14 January 2012

From Surviving to Thriving

When I was growing up in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, most of the women around me were traditional. Let's get one thing straight - when I say traditional, I do not mean to denigrate what they did in any way. The truth was that most of these traditional women were pretty impressive. When you keep in mind that they were married to workers who migrated to other provinces to find work - these women could do almost anything.

It's really good to put this traditional and non-traditional into focus. I like to think of it in terms of a sliding scale. We have traditional on one end and we have non-traditional on the other. We might be traditional if we were doing the care work in the home - looking after everyone's needs and raising children. But at those times when we were feeding sheep, stowing wood, fixing the roof, plastering the hole in the wall or splitting wood, we were non-traditional in comparison to some of our more traditional sisters.

I prefer to look at traditional and not traditional as a sliding scale of sorts - not as two absolute positions. As a young lady, I had all of these women who were pretty non-traditional on the home front but they did not work in the non-traditional world. Let's save the discussion for the paid/unpaid for another day. If I were to put a dot on the sliding scale today, I'd be more non-traditional. I'm the sole breadwinner. I am the head of the household. I'm a journeyed mechanic and I am a leader. I am also a women - hear me roar!!!!! I have moved along that scale at different times in my life. We can do that on a scale.

I chose a non-traditional career - I joined the Army and became a mechanic. It was unheard of where I came from but the reality was - I didn't look at myself as doing anything ground breaking. I was surviving. Going on to higher education is often not a major concern when your basic needs are challenged - I needed to make a living and I wanted adventure. So off I went to join the Army. The attraction was the same that it is today for those of us who did not come from privilege. "They paid for your education and they gave you a job." At that particular time, they were recruiting women in trades. Voila - I'm a tradeswoman. I was also a great fit.

Let's look at this being a good fit or having an aptitude for the work for a moment - women who grow up in homes where their male family members worked outside the home in commercial construction are often well suited to the trades. It's not rocket science.

This is not accidental. Anyone who has spent a minute in our homes knows that when our men are not working - they're talking about work. So I always say to my sistah's "We may not have the practical experience when we start in the trades but we have all the theory." We may not be part of the conversations but we're certainly learning a thing or two. We're especially learning the "language of industry". So when there are initiatives that recruit from our neck of the woods, generally speaking they're getting a woman who has done a lot of the Orientation already. Funny how that works - eh boy??

There's more to learn of course and that's what I like teaching - the psychology of transitioning from a woman in trades to a trades woman. There is a transition that takes place in how you look at yourself and it impacts your relationships in the workplace. It impacts your relationships with other women who are often somewhere else on this sliding scale.

Real success in the trades comes not only from being great at your job but from understanding who you are. It means coming to terms with the feelings of isolation and knowing why you feel the way you do. Real success is much more then strapping on your tool belt ladies - it's about sticking on your thinking cap too. That's the part that I enjoy now - reaching out to the sisters and journeying with them to real leadership in trades.

Oh the joy of self acceptance.....

First Impressions - Lasting and Inaccurate.

Have you ever met someone and knew right away that you did not like them? Have you ever met someone and connected them immediately? I have had both of these things happen to me? What if I asked if you have regretted those decisions after a couple of meetings? Oh come on now, we've all made this mistake on occasion. A rush to judgment that we regretted later.

This week I met with a group of ladies to talk about first impressions. One story that was shared, made the point real well. Laura was waiting to meet a client at a local restaurant. When the client pulled up in her Red Toyota, Laura could feel an instant dislike. Keep in mind here that she had never met the woman face to face but had spoken to her on the phone. They actually connected quite well on the phone. We had spoken often enough about first impressions that Laura knew to hold off on making the judgment.

As a coach, I journey with people to a place of self discovery. After a little probing, she recalled a situation a couple of years back where she had a tangle with a toxic coworker. Guess what colour car that toxic coworker drove....yep, you got it. She had a red Toyota.

The car was a trigger for Laura and it caused her to project all of the dislike from the past experience onto the present experience. When she saw the car, it was a trigger for the situation that had happened a couple of years ago. This caused her to dislike the lady without even waiting to get to know her.

When speaking with my friend Tom the other day he said he worked the other way. He really loved some people after one meeting only to regret it later. Oh yes, it works both ways for sure.

What a shame if we don't recognize our own tendencies to project. What opportunities will we miss out on? What great friendships will we forfeit. Will me make rash decisions that we will regret or get stuck spending time with folks that we don't really enjoy?

The solution is an easy one - wait and see. Don't rush to judgment. Take some time to get to know the person. Acknowledge the tendency to project and to make assumptions. I've been wrong about people often enough now that I take a bit of time before I make a firm decision, when it is practical to do so.

