ONWITT ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
Keeping our WITTs about us
Marcia Braundy - Keynote Address
October 16 - 18, 1993
The name of this conference is, "Keeping Our WITTs About Us." That name has many many meanings. Keeping our sisters about us so that we have a strong support system. Starting WITT groups; having women that we can talk to about our experiences who we know have had something similar. Not always, there are women here who say, "I've never had a problem... and that's true. Some women have never had a problem. Some women have had more than our share.
Another meaning for keeping our WITTs about us, is keeping our brains... using our brains to help us support our ability to do our work. I'm basically five foot one inches tall. I weigh a little bit more than people should for that height, but the reality is, that I've never had a problem on the job... Except for one job in fourteen years of construction where I had one small problem lifting a giant frozen wall. Basically it's because we use our brains. How to lift and how to move and how to ask the person next to us to help us if that becomes a problem.
Keeping our WITTs about us has to do with the importance of maintaining our sense of humour on the job site and being able to use that sense of humour to deflect the negative stuff and keep ourselves in a good solid place. Also, keeping our WITTs about us means, being able to respond quickly and effectively to the things that come out of some of the work sites, from both the work that we are doing and sometimes the attitudes that come at us.
When I was trying to think about what to say in this address, everybody said, "Marcia, talk about your experiences. We want to know what you've been through and how it's gone..." I thought to myself, "Well, as Maggie said, I've been around for a long time and my initial experiences came in 1976 and 1977 and I wondered if they were still relevant today. I'm sorry to say, that yesterday it became very clear, that my experiences are, if not identical, certainly in line enough with some of the experiences that some of you have been having lately, that I think it's worthwhile to talk about what my experiences were and what I did about them.
My first trade, after my Dad pulled me out of college... after a year because I didn't make the Dean's List... He said, "Find something with which to earn your living." So, I became a hairdresser. Because there were probably two or three choices: I could be a hairdresser, I could become a secretary. He wanted me to become a secretary like his sister. Or I could become a kindergarten or elementary school teacher. Those were basically the three options that were open. So I took hairdressing because I was good with my hands and I have a good connection between my hands and my mind and it seemed like that was useful. Well, it's not a trade that I really like. I mean, I'm really good at cutting hair and it's a skill and I've developed it and I'm good at that but the rest of it was not my style. So I got out of that and by a wonderful fluke, I got into community development work: alternative education, helping college students identify what their issues were in terms of what they wanted to learn and how they were learning it. So I got into alternative education.
Then I moved to the
So I thought that I
would go to school. Now prior to that I
was involved with community development, and you don't make a lot of money
doing that kind of work. I had to learn how to fix my own car because I had to
have a car to get around and had no money, so you learn how to take care of
yourself. By the time I worked on the
community centre I had done quite a bit of auto mechanics. I knew what trades work was like. I knew what tools were. So I had a little bit of prior experience. After three years doing construction as a
volunteer, I spent a year trying to get into a pre-apprenticeship training
course because I figured, if I was going to become a carpenter, my dream work,
then I was going to do it right. I was
going to go through that pre-apprenticeship training. I was going to get an apprenticeship. I was going to get my qualification and do it
so I could be recognized. Well, it took
me a year to try and get into a training course and I was basically sabotaged
by the local apprenticeship counsellor who didn't tell me that the course start
date had changed. Of course, he was
terribly sorry that the course started two weeks ago, too bad... So I called the director of the
apprenticeship branch and I said, "Look, I've been trying to get into this
course for a year. I've been talking to
your representative here. He has created
some problems for me. I think it's
discrimination. I want into that
course." He said, "Well, I'm
terribly sorry. That course did start
two weeks ago. You can't get into it,
but there is a course starting in
I had gone to school thinking, "I'm just here to get my training. I'm not here to educate... I mean, it's not my job to educate these guys. I'm just here to get my trade, to learn how to use the tools, to do it properly and get out of here." I think that assumption and my assumption that if you pretend it's not happening you erase it, it will go away, were the two really wrong thoughts that I had during that period of time. The lessons I've learned about sexual harassment are that you really do need to confront it. After the poster incident, when the auto-body boys did set up their poster which read, "Auto-body boys - Beaver Patrol", their local MLA looked up and he turned to the principal of the school and he said, "Does that poster say what I think it does?"
I had reached a point where I couldn't handle it any more. I was three and a half months into the course and I was shaking, everyday. So I called the instructor in. Now this was a new instructor. It was his first time teaching. He wanted the guys to like him and he didn't want to do anything that would disturb the guys from liking him. So I called him in and said, "Look, I'm going to show you this and going to show you that. I'm going to show you the disgusting thing they put in the bathroom. I'm going to show you everything that's here and I want you to do something about that." So the next day he came in and erased the blackboard, and he never said a word to the class.
