Category Archives: Women’s Issues

The Perfect Gift

We are bombarded by advertisements, displays, salespeople, and online ads of ‘the perfect gift.’

It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?

Or do you love the hustle and bustle of the season? Worrying what to get and how you’re going to find the time to even get it?

Do you love the sleepless nights filled with dreams of recipes that fail, presents that are returned, and family that doesn’t make it home for the holiday?

Do we lose something, in this commercialized version of Christmas, or do we gain what we wait for all year, to be with our families, months of planning, all over in hours of endless preparations and a few minute meal.

Is this, what Christmas was meant to be? Is this, what Christmas felt like when you were a child? Is it filled with excitement and wonder and magic and awe of the beauty that surrounds you in the lights and the giant trees, and the bigger than life presents that Santa brought for you? Is this, what Christmas still feels like to you, today?

Or can we agree, maybe, that as we’ve grown older, our families bigger, and our hearts maybe a tiny bit smaller, (I mean, how often do you really see the neighbors anyway, they don’t need a gift from you)…can we agree that maybe, as the old saying goes, “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Perhaps, the Grinch was on to something.

I’ve always been in awe of the true meaning of Christmas. Whatever your belief may be, Christmas is filled with hope and majestic wonder. Just look into the eyes of a child, or a loved one. I dare you not to smile.

Joy. Laughter. Love. Excitement. Extravagance. Tradition. Closeness. Giving.

Just a few of the words that describe Christmas for me.

But if I’m honest, I’ve lost some of the magic, too.

It’s easy to do. I think that in our fast paced, need it now, have to get the best of the best, world, we forget that the true meaning of Christmas is love. That the true spirit of Christmas is in giving, but not just giving because we have to for the many reasons that we’ve been lead to believe, but giving because it comes from our heart. Giving that means something to us, from deep within us, because it gives us joy.

Stressing over what to get everyone and spending more money than we have does not bring us joy, let’s be real here.

Joy is in the little moments of putting up the tree with our family, baking with the kids, getting that gift off the top of our niece’s or nephew’s Christmas list because we can afford it, and we know how happy they will be playing with that toy, with us. It is in the moments of, regardless of a Christmas tree with presents under it, or food on the table, we are surrounded by people who love us, exactly as we are.

Christmas is a time of togetherness.

This looks different for everyone. This could look like family and friends or neighbors and community. It could look like many presents and a table full of food or no presents and an empty belly. Or any combination of these.

There is one ingredient that can’t be taken away, despite our outside circumstances, and that ingredient is love.

We all have it, and we can all give it. We all want it and we can certainly all use it.

It might take a little humility and vulnerability, I know. It might take biting your tongue, and loving them anyway, despite what they’ve done. It might take a phone call that you’ve not made in a long time or a visit you’ve been dreading all year.

But if we can try to remember, even if just for a moment, that the perfect gift is love. That the reason for the season is hope. For a better tomorrow, for a better me, and a better you. For a better world, one that remembers love.

If we can try to all be gracious givers this holiday season. To only give what we have, with love and joy. To be peaceful and patient, with kindness that comes from a heart filled with love.

Love doesn’t look like what we bring, it looks like showing up for someone. Our families, friends, and perfect strangers.

The things just simply don’t matter when you are surrounded by people you love, or at least like, somewhat. Try to like them a little more this year.

May the true joy of Christmas surround you this holiday season ❤️

There is something that has challenged me these past couple of years. I like to give, to family and friends, but sometimes I look around and I see that my family and friends are quite blessed. So, I look for ways to give outside of the usual presents, sometimes at the expense of gifts for friends and family, and sometimes extra, depending on my own financial circumstance.

I’ve challenged myself, and I’d like to challenge you, as well.

There are many organizations in our region. The YWCA is of course one of them. These organizations need items on an ongoing basis. I know this can look like a lot of work and maybe even complicated, I know it did for me at first. Even overwhelming. But over time I’ve learned a thing or two.

