk across the parking lot to greet your new colleagues, you hear whistles and catcalling.
“Hey baby, need a hand with your toolbox,” they might say.
Although the above scenario is fiction, Joann Greeley says it’s not uncommon for women to hear these sorts of comments in male-dominated professions. Greeley is a journeyed electrician from Green’s Harbour.
Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted sexual behaviour. Greeley felt it was necessary to share her experience with sexual harassment in light of the national headlines made by the Spaniard’s Bay Volunteer Fire Department.
When she first started out in the construction industry over a decade ago, there were many comments.
But each day she pushed through.
“(It gets) to the point where you don’t want to go to work because your supervisor is harassing you,” Greeley told The Compass. “But you need the job because you’re trying to get your hours as an apprentice.”
One supervisor in particular, who was 10 years her junior, was really hard on her.
She said he was always on her back, asking why something wasn’t finished in an unreasonable amount of time.
But the worst was dealing with the verbal abuse she experienced, especially one Friday afternoon while getting ready to leave for the weekend.
“My supervisor told me the reason I’m such a bitch is because I wasn’t getting laid,” Greeley said candidly. “And if I gave him my number, he’d have his buddy come over and take care of me.”
She was gobsmacked. Although it wasn’t the first unwelcome comment he made to her, it ultimately stood out.
Sexual harassment is not criminal in Canada, rather it’s a human rights violation.
Canadian Labour Relations website reports that 10 per cent of Canadian workers ages 19 to 24 reported being victims of sexual harassment in the workplace within the year prior to the survey. Over 90 per cent said they had experienced it in their lifetime.
Combating the negatives
Greeley is a member of Build Together, an organization for women in construction-related skilled trades. She is also the owner of her own electrician business.
Part of what Build Together works to accomplish is the promotion of respectful workplaces.
The organization’s website — www.buildtogether.ca — has a section just for respectful workplaces. And it doesn’t just relate to females.
One of the things the organization discusses is large projects and what types of harassment situations are being reported, and if there is repetition in the types of incidents that take place at these locations.
“It’s interesting to see one of the things that keeps coming up is education,” Greeley said. “It’s having shop stewards trained, it’s having other people know what it is and be willing to stand up and say, ‘Not on my watch.’”
In her own experience, there weren’t many instances where she didn’t stand up for herself. But she knows not everyone would be able to do that.
“It’s about the young girl that’s behind me that doesn’t have as much confidence as I do,” she said. “She gives up on her dream because she believes she can’t handle (the harassment and abuse).”
Make it stop
It’s unlikely workplace sexual harassment will be eliminated overnight. But Greeley believes if workers stick together, it can get better and easier for others.
“You have three or four people who have poor behaviour, they make it bad for the rest of the population,” she said. “A lot of men find this behaviour unacceptable. But for some reason they don’t have the voice to stand up.”
The struggles are still real for women in the construction industry and male-dominated professions. And Greeley wants people to be aware that it is not OK.
“(I have had male colleagues try and) figure out if they can get you in bed or they can date you,” she said. “When you let them know you’re not interested, then they have to see if they can make you cry.”
There are many incidents that Greeley has witnessed, but she knows there are also many people that don’t tolerate that kind of hostile environment.
“This is not every job site. This is not every company … We just have to remember, the more we talk about it, the better it’s going to get for people that are out on these jobs.”