I lived with that for another two weeks while he erased the blackboard. Then I wrote a letter to the College Council. We talked at the sexual harassment workshop yesterday about documenting your experience. Well, I had been keeping a diary. I thought it was my private diary. I was keeping it as just a way of writing down and trying to let go of some of the things that were happening. But I used that to write my letter to the college council. In that letter I documented how the 17 year-old high school girls visiting their first college campus were being shouted at: "Beaver! Beaver!" as they were learning what higher education was all about. I documented my own experiences. I said the fact was that when they decided to accept me into that school, it meant that they had a responsibility to ensure that my experience there was as educational as for anyone else. In fact, it was time for the college council to take a stand on the degradation of women on their campus.
And these things were shocking. So, three days later the principal went around to every single trades training classroom on the campus and said, "This kind of language and action is inappropriate in an institution of higher learning. If it continues, you will be thrown out of school and you will not get an apprenticeship anywhere in B.C." I was with friends across campus that night and they asked me if I I wanted to take the car back to the dorm? I was pretty worried. Everybody knew who had created that situation. And I just decided that if I took the car home that night, I would have to take the car home every night from then until the end of school. "So let's just walk across the campus and deal with it," I said to myself. I did, and nothing happened and I was able to maintain myself. I did graduate from that course with the highest mark in the class on the final exam. Adrenalin was the thing that saw me through. And my friends.
In fact, the one thing that did see me through, were the three assertiveness training weekends I took during my six months at that campus. Thank Goodness, because I guess finally, at the end of the four months, when I finally wrote that letter to the college council, I had taken enough assertiveness training to understand what my rights really were. I was able to say, "Okay, this is enough. It has to stop." I have to say that those assertiveness courses have served me well throughout the rest of my life as well.
On the other hand, my emotions were shattered from that experience. The strength that I had to maintain was pretty intense. I did have a women's group. It wasn't a WITT group but it was a women's support group. They let me go there once a week and pour out what was happening to me. It was hard for them to understand it, but they sure did give me support. That was my first understanding about what it was like to have a support group. It was really great.
When I came home I went to work for the architect who was the reason that I went to school in the first place: to learn how to build the beautiful buildings that he designed. I went to work for him, and a very, very fine carpenter/cabinet maker and I learned how to use the finest tools of my trade and got experience building some of the most beautiful things that I've ever seen.
So even though there was that scar, the work, which was what I was there for in the first place, was giving me the kind of satisfaction that made that hideous experience somewhat OK. I was able to let go a little bit.
The following year, there were half and half women and men in that school in the Carpentry course. I was delighted to hear that. Two years latter two women came up to me at a big women’s conference and they said, "We just went through the course at Northern Lights and we know that it was because of you that our experience there was as good as it was. Thank you." It was like, "Ah!... okay." I was glad I had the sign on the door changed from "gentlemen" to "washroom" - Glad too that I wrote to the college council... it did in fact, make a change for the better for those women. That was good.
And then I thought I
should join the union. It seemed that I
had been working non-union doing some beautiful renovations and that sort of
thing for a couple of years but the guy up the road, who was a man, always
seemed to get the jobs before I did. So
I thought, if you join the union, they have a list and they send you out to
work when your name comes up on the list.
It's a hiring hall, right? So I
started trying to join the union. I
talked to the business agent for about 10 months, almost a year. He said, "Wait till the work picture
gets better. Wait till the work picture
gets better. Come back later." So after 10 months, I said, "You know
Len, the work picture is as good as it's going to get and I really want to get
into the union. He said, "I wont be
at the meeting this week, but why don't you go and talk to the
executive..." So fine, I went in to
the executive meeting and there were seven or eight Dukhabor men there...