Poverty has many faces in our region. Causes are no longer just national organizations that we click a button on the webpage and donate our annual allotment of donation money, though this is of course a great way to give back. When we look around our cities, we see the faces of people that have come upon hard times. I know that you see them.

But if you’re like me, you might like to know that you’re truly making a difference, and may have no idea who to give to.

Can I challenge you to make it meaningful? To you, and maybe even your family?

We can give to an organization or organizations that mean something to us, whether past or present.

For example, though I’ve never used the services of the YWCA, it has meaning to me because there are many times that I have been in a place where I’ve thought of an emergency shelter as an option. To give back one year, I learned that they have a list of needs on their website and I donated formula and diapers. I had no idea this was an item that was needed. I didn’t think about it simply because I don’t have children.

I was challenged once to put one thing that I didn’t need in a box each day for 30 days. I can’t even tell you how much joy it gave me to bring a box of items that I loved, but really didn’t need, to a local thrift shop. Thrift shops give back in big and meaningful ways to the community, and the world. They even gave me a gift in return, a punch card with a discount for the next time I shopped there. I craft, thrift stores are gold mines for items to craft with.

When I was in high school, our grade 9 French class decided to give a family Christmas. This meant buying all the gifts and food for the family’s Christmas. There are a few organizations that do this. I will never forget this experience.

There are many people in need of winter items, hats, scarves, mittens, that you can buy at the dollar store, or donate from home, as well as gently used coats and boots. This is a great way to teach kids to give.

I have been blessed to be a part of a motel ministry that provides food, clothing, and support to those living in the many residential motels in our region. I had no idea that many of our motels are no longer for tourists. The people who live there need everything. Stop by, take a look.

Books can be donated to many organizations, if you happen to like to read, and wanted to pick up a few extra for someone else.

And of course, there are the beautiful red kettles, of an organization that works tirelessly to combat many things, but hunger certainly being an important one of them.

The more I learn about what the organizations in our region do on a daily basis, the more inspired I am to give, based on what has direct meaning to me, or what might be an immediate need in our region right now, such as shelter and a warm meal during the cold months.

If you can’t give money, give time, and vice versa. Be creative. There is something that you have that someone else needs, whether it is time, talent, or treasure.

There are people in need all around us.

Have a wonderfully blessed holiday season.

Finding My Way Through Transitions

By: Allison

When the topic of transition came up as a theme for this month’s blog, I realized that not only is that the perfect word to describe this month, but my entire year. For me, transition comes hand in hand with uncertainty. 2017 has been marked by many changes as I moved from my home of five years to a new place with a partner, took on caring for two more pets, worked my first contract job, entered my final year of my diploma program, and started a new field placement. This month, I was expecting to be coasting along as I settled into a sense of rhythm after the great waves of change calmed down.

via GIPHY

I certainly did not expect this month to have started out feeling like I lost control of managing my life when the college faculty went on strike last month. Uncertainty was pervasive as many students felt left in the dark about whether or not their investment in a college education was worth the cost, and as college faculty fought for change to be made to improve working conditions. Now that the strike has been put to an end and students return to classrooms this week, there will certainly be many transitions to experience as we adjust to the semester being reworked.

Even before the strike started, life was throwing curve balls at me that were stretching me to my limits (like supporting my partner through a bout of pneumonia and being the target of fraud, to name a few), so by the time it was clear that the school year was not at all going to pan out as anyone thought, I felt like it was just another unexpected bump in the road to wait out. However, I did end up feeling like I had no sense of direction without the structure of school, and struggled to use my free time in a productive way.

Despite these feelings, in reflecting on this tension-filled month of uncertainty, I’ve realized that I’ve come a long way in how I manage times of transition. There have been many difficult ones in my past, and many new ones just this year alone. I have to ask myself – am I desensitized, or have I just built resiliency? I’m really hoping it’s the latter. So with that being said, I’m here to share the 3 things I strive to do in my life while weathering through transitions:


1. Look to the past to find perspective.

History has shown that it is easy for me to get intimidated by things I can’t control, so much that it’s easy to forget how much my life has changed for the better in recent years. During transitional and uncertain times, I look back to my old journals and never fail to find some wisdom that helps me realize that things used to be far more daunting and more uncertain, and yet I managed to find joy in the unexpected. At this point, it is only my school schedule that seems uncertain, and I am very lucky that my means of survival are currently not. This knowledge helps me appreciate my life for what it is and prepare to face the future.

