The classic image of the American laborer as a gruff, hammer-wielding man is on the way out.
These traditionally male-dominated occupations, met with increased demand for skilled laborers, are facing changing gender demographics as women, nonbinary and transgender people enter the job market.
At technical schools and work sites alike, practices are adjusting to change these demographics and open the doors to more prospective tradespeople. However, Jaime Osoule, a geologist working at a Utah mining company, noted still-present disparities.
“For every eight employees, seven are cisgender men,” Osoule said. “Most of the women in my workspace are geologists, the other three are secretaries.”
Men make up around 85% of the mining labor force, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a disparity that Osoule said can make workplaces like hers challenging for people of other gender identities.
“There’s a lot of subconscious bias over what sort of communications and ideas are accepted,” Osoule said. “There are certain things, like having a deep, loud voice or being physically large that make a difference in who gets listened to in my field.”
As a transgender woman, Osoule is uniquely affected by workplace discrimination. Surveys conducted by the Williams Institute found that 90% of transgender people report some form of harassment or mistreatment in the workplace.
“When I started, I was the only transgender woman at the company, and certain people honestly did not treat me well,” Osoule said.
The role of leadership
Osoule took her position at the company in March 2020. Since then, they said, things have started to change. More gender diversity has been introduced to the workplace, and pressure from laborers has led to leaders working on encouraging an inclusive environment.
“Having people in leadership who have faced those gender-based roadblocks and subconscious biases is important,” Osoule said. “We wouldn’t have an inclusion and diversity initiative team if it weren’t for the women who started it in our workplace.”
A study published by Academy of Management Journal found that biases like the ones Osoule described are present in many workplaces and can lead to men being given an advantage in progressing their careers.
Peter Moosman, coordinator of the Gender and Sexuality Student Resource Center at Salt Lake Community College, said that having gender diversity in leadership is essential for creating equitable and inclusive work environments, adding that it takes more than diverse employees to make a work environment fair and equitable.
Moosman said that people often come to the GSSRC to discuss roadblocks they’ve faced related to their gender identity when looking for careers. Some transgender people, Moosman said, felt that certain institutions simply weren’t ready to have them in the workplace, even if they wanted to hire them.
“We want to build these spaces to be more equitable in preparation for these new generations of workers,” Moosman said.
Laying the groundwork to allow people of diverse gender identities to work safely in trade industries is just as important as encouraging people to work in them in the first place, they said.
“As people of privilege and power, we need to be creating accessible environments in these trades so that people feel like they’re not risking their lives to go to work,” Moosman said. “Simultaneously, we want to empower people to be able to see themselves in these trades.”
Inclusion in schools
At SLCC, the most populous community college in Utah, the school that houses trade programs have laid the groundwork for inclusion and equity.
Dr. Jennifer Saunders, dean of the School of Applied Technologies and Technical Specialties, said the term “trade school” has been outdated in academia for a number of years. “Career & Technical Education, or CTE, is the most current term,” Saunders said.
Saunders pointed out that CTE includes education of the more traditional trades, like welding or electric wiring, but also includes programs like culinary arts or medical technologies. More than 8,500 students enrolled in CTE programs in 2021, according to Saunders.
“CTE is a more inclusive term than trade school,” Saunders said, adding that the expansion of programs under one umbrella has created a more diverse student body. “Enrollment in CTE programs at SLCC for males during the 2021 academic year was approximately 60%.”
Within the leadership of the CTE program, two of the six technical education deans are women.
“Outreaching efforts in CTE programs do include messaging around challenging gender stereotypes,” Saunders said, explaining that something like a male nursing student or a female welding student are still considered non-traditional career paths. She said the college is always working to challenge these perceptions.
Osoule, who attended a different Utah college, said one of the most difficult barriers of entry into her trade was schooling.
“My professors and the administration were almost all male,” Osoule said. “There’s a lot of social pressure in geology departments. The one I was in was very disproportionate in favoring men.”
Osoule said she experienced difficulty in receiving follow-ups to reports she filed, and that it was hard to talk to anyone outside of the department about the problems she faced within it. “I don’t think [people within the department] really had their minds on inclusion,” Osoule said.
For Osoule, one way to improve the education space is to bring in people with knowledge about inclusive policies.
“Having something like advisors that are not professors involved in your department, who are educated in inclusion policies and school ethics, is important for keeping students safe.”