Mental Health and Well-Being in Apprenticeship (Part 2 of 3)
Female apprentices often face gender-specific workplace challenges, from harassment and bullying to successfully finding full-time employment
By Kari-Anne March, Marketing Coordinator, CLAC Career Development College & CLAC Training, Alberta
As mental health and well-being becomes an increasingly prevalent national topic, it is critical that we explore the impacts that mental health has on our workforce. The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF-FCA) has released Apprentice Well-Being: An Apprentices in Canada ePanel Report, allowing industry to dive into the real-life experiences of Canadian apprentices and the impact working in the trades has on their mental health and well-being. Join us in in this three-part blog series as we work to better understand mental health and its impacts on our workforce, while striving to become better mental health advocates for all Canadians.
While part 1 of the series explored the overall challenges facing apprentices, part 2 will examine the different mental health stressors experienced by women working in the trades. Making up only 4.5 percent of registrations in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors, women are not only significantly underrepresented, they are also more likely to report higher stress levels than men, especially in areas where they experience barriers in the workplace.
When surveyed, male respondents were nearly 20 percent more likely than women to agree that they have enough time and cope well with everyday job tasks. While it was not determined as to why these claims were made, inferences can be made based on the following barriers that are experienced by women more than men.
When prompted with “I get the emotional support I need from friends and family,” only 57 percent of women agreed (compared to 69 percent of men). Many gender-based expectations in the home are primarily felt by women, which negatively impacts their ability to feel emotionally supported and can translate into a workplace stressor. Some examples include:
• Gender-based expectations to work in a more traditional industry that may be imposed by friends, family, and/or colleagues.
• Gender-based expectations to act as the primary caregiver in a family setting that may be imposed by friends, family, and/or colleagues.
These gender-based expectations become a cumulative stressor on women to be responsible for more than just bringing home an income. They may feel the added pressure to be responsible for cooking, cleaning, taking care of the family, and other traditionally feminine household responsibilities. On top of this, they may also feel pressured to downplay the weight of their career responsibilities to friends and family, or the significance of their familial obligations to colleagues and employers, as even in 2020, there are still many negative preconceived notions regarding a woman’s role in the skilled trades.
FINDING AND RETAINING EMPLOYMENT
Women in apprenticeships are also more likely than men to experience discrimination when finding an employer sponsor:
• 13 percent of women who have completed their apprenticeship experienced discrimination while seeking an employer sponsor, compared to 1.3 percent of men.
• 25 percent of women who have not completed their apprenticeship experienced discrimination while seeking an employer sponsor, compared to 2.5 percent of men.
• 54 percent of women had identified finding and retaining work in their trade as stressor, compared to 39 percent of men.
These results have shown that women are 10 times more likely than men to feel discrimination when seeking an employer sponsor. While there are several initiatives in place to improve female representation in the skilled trades, acceptance remains one of the largest barriers still in place. CBC Radio-Canada released an article last year, in which they interviewed Canadian apprentice machinist Elizabeth Moses, who stated, “You have to prove yourself constantly over and over again,” whereas men “can prove themselves once.” She also noted, “It takes time for you to earn that respect, to show that you can actually do the job.”
DISCRIMINATION, HARASSMENT, AND BULLYING
The first part of this series described discrimination, harassment, and bullying as common stressors for all apprentices regardless of gender. However, female survey participants were more than twice as likely to identify these experiences as significant stressors (41 percent for women compared to 19 percent for men). Further to this, women who hadn’t completed their apprenticeship reported they are more likely than males to quit their job due to workplace problems such as harassment, discrimination, and conflict at work. The basis for harassment and discrimination ranges anywhere from subtle attitudes toward having a woman on-site to outright physical, emotional, and sexual harassment. The lack of security for women to feel both physically and psychologically safe at work has long term impacts on overall well-being, acting as both a mental health stressor and a barrier to achieving their career goals.*
MASLOW’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS
If we use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a framework to compare with abovementioned stressors, it is clearly visible that while a career in the trades promises to meet physiological needs and eventual self-actualization, many female apprentices are struggling to meet the needs of safety; love and belonging; and esteem, and therefore cannot achieve self-actualization. Until all these base human needs are met in our workplaces, they will continue to act as substantial stressors on the overall mental health and well-being of female apprentices.
While this chapter of our Mental Health and Well-Being in Apprenticeship series specifically analyzes the negative impacts that gender biases have on the well-being of female apprentices, it is the right of workers of all genders to feel both physically and psychologically safe in the workplace. Significant progress has been made in recruiting and attracting women toward a career in the skilled trades in efforts to improve their representation in the field and close the upcoming labour gap, including the implementation of women-only grants, training programs, and job opportunities. However, these initiatives do not always address the root issues, leaving much work to be done by industry stakeholders to improve the overall work conditions for women and eliminate gender biases.
To access the full Apprentice Well-Being: An Apprentices in Canada ePanel Report, visit the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum website.
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*CLAC strongly encourages any employee who does not feel safe at work to speak with their supervisor, HR manager, union representative, or shop steward.