2. Open new doors while allowing others to close.

This is largely in reference to the transitions taking place in my social life. Now more than ever, I am seeing that people are always coming and going, and although some goodbyes have happened recently, there have been many hellos. This is also true in terms of opportunities, in that some undertakings of mine don’t always work out in the way I had hoped – but there is always something new to pursue that I never would have anticipated. I’m seeing that it’s okay for some things to come to an end (or a standstill), whether it be a relationship or a project, because there are always new beginnings coming right around the corner.

3. Challenge myself to go out of my comfort zone.

Case in point: this blog post. I decided to challenge myself to write this and feel the rush of vulnerability I’m going to feel when it goes online. I’ve also taken on new leadership roles in the community that have been intimidating, but necessary for my growth. Going out of my comfort zone and trying new pursuits helps me grow even more comfortable with the discomfort that comes with transitions and uncertainty. Instead of having to respond to events taking place beyond my control, I get to make a choice to step into the unknown, which is a pretty empowering feeling.

Ultimately, I’m realizing the truth in that the uncertainty that comes with transitions is a natural part of life, and although I may still be uncomfortable with the idea of uncertainty, I’ve made leaps in how I respond to it. Everyone has had their own way of reacting to the unexpected, and while the circumstances in my life may be changing, my approaches to dealing with them have always been reliable

There’s a quote I’ve seen displayed at my placement agency that speaks to me. It reads:

“Find the courage to let go of what you can’t change.”

In accepting what I can’t control in my life and taking charge of the things I can, I’m hopeful that I can be courageous enough to make friends with uncertainty, and not only welcome times of transition as they arise in my life, but embrace them with optimism.

Start Somewhere

Niagara Leadership Summit for Women

Sana Shah (Brock University)

On Saturday October 28th, YWCA Niagara Region hosted the fourth Annual Niagara Leadership Summit for Women. Since October is Women’s History Month, it seemed to be fitting to end the month on such a positive note. It was great to see a few men present in the crowd, who supported women’s rights and ability to lead in a rather male dominated community. I hope to see more men in the future at the summit because gender inequality does not only concern women; it is a larger problem concerning the Canadian community as a whole.

Ashley Callingbull was the keynote speaker for the summit, who became the first First Nations and Canadian woman to win the Mrs. Universe title in 2015. She is devoted to supporting the community. She shared with the audience her struggling childhood, and how she as a First Nations woman has to work extra hard to make achievements. Shining light on this issue, she further explained how she experienced racism from a young age. She brought attention to cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. However, most importantly she reminded the crowd that you can do anything you want to do, and be anything you want to be, and that the only person holding you down is yourself. So let us hold on to that and try to change the gender divide one-step at a time.

Once Ashley wrapped up her address, we had an opportunity to attend a workshop from a choice four, which included; Leadership in parenting, Women in politics, Breaking barriers in mental health, and Business and entrepreneurship.

I attended the Women in politics workshop, which focused greatly on the Niagara region. It was led by Elizabeth Zimmerman, Mishka Balsom, Debbie Zimmerman, Joyce Morroco, Carol Stewart-Kirkby, and Shirley Cordiner. We discussed as a group about Niagara’s democratic deficit in women’s representation in local politics. There is a link between low female voter turnout and low female representation in politics. After the workshop we took a short break and had a choice of attending another workshop from the following options; Aboriginal community justice, Conquering barriers to success, Decolonizing language, Disability leadership, Fair trade, Race and racism, Self-care for caregivers, Success in a male dominated industry, Women in STEM, and Volunteerism

I chose to attend the workshop on Aboriginal Justice, let by Celeste Smith. She spoke about the over-representation of Aboriginal youth as incarcerated individuals, regardless of Aboriginal people making up only 4% of the Canadian population. Smith is the director of Three Fires Community Justice Program, which is a diversion program that provides healing for Aboriginal youth and adults charged with criminal offence. It focuses on the community taking responsibility of the individuals that is at fault. The program begins with the belief that everyone is worth something.