Dukhabors are Russian people who live in the Kootenays and on the Prairies and
are fairly "old worldly". I
walked in and they said, "Yes, what do you want?" And I said, "Oh, I'm Marcia Braundy and
I'm here to join the union." Their
mouths dropped open. And then Fred, "Ahhhh....Ahhhhh,"
and I said, "And I would like a copy of the contract and I'd like a copy
of the constitution please." They
gave them to me and told me to come back again next month. I took the contract and the constitution to a
friend of my who is a lawyer and said, "I would like you to look at the
constitution and please tell me if there is anything in this constitution that
would keep me from becoming a member of the union. Which she did, and she said, "No. You fill all of the requirements. You have the training." So it turns out that the business agent had
never spoken to these guys before about this issue. But I found out later that he had told them,
"Look, if you don't let her in you will have a human rights case on your
hands." So, the following week I
became the first woman in the Carpenter's Union in
The reality was that I went out on union jobs with union brothers... The very first job that I went out on... I went to a union meeting before that first job, and my business agent called me over and introduced me, "This is your foreman, this is your job steward. You don't have to take any shit from anybody, you're a union member now." And in fact, when I went out on to the job, never on a union site have I ever experienced anything but union brotherhood and sisterhood. So the quality of those jobs and the quality of experience was very good. I know that is not the case for all women who work on union jobs. But it was a nice balance for me from my apprenticeship training experience.
Second and third year of technical training in school was great. Fourth year at school, I walked into the school and there were three large crotch-shot pictures of women hanging on the back wall of the classroom at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. I walked up and I took the pictures down as my first act as I walked into the classroom. The guys at the back of the room went, "Oh you can't take those pictures down, they belong to us!" So I rolled them up and I handed them to them and I said, "Hey, if these pictures belong to you, take them home and put them in your bedroom. That's where they belong. Not here in the classroom." The next day the pictures were back up on the wall. So I went to the instructor and I said, "Look, what are those pictures doing on the wall here?" And he said, "Oh, the guys in the last class gave them to me and I just left them there. I said, "By your leaving them there, the guys in this class think they belong there." So he took them down but he never said anything to anyone. I had my share of good experience at that school, but on the last day of the class, two guys who were jerks in that class... and everybody knew they were jerks, came in with a very ugly picture. Pornographic ugly picture. I mean, I don't mind erotica but these pictures were not very nice. He put them up on the back wall of the classroom and said, "This is for the guys in the next class. We hope there aren't any women in it." Quietly, during the break, as we were returning our books I went up and took the picture down. I shredded it and put it in the garbage. I wasn't going to have another woman come in an find it there.
This was the day we were taking our InterProvincial exams. This was like, regardless of whatever you've done in your four years of apprenticeship and the four years of your training, if you fail an InterProvincial exam, that's it. Some provinces let you get a 60 and still get credit in your province, though that is changing now. In B.C. if you fail, you fail and you don't get your ticket till you pass it. So I came back into the classroom just before we were walking over to the electrical building to take this exam. I went to my desk and my signed Fredrickson framing square (the new metric metal square) had been twisted into a horrible crunch and dropped on my desk. Someone had written "cunt" in big letters on my desk. I was quite taken aback by that... I went up to my instructor and said, "I think you should give me a new framing square." He said, "Oh, they should have to pay for that." I said, "That's up to you. I want a new square." He never said a word to the guys.
As we walked the half a mile to the electrical building to take the exam, a couple of the guys came up to me and said, "Oh, don't pay any attention to that guy, he's just a jerk anyway." I turned and looked at him and I said, "How come you didn't say that when it was going on?" Off we went to the electrical building and we took our test. I didn't know if I had passed it or not. Luckily I did. In fact, I found out that the guy who had been the worst harasser failed his InterProvincial exam. But the next day I went back to that school and I wrote a letter to all of the instructors. I described my experience there and I said, "It is the role of the instructor to ensure that the students are having a good experience and it is their role to ensure that the behaviour in their classrooms is appropriate behaviour." I've never heard anything about that.
A couple of years
latter the recession was going on in
So the diversity of my experiences has been positive and negative and positive and negative and I love to build and do and have the satisfaction of creating the world that we live in. As well, I know the barriers that we have to overcome to get that satisfaction. As we go on, hopefully the barriers will become less and less.
Since the 1982 recession I have had a small renovation and finish work company called Journeywomen Ventures Ltd. I still have Journeywomen Ventures and my work partner, Sally Mackenzie, is still working away at it right now. She was my apprentice at that time. I trained and asisted to qualify two female apprentices. The last one got 99% on her theory, A+ on her practical and a 92% on her interprovincial exam. Rachael Yoder, she's great.
When I was in fourth
year, the Vancouver Women In Trades Association gave me a lot of support when I
was at school. When I went back home, I started a WITT group in the
Kootenays. One of the things that the
WITT group in the Kootenays did, and I among them, was develop a seminar
primarily for vocational instructors on dealing with women and trying to
integrate them into the trades and technology workforce. We've done it for vocational instructors. We've done it for Ontario Hydro's staff
trainers. We've done it for the
Department of National Defense employment equity people. We did it for employers at
Education is one of
the tools, a hammer or a wrench is another.
