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Finding my Voice

In my first year of college I decided that I’d do the co-op option for my program and try to get a job in my field. I worked hard sending out resumes and cover letters to everything and anything listed under my program, I got a total of 1 interview. I was a little disappointed but took the interview and ran with it.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was interviewing for when I showed up. The interview was for this small carpentry company located about an hour outside of my hometown and the job site was 20 minutes from where I lived. I figured they needed someone to help coordinate work or help out with some paperwork. I was way off.

I was told that I’d be meeting with the company owner and his assistant. When I showed up there was three other people waiting to go in and there was already someone interviewing inside. I put on my A-game face and was ready rock this interview now matter what. When it was finally my turn I confidently walked in there and saw this man in his late 40’s, great hair, thin framed glasses sitting in the table looking down at my resume. He briefly looked up at me and said hello and then his eyes gazed right back down at the paper. The only thing I could think was “oh my god – he’s already not impressed”.

Not letting my thoughts get in the way, I put on a smile, introduced myself and shook his hand.. killer entry I thought. He mentioned that the owner couldn’t make it so it was just him, the assistant. He got right into the questions, his first one,

“How do you feel about working with only guys?”

Well, I’d never thought about it until this point. I realized construction was a male dominated industry but I thought there had been some growth with females entering the work force. Before I had a chance to answer he added

“Because it’ll be all guys, and I can’t guarantee they’re the best behaved. If you’re selected we’d have a discussion with them prior to your starting.”

All my naive self could think about was “a discussion about what?”. I replied in the only was I knew how to, stubborn and determined,

“I don’t think that’s an issue, I’ve grown up in a small town and worked with a variety of people. I’m sure I could handle myself”.

He mumbled

“Well that’s good.”

and continued on. He continued to ask questions about what I was used to working, if I had my own transportation, if I was comfortable working with my hands etc… turns out I was interviewing to be a labourer on a carpentry crew. I wasn’t aware you had to have an interview for this.

A few days later I received a phone call from my coop adviser. He went on to tell me that I’d landed the interview and proceeded to talk up the company, tell me how amazing it is and how great the owner and assistant are. He told me they were really interested in me and I was the only one getting an offer and that the job was only 20 minutes from my home. All of this made me really excited to get to work. I was excited to get some hands on experience. I’d never really had to build anything big and I thought it was a good opportunity to learn from the ground up. Even at this point in my life I was, and still am, a strong believer that getting your hands dirty is the best was to learn.

My first day on the job I had no idea what to expect. The owner of this small company had his assitant tell me to meet him at the Starbucks in the area that I’d be working in, which was over an hour away from my home, at 7:00AM. My eager and young self said “Of course” instead of questioning why I wouldn’t be meeting him in the location advertised which was 20 minutes from my home.

When I finally arrived at the Starbucks I saw the assistant I had interviewed with and then there was this guy beside him. He was probably in his late 30’s, wearing a Hawaiian flower shirt, beige cargo shorts, Birkenstock’s and one of those beige fishing hats. I thought he had just run into one of his friends at while he was waiting so I took and seat and waited for him to be done talking. After a minute or two the assistant walks over and introduces me to his friends. Turns out, that was the owner. I was a little confused and a little shocked at this point. I was really expecting someone in steel toes to show up. My first day should’ve put some red flags in my head on what to expect this summer. Instead, I brushed it all off as “maybe this is how it goes”.

We proceeded to fill out some paperwork and head out to the job site. I got to meet everyone and see what I would be doing. Everyone seemed really nice and I’d be responsible for getting all the tools out for everyone, cleaning up the job site and making cuts for the carpenters and later on in the summer helping put stuff together. I was a little upset that the job wasn’t in the location advertised but they assured me that the builder was delayed and it wouldn’t be much longer.

It wasn’t until about a month in that I really started to clue in to all the things that were wrong. I had some comments come my way like;

“How do you like sucking your boyfriends dick?”,

“Laura, what do you like in bed?”

“Do you want to grab a drink later?”

Being stubborn, and not knowing that I shouldn’t be putting up with these comments I brushed it all off. I ignored everything that made me uncomfortable. I ignored the fact that guys came in drunk to work. I ignored the fact that guys would talk about all the cocaine they did the night before. I ignored so many things because my perception of the construction industry was so skewed.

I thought this was normal and I had to suck it up.

Going into work made me want to puke. I was so nervous to show up everyday. When I finally broke down and told my then boyfriend of everything that was going on he was furious. He works in the industry and told me about how his jobs were run, how none of that was acceptable and how illegal some of those things were. This was a huge relief to me. It still took me another month to do anything about it.

It was the last three weeks of my coop and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had lost 40lbs from being so stressed out. I had nothing left in me. I went to go and talk to my co-op adviser. I won’t lie to you, I sat down in his office and I balled. I had no idea how to fix things or how to put up with this. I was angry, I was disappointed in the co-op program and I was disappointed that I couldn’t handle it, that I couldn’t be one of the guys on site. I was so angry at myself.

I told my co-op adviser everything that was going on. He told me similar things to what my boyfriend had told me and then he told me not to go back. He told me to call in and tell them that I wasn’t feeling well until he could figure things out. He called me back into his office the next week along with the the assistant from the company I was working for. I didn’t know he’d be there. I was in shock. My co-op adviser told me the guys were just joking around with me, they didn’t mean anything by it. He told me that I shouldn’t take things so seriously.

I had no words.

I nodded, said ok, and that was it. It was determined there that I wasn’t going back to that job. I was relieved.

I still had some tools to return so they said I could meet the owner at a location closer to my home, I agreed. We met and he started to cry, he started asking me why I didn’t say anything to him. The answer was simple, he was one of the guys making those comments. He wasn’t who I wanted to confide in. He gave me the biggest sob story about how sorry he was and that I should’ve said something.

He was right. Right there, I should have said something. I should’ve stood up for myself so much sooner. I should’ve told those guys that I didn’t like those comments.

There was so many things wrong with this company and with this job but I learned the most valuable thing from working there. Stand up for yourself.

It is not ok for someone to make any sexual comments towards you, it is not ok for someone to make you feel small because your a women and it is not ok for people to do things for you just because you are a women.

Ladies, your gender should not determine the treatment you get on site.

Let me say this again…

Your gender does not determine the treatment you get on site.

I strongly wish that I had someone to look up to during this time. To tell me that telling someone off who’s being an asshole is just fine. That you’re going to have to do it a few times in your career and that if you do it the first time someone says something, chances are, they’ll never say anything like that to you again.

Just to be clear, this job was a one-off. I have never experienced anything to that caliber again. This company is no longer in business, and was immediately removed from the co-op program.

You will get the odd comment but just know, you’re not alone, you don’t have to deal with that. If you don’t feel comfortable telling that person not to say those things then find something to talk to who will. It’s better to get it off of your chest. In my experience, I’ve found putting someone in their place right away is the best way to deal with it. I’ve learned a variety of witty comebacks at this point in my career that clearly show I don’t appreciate those comments.

For the record, it’s also not ok for people to be coming in on drugs or drunk at any point in your careers, in any field you choose.

If you’re ever experiencing a hard time, feel free to reach out. I’m here to help!

Thanks for reading,

Laura Women in Steel Toes

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