Based on the two workshops I attended, I only wish I could have attended all of them, as they were quite insightful. The summit came to a closing with a discussion panel about women in politics; with a focus on voting, and closing remarks from Elisabeth Zimmerman (Executive Director of YWCA Niagara Region).

This summit was a Call to Action, a call to show up, take action and support one another. In order to make a large impact we need to start small, we need to start somewhere. Even the women’s rights movement started with only a handful of likeminded people who eventually got women the status of being ‘people’ in Canada and the right to vote. It may not be as bad as back then, but we are still far from being on the same playing field and having the same representation. As I end this piece, I encourage, just like most of the presenters at the summit, to save the date OCTOBER 22ND 2018 to go out and vote in the municipal elections. Have your voice heard. We can do anything we want; we just need to start somewhere.

New BEE-ginnings

This past Spring I had the pleasure of witnessing, in action my daughter Emilee’s leap of faith into a new “out of the box” career in of all things BEEKEEPING. A far-cry from her post-secondary schooling in graphic design. Her new bee-ginning, like Emilee herself, happened in unique layers…… of research, coincidence, serendipity, a chance meeting and an interview that sealed the deal….her indomitable spirit and all those moments added up to her now working for the largest apiary in Niagara.

Beekeeping on such a large scale, is not easy to say the least, holding her own in a male dominated field, she comes home physically exhausted as beekeeping involves a lot of heavy lifting, sweaty as the suit covers you from head to toe, smelling of smoke which is used when opening up the hives, on rare occasions with a bee sting and …………. the happiest I have ever seen her!

As Spring brings graduations and the promise of new beginnings for graduates, let Emilee’s story demonstrate that your dream career and future take time to materialize, just be patient. Sometimes, it turns out that what you have gone to school for you don’t see yourself doing for the rest of your life, and that is okay. Emilee had to find the strength within herself to find her passion, redefine herself and have the confidence to pursue the career she wanted. She had to face set backs, and trust me there were a few, and continue to pursue her dream of working with bees and making an impact on the future of our environment.

My hope was to raise a socially conscience, independent young woman, and watching her through this process, I realized I had. A part of that for me was letting go, knowing she would be okay.
As a parent, it was sometimes difficult to watch her experience this process, and not try to make it “all right”. I was her sounding board, cheerleader and realized the best support I could give her through it all, was to let her figure it out on her own. She did.

Through her process, I have come to not only truly appreciate the Honeybee, but I am now a wealth of random facts about them. Honeybees are important pollinators for flowers, fruits, and vegetables, and unfortunately they are disappearing from hives due to colony collapse disorder, Which is why it is so important to build up the Honeybee population. My personal favourite: They do a little bee dance, which is their way of communicating to the other bees where the food source is – the dance is a map on how to get there!

This past spring I had the pleasure of witnessing an incredible leap of faith, and our bee population is better for it.

Healthy Co-Parenting with your Ex

Crystal

Let’s face it folks, times have changed. The traditional family is no longer that traditional. More and more often couples are finding themselves in a position where they no longer want to ‘couple’ but are, regardless, looking ahead at years of obligatory interaction due to their children.

For the past 6 years my ex and I have been called things like: weird, surreal, amazing, and the ‘poster children’ for divorce. As much as I enjoy praise, (come on, who doesn’t?) it also breaks my heart a little that our situation is so uncommon.

I have questioned what it is that makes our relationship one that, while never perfect, has always been equitable and pleasant. Is it because one or both of us are perfectly rational, emotionally mature individuals who should be therapists in our spare time? Uh…nope (shush Dan, I can hear you from here).

What we have found together, though, is a friendship that has grown roots in today, and plans for tomorrow, rather than lingering in yesterday. Here are the lessons we learned along the way, in the hopes that our style of healthy co-parenting becomes the norm rather than the exception.