Sometimes it serves us well to make a rush decision but there are times when we are wrong - you be the judge but not to quickly....

7 January 2012

Marketing Me

I drool at the thought of all the work that is coming up the pike in eastern Canada. I wish I was an able bodied woman again and could strap on my tool belt and head out there to join the wave of workers who will be heading into town to make it big. Oh the thought of purchasing my own big ass truck with the latest bells and whistles is almost too much to think about. Back in the day sista, I would have been right there with the best of them.

Now I get to work in an advisory capacity - it's not so shabby, keeps me in the loop. I believe that knowledge is right up there with chocolate when it comes to the trades. If you are a woman who wants to get in the game, there are a couple of things you need to know.

I'll start from when you graduate from college because you're not going to listen to me about buckling down at college - you may regret the partying and skipping class. But for those of you who are listening - get a great education now because the learning environment gets a lot tougher where the rubber hits the road. Be a sponge in the classroom and read up on the women who are doing well - they maximize their own potential.

Get a trade - the days are long gone when people got hired without any formal training. The industry is very technical and you need as much information as you can get. Put your nose to the grind at Community College because marketing is going to be tough. Landing that job will take perseverence and creativity.

Be a great communicator - people don't understand that communication is a learned skill. The more you do it the better off you will be. You may be saying right now - I can communicate, I use my Blackberry. There's a time and a place for your texting but I mean functional communication - the kind you will need in the trades.

Let me put this into perspective. When you go looking for a job, competition will be tough. Let's say that two ladies show up at the same time. One has all As on her transcript from her course. The other as Bs and Cs. Guess who gets the job.....the one that can communicate best. The one that can articulate best. The one that make them laugh and knows her stuff. In this game, you learn on the job and those who fit in well get the opportunities for learning. That may be unfair but it's the way things are.

Imagine you're on the site and you notice a hazard that you need to alert your fellow workers about. You don't get to text that message with multiple recipients - you get to holler so that they get their attention. When you go out into the world and want to land the client, you have to have the savvy to be able to communicate with them in a fashion that is professional and courteous. Then there is the biggie - you're going to own your own business someday - that means you'll need some pretty great communication skills. Start now - when you're young and you'll impress everyone. It will give you an edge over those who are also looking. I learned all that I need to know about communicating from Toastmasters - find a local club.

Join the union - I can't stress this enough. Join the union. Go to meetings. Use your newly acquired skills. Volunteer to do some tasks. Be around the men, learn from them, listen to them. Their communication style may seem harsh at first but it's the way the culture is. Don't let it intimidate you - there are a lot of teddy bears under that tough exterior. Know that - you'll get used to being around the culture. Big jobs are unionized and they make lots of money there - if you're interested in commercial construction, join the union and keep current on your dues.

Visit job sites and enquire about work. Now this might seem kind of intimidating. But if you're not working anyhow, you have time on your hands. Maybe you can't be hired but you can hang around and get used to the culture. Speak to women workers - even the flagsperson can tell you a lot about the culture and the rules of the game.

The real leaders in life learn to do things in the downtime that give them an edge when things are going well. Do you spend your unemployed time complaining or are you taking advantage of free learning that is available in the community. I know where I would be.

Don't show up with an attitude that you're going to change the world. Yes, there are things wrong with the industry but you don't reveal your hand too early. There are ways to do things right and showing up with an agenda is not a way to get ahead. There's a process to fitting in at work.

If you're an older worker who has taken up the profession lately - after the best are hired, the woman who is low maintenance is hired. She is the woman who fits in with the men. She has a great personality. Personality is a learned characteristic. Study people with great personality - what do they do. Try and be like them. People with a bad attitude wear it on their sleeve for the world to see. Do what it takes to become a positive person. There's nothing worse than a wet rag.

People ask me - how many times do I call the union to try and get hired. I say call once a week if you know that they're hiring. Drop in from time to time to let them see your face. The reality is that when a job comes up and you happen to be there - you're the person who is hired. Become known. You may say to yourself - that takes a lots of guts. Well, personally I think that you're up to the task. When you chose a career in the trades, you demonstrated that you had lots of guts. If you wanted an easier transition you could have taken esthetics....traditional work with different hurdles. No disrespect to the profession - I love my gel nails for special events.

I can't stress enough how important it is to join the union. I just met 6 ladies who graduated last year and only two joined the union. Guess what folks, those other four just created a new hurdle - getting known and getting in the loop. Join the union and take the free courses that are being held there.

The truth is this - the time is ripe for women entering the trades - they need people. You have to be a bit assertive to get there. Learn how to be assertive by practicing. If you get it wrong, try again. It's an exciting venture....good luck in your journey.