There were other WITT groups in the country. In
At the conference,
there was a suggestion that we have a national network but women weren't
ready. In 1988, after I had travelled so
much doing seminars and doing construction... by then I had developed and
taught WITT courses at two colleges in
So, in the fall of 1987 and the beginning of 1988, I decided to organize the national Surviving and Thriving Conference. At that time the employers were saying, "We can't find any women." And the women were saying, "Nobody will hire us." And Employment and Immigration Canada were saying, "Women aren't interested in these fields." So I thought that if we brought all those groups together and let them say those things to each other, we might have somewhere to go.
We organized it so that the first two days of the conference, the women were in by themselves to talk about their issues. To define their issues. To look at them and to say what their experience was... What happened once they got their tickets? We were all apprentices in 1980. What happened? After 1988, we should all be qualified - life should be great. Because we knew that the women would not be honest and speak from their hearts if they were speaking in front of the employers, the unions, the educators and the government people, but that those people should hear what was said, we audio-taped all of the workshops during the first two days (with permission). Then the employers, and the unions, and the government people and the educators came in to talk about the initiatives they were developing to deal with these problems. The women were trying to tell them what the real issues were. We audio taped their workshops too. Out of the 60 workshops, we transcribed and edited 30 of them for the book, "Surviving and Thriving." The words of the women were very powerful. Very very powerful and very important.
I spoke to the sexual
harassment workshop about an issue that's really current for me right now. The CBC has been asking us to identify women
who would be willing to bleed on camera and talk about their experiences and
bare their souls which is a very difficult thing to ask women to do if they're
working on a work site. I mean, I was
willing to share with you some of my experiences because in a sense they're
past and I've dealt with them, and I've grown from them and I've worked them
through and I've come out the other side a stronger and more assertive
person. But for women who are going
through those experiences, it's much more difficult for them, because they are
going to have to go back to their work site where those experiences are
happening. We're going to have a big
discussion about that next week when the WITT Advisory Committee comes together
because, in fact, at the Surviving and Thriving Conference we did decide that
we needed a National Network and we did need to have a national voice to deal
with some of the kinds of issues that were coming up. At the same time, the women who were at the
Surviving and Thriving Conference... Maggie, Mary...others... went home and
started WITT groups. A network of WITT
groups across the country and today... when in 1988 there were six groups
across the country, today there are close to forty. That's pretty exciting. A good number of them are here in
The National Network, the Surviving and Thriving Conference produced about eighteen women who were willing to put their volunteer time and energy on the line for almost a year. In fact, it ended up to be close to two and a half years to create a structure that was as democratic and representative as possible. To have a National Network. As you know, Maggie McDonald is your representative on the National Network. While we were creating a structure, we were also trying to organize the next conference. Those conferences cost a fortune and the support had to be raised to ensure that the women can afford to come. Most people, when they put on a big conference, charge eight or nine hundred dollars to attend. We didn't want to do that, so we had to get a lot of money from everyone else. But the hard working quality of those women... I think we all have a lot to be thankful for.
One of the projects
of the current National Network is a thing called the Industrial Adjustment
Committee. Now I know that the
Industrial Adjustment Committee has traditionally been used by Employment and
Immigration Canada to support plant closure situations, technological change
situations where there is massive labour force disruption in a particular
company or in a particular industry. I
convinced Employment and Immigration that the integration of women into trades,
technology, operations and blue collar work around this country is a labour
market adjustment situation for
At the same time it's given us a wonderful opportunity to bring employers/union/government/educators and WITT women to the table so that... we have mini-conferences three times a year and some really great initiatives. We've just created a press kit that we've been sending out to people... so that you get an idea of the kind of scope of activities we're involved in.
The other thing that
it gave us is the opportunity to communicate with each other about different
things that are happening around the country both with WITT groups and with
employer's initiatives. So that's the
newsletter. Some times the newsletter
looks a little thick because we try and put too much in it but there's some
really wonderful stories, like about what's happening with the YW-NOW project
Now currently... I sat on the National Task Force on Apprenticeship and I got twelve of the heaviest business and labour guys in the country to agree that WITT courses should be happening in every college in the country. I also got them to agree that if there was ever a Canadian Apprenticeship Board there would be at least one woman representing tradeswomen on that board. Now, that particular battle is the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life, to get a woman on the Canadian Apprenticeship Board. I have never seen such resistance in my whole life as when I brought the subject up and they changed the subject, and they changed the subject, and they changed the subject... and I would bring it up again, and bring it up again, and bring it up again... Till finally I just said, "Listen fellas, the fact is that employment equity is here to stay and if you don't get on the bandwagon now and do something about it, you're going to be legislated out of existence.