1) THE KID COMES FIRST

This is the foundation upon which every decision we make is based. It is non-negotiable. This is, unfortunately, also where so many relationships go wrong. Anger and resentment gets in the way, people want to hit back, or score points. Stop it! This is not about you. It doesn’t matter who did what to get you there, the fact is you’re there. Take responsibility for the child you created, and their well-being. What is in their best interest? What kind of life do you want for them?

2) COMMUNICATE (PLEASANTLY)

Whether you are talking to or about your ex, be civil. Do not bad-mouth each other in front of your child. You once loved this person enough to procreate with them. Point out their positives when you can to your children, so they can recognize them as well. Every child starts being told “oh, you have your dad’s nose” or “you’re so your mother’s son”. Don’t let them have a negative association with that half of themselves.

Communicate regularly when possible. Before my ex was able to move closer, we used to meet up at a coffee place every weekend to exchange our son. We spent an hour or so chatting about our weeks and what was going in our son’s life. While you might not be there, consider what small changes you can work towards to make the situation less adversarial.

3) BE A FAMILY

Yep, you heard me. Do stuff together. No, it’s not going to ‘confuse’ your child. It’s going to help them understand that while there is a new living arrangement, being part of a family doesn’t stop. We do birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day, even Halloween. Camping and road trips, while not common, have been done. This is something that I give my ex SO much credit for. Over the years he has always gone out of his way to ensure he is present. On my end, I have always ensured he knew he was welcome in anything we do.

This feeling of family extends though. His parents stay with me when they come over from England. They want to spend time with their Grandson, and I love that! My mother and he have a hilarious relationship that involves shameless flirting. We all come as a package, and if a step-parent comes into the picture, they will absolutely be wrapped in that package.

4) BE THE GROWN UP

SO many aspects of healthy co-parenting fall into this category. Often, when parents split, the relationship shifts from parent/child to grown up/buddy. They don’t need you as a friend. They need you as a guide, a rule-setter, a loving pair of arms, and a safe place to land. Don’t try to use them as a sounding board to vent your venom over the injustice of it all. It is NOT their problem, it’s yours. Call a friend, or a hotline. Open a bottle of wine after you’ve finished ‘adulting’ and have a Facebook rant. By trying to force your child into the role you want them to fill, you are denying them their childhood. Be the grown up they need you to be in this difficult time in their lives.

All of the small choices we’ve made through the years have all fallen into one of these categories. It has made our lives so much more positive, and frankly, so much more enjoyable. Kudos to all of you out there right now who are doing your best, and keeping your integrity in difficult circumstances. I wish you smoother seas ahead.

Just remember, when in doubt, go back to #1.

“If your mom was a super hero, what would her super power be?”

This year our bloggers wanted to know what their children’s responses would be to “If your mom was a super hero, what would her super power be?” Here are some of the responses:

Crystal

So, asking your kid “if I was a super hero, what would my super powers be?” opens up a dialogue I think every parent should have with their kid(s). My 9 year old son’s answers were both, by turns, eyebrow raising, laughter-inducing, and tear-jerking when I realized how impressed he is by the simple things I do every day. I think we both came away from our chat with an even bigger appreciation for each other.

Also, as a note, should people think this was easy, it took my kid 3 days to bother thinking about the question, and then the threat being unable to continue his video game should he not throw me a bone. So no, he isn’t quite as perfect as these answers are going to make him sound.

My super powers were:

1) Super strength-because when he comes home every day he lauches himself at me and I can still catch him with one arm.

2) Super human computer abilites-because I “know how to do everything on a laptop”

3) The ability to fix ANYTHING- I put a memory card in his smart watch and was sewing something at the time.

And my favourite:

4) The ability to stare down a villain until they tell the truth. Oh God that one made me laugh. Pretty self explanatory that one.

Laura

My daughter says: “Teleportation, because she’s never late.”

My son says: “The super power of infinite hugs.”

Holly

My four year old said that my super power would be, “Moana”. I don’t even know what that means… Lol!

