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Kristi – Operations Manager, Highway Maintenance

Be the best worker on the crew, not the best female worker. Period. Kristi Vankessel

What made you interested into getting into your field?

Growing up on a farm, I enjoyed the outdoors and being around equipment.

What do you love about your field?

I love that what we do makes a difference every day for tens of thousands of motorists and that every day is different. Just when I think I have seen it all, I am surprised once again. I love being surrounded by likeminded people with the same dedication and passion for highway maintenance and I love that I get to lead this team.

What types of challenges have you faced as a woman and how have you overcome them?

When I started in the industry 20 years ago, things were very different than they are today. There was bullying, sexual harassment, sabotage by colleagues who didn’t want a young female working alongside them. Starting as an entry level labourer, equipment operator and, truck driver, I worked hard to prove myself to my supervisors. I treated those who tried to sabotage me as though they were my best friend and eventually, they realized I was meant to be there, and I earned my place. It has never stopped being a struggle to prove myself.

Over the past 20 years I progressed into a Foreman role, Supervisor and eventually Operations Manager. Despite being surrounded by supportive managers and colleagues, there is still a stigma surrounding women in this industry. I have credibility because I started at the bottom and worked hard through the ranks to get where I am – but still when a sales person walks through the front door and sees myself at a desk and, my second in command at a desk, they automatically go to him assuming he is in charge. I actually find I don’t let it bother me but rather have a little fun with it and let them think that’s the case so they deliver their entire pitch to him, only to have him say – “sorry, you need to speak to Kristi, she’s in charge here!” The best way to overcome is to keep your goals in mind, work hard and communicate. Don’t go into anything expecting special treatment because you are a girl, but also don’t expect that everyone you work with is going to be on the same page. Be the best worker on the crew, not the best female worker. Period.

Is there any advice you would give to women entering the field?

Don’t get hung up on anyone that has an issue or attempts to treat you differently. Do your job well, have a sense of humour and understand not one of us is perfect. Just be the best you can, and you will come out on top

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