They don't understand anything else! But we did get a woman on the National Apprenticeship Board, and I got to be the one. I didn't think two years ago when I was negotiating the issue, that it was going to be me but the WITT National Network Advisory Committee decided that it should be. I'm glad to be your representative there. I am also glad that there are four women on that board now so I'm not up there by myself. only one of the others comes from a TTO background but they at least understand some of the issues.
I also sit on the Women's Reference Group to the Women's Representative on the Canadian Labour Force Development Board who are deciding what the training money in Canada is going to be spent for and we are working very hard to ensure that there is equity required in the way that the money is spent for apprenticeship, for training courses and everything else.
But that's all sort
I go to WITT meetings
around the country. This is a great
one. Sometimes I go to WITT meetings
where there are only three or four people.
And those are great ones too because those are the core of the women who
are working at the grassroots and they try and put on the support systems that
enable people to reach out. But the fact
is that after six or seven years of concentrated effort, TTO women at Ontario
Hydro still say that harassment is one of their number one difficulties
today. And the fact is that at DND, the
Department of National Defense, on both coasts, there are some of the most
horrendous tales coming out of those places.
And I'm sure it's going on right across the country as well. The fact is that in
CUPE and the City of
These things are still happening. One difference though, in all of those cases that I just mentioned, is that women are there taking a stand and making a difference. Creating the support systems for those women who are having to take on those kinds of challenges. We also need to acknowledge those women working inside the system. There are many working inside the system who have given those women support. And there are advocates working outside the system bringing these issues to the public eye so that more change can occur.
We had created the National Network to give us a vehicle and a voice nationally to assist with these changes. And we hope that you will all continue to assist us in the work that we do for you, with you... That we lobby provincial governments, and national government around policy issues. We work with large institutions, large and small employers, and unions to put in place harassment policies and procedures, effective integration programs, to bring these issues to the forefront.
For those of you who have seen it, one of the things that the IAS Committee has done is it has brought together a group of educators and WITT women from across the country to create a set of National Standards and Guidelines for WITT courses and trade specific courses for women. They are on the table there.
We've also created a Directory of Programs and Initiatives of companies, unions and WITT groups who have developed some kind of integration initiatives in this country. There are names and phone numbers to help other people who want to call them and say, "We were thinking about doing this, but we don't know how." So we are doing things like that.
We are working with apprenticeship to make sure that apprenticeship becomes more accessible to women from all the designated groups. We want to encourage women to assist in the development of grassroots WITT organizations.
It's been very exciting for me to come here and hear wonderful people like Maggie and Katie and other women here who have said to me, "It was because of something that you did or said that we have been able to do this much." And that's really exciting. It was because of the conferences that we've attended that we have been inspired, too, to work on the grassroots organizations. It's only when each woman working in the field can know that assistance to her is a phone call and a short distance away, close to her own community, that our strength can gather, individually and collectively, and reach the critical mass that we know will be enough to make it easy out there. Maybe it's 13%, maybe it's 15%... but there is a critical mass that once there's enough of us out there, we will be able to be accepted and welcomed as co-workers, lead hands, supervisors, union sisters to our brothers on the job.
I sat in the office
of the President of St. John's Shipbuilding in
Many of us have tasted that feeling of comraderie, that sense of well being, of working together to build, maintain, repair, and change the world that we live in. Many of us have also encountered the barriers that keep us from that feeling, and in telling them we can share the experiences that we're having. Then we'll know that we've truly done our jobs. Because whether we like it or not, part of our job, because we are still the pioneers, is to educate our brothers. For some of us, we can do that easily and for some of us, we have to withdraw, take a deep breath and decide how or if we are going to do that. But they are never going to learn unless somebody puts it in front of their face.
But in the long run, each of us must feel free to be able to do that in what ever way that we can manage. And we have to do it without feeling that we are carrying the burden of being there for all women. Because Goodness knows that sometimes just doing our job everyday is enough. And sometimes, we just need to be able to reach over and help a sister if we see that she needs it and not say a lot and just go on. And sometimes we need to come together like this and laugh... I've heard a lot of laughter in the past couple of days... And sometimes to cry.
So, lets all become members of the WITT National Network. After this is over I am going to sit at the table in there and if anyone wants to buy anything that they've looked at over the course of time, I do have some of those things with me... Great resources, the "Surviving and Thriving" book and stuff like that... Certainly if/* you want to buy your membership now, or you can take your newsletter home and become a member later on. But lets all keep working to make the changes that are going to make all of our ways easier. Thank you...