Roxy

3 1/2 year-old Kayla says, “Elsa. You need to be Elsa!!! Elsa got powers. Blue powers that froze Anna’s heart.”

Brande

“My moms super power is knowing what I’ve done, from the things I don’t say.”

Autumn

My 9 year-old son Jesse says “To give people lots more health and to have more health for you too. To give health whenever you touch somebody.” My 6 yr old Savannah says ” To stick on the wall and lazer eyes and other thing too..let me fink…electrocute hands and one more thing o.k…o.k…ummm Speedy.” lololol I am sure going to be busy as a super hero!! I better go get some sleep! hahahaa

Happy Mother’s Day

My Identity Defines My Feminism

Slavica

When we hear about feminism in the media, it seems to be this homogenous idea for all women, that represents all women but what pop culture understands as feminism is only a small portion of the vast varieties of FEMINISMS. Yes feminisms, plural not singular. The movement in its inception was only represented by white, upper middle class, heterosexual, cisgender women. Black women, lesbian women, immigrants, indigenous, poor, disabled, trans, none of these women were talked about or represented and as the second wave approached feminism started to redefine itself by these women who felt they needed a voice of their own.

By the time the third wave had hit, we had defined feminism through the
concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality looks at how a person’s various identities can affect their experiences. For example, how would ones class and race affect their experiences of the world? If for example you were poor and white, your skin colour would give you privilege. Simple truth is, you wouldn’t have to worry about being followed around in a store in fear that you might steal something because rationally we know stealing is about an individual’s choice. But we make it a race problem because we associate certain qualities like criminality to different groups of people. In this way we disempower certain people based on the categories of identity they inhabit.

To me, history plays a key role in understanding feminism because if the structures of the past were really gone than it would be history but they’re not. To say something is in the past like slavery is to deny the structure of oppression has just transformed to something more subtle like when racist ideologies within a society link criminality to race. That’s why the argument that feminism is not needed anymore because women have achieved rights means nothing. Patriarchy has just transformed the way it oppresses women, regardless of the rights we won.

This understanding of the importance of history in feminism came from me trying to learn about my own historical and cultural identity. Personally, I never felt I fit into the stereotypical Serbian identity but I couldn’t throw away my heritage. I enjoyed having a unique culture but I was also assimilated within the Canadian context. Never fully Serbian or Canadian where ever I went. However, recently I have accepted that I am both a Canadian citizen and a Serbian Immigrant and I don’t have to choose either identity. Both pieces makeup the whole that is my existence.

Unfortunately, with the rise of nationalism and colonial ideologies of the “white nation”, time has shown that nothing is ever truly in the past, it just changes form. As Trumps America is resembling Hitler’s Nazi Germany in the 21st century context of globalization and capitalism, more and more. We need feminism more and more. We need people to understand that tearing others apart and oppressing them because of their differences won’t make a country great. Instead, it will tear itself apart.

Closing the Gender Gap

NIAGARA VOICES: Gender gap must close in the workplace

This article, written by Laura Ip first appeared in the St. Catharines Standard on Friday, March 17, 2017.

As a vocal feminist in Niagara, one of the things I hear repeatedly is that women need to do more to help other women; women need to stop saying and doing awful things to each other.

Frankly, whilst I consider this to be one of the less troublesome things in the quest for equality, I do agree that it is a problem. Again, one of the smaller ones, but a problem nevertheless.

When I began my career, I immediately found that women a generation ahead of me were difficult to collaborate with, especially if they were suspicious of my ambition. I have never gone into a job thinking that I would or even could take the job of someone who was my manager or who might otherwise be a mentor to me, but this suspicion persisted. Too often, I heard friends and colleagues say, “She’s threatened by you.”

As I have continued in the career world, even with the turns my own career has taken, I am now hearing women a generation behind me say similar things. They talk about women who are further into their careers or who are in leadership positions not wanting to help them. I know how frustrating this can be and how isolating it can feel, so I have made a commitment to myself and to women around me to take women with me.

I have a colleague who, through her position at YWCA Niagara Region, has just taken her first career-related job. My job and hers overlap quite considerably and she is eager to learn not just about all that we do at the YW, but also about the communications and fundraising roles. I take her to meetings, I encourage her to bounce ideas around with me and I try to introduce her to other community members who might be of assistance to her when her contract with us is up. She likely could do my job, but I don’t see her as a threat.

There is another young woman who I have met through community projects that I work on who has an interest in getting involved in politics. Though I never won an election, I learned a lot during three campaigns, particularly as the only woman running in a ward twice. She and I discuss what she might encounter and how to deal with it, as well as various municipal issues and what she might consider doing once she starts to campaign.

In keeping with the Be Bold for Change theme of International Women’s Day, I will continue to ensure that I do what I can to take other women with me.

What will you do to take other women with you?

And, men, this isn’t just for the women to do. You can help as well. What will you do to ensure that women are being seen and heard and have opportunities to participate the way their male counterparts are participating?

You might consider taking a junior woman to a sales meeting and not tasking her with taking notes. When you see an all-male panel for an event, suggest the organizers add a woman you know has the expertise. If a female colleague is speaking in a meeting and someone interrupts her, say, “I’d really like to hear more about what Sarah was saying.”

These are easy things all of us can do to close the gender gap in our workplaces and the wider community. It’s easy to bring women with us.

IWD Q & A

I am very lucky to have so many strong, amazing and empowering female friends. We have had many discussions about how we don’t really feel affected by gender inequality because we grew up feeling equal to men and we have always been very independent. I have one amazing friend, Kelsey, who ended up becoming a tool and die maker, and is one of the only women not in an administrative role at the company she works for. She’s been featured in newspapers and magazines about her success in the field, and is a role model for other women to start a career in the trades. Our friend group always jokes about her success and badassness (that’s a word), and her ability to do, well, anything. She had graduated 2 different programs with honours and awards by the time most of us had graduated university. When we were talking about International Women’s Day/Month at the last Blogger’s Meeting, I immediately knew I wanted to interview her about her journey in the tool and dye field.
Amazingly, she had been asked to instantly fly down to South Carolina to do some work at another factory. She was working non-stop down there and still found the time to answer these questions for me, so thank you!

D: So what the heck do you do for a living?

K: I am a red seal certified tool and die maker, I work for a company that builds the dies for many different companies such as Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes etc. I work as a lead hand delegating jobs, fixing issues with the dies, making sure we meet the customers’ timelines, and provide a die that will make a dimensionally and cosmetically correct car part. My company often builds dies that produce more complicated parts and the ones consumers actually see, such as the body side, tailgate, and doors. Tool and die is a hard trade to describe to people, but there’s my attempt explaining it in one sentence.

Abandoned Conveyor Belt by darkday

 

D: Well you did a pretty good job at explaining it, in my opinion. Did you always want to be a tool and die maker, or what did you want to be when you grew up, as a child?

K: I remember as a child saying I wanted to be a veterinarian, often a popular choice with kids who like cats and dogs but I never obsessed over a certain career.

D: So what did you do after high school?

K: In high school I used the co-op placement to work at a bakery, and that experience helped me decide to go to George Brown College for Baking and Pastries Arts. I remember in grade 11, really having no idea what I wanted to do but knowing university wasn’t right for me, so I picked baking as a career path.

D: [Sidenote: Kelsey then became the friend we would force to make cakes for us when we had a party or holiday coming up.] So what made you want to change careers?

K: I found the culinary trade relies heavily on your passion for the work, and often the desire to open your own business. I enjoyed baking but you work long days, often really early mornings, and you have to work holidays. I never really got a chance to enjoy my time off, or get time off to begin with. I knew I would never open my own bakery and I felt the job would never allow me to be financially independent. All the job postings I was seeing for bakers were often lower paying with no benefits. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.

D: Okay, so you decided you wanted to do something different. What made you think of a tool and die worker?

K: I decided I didn’t want a career as a pastry chef, but I also didn’t know what I should do instead. My father works in the trades as an insulator and said he thought I would make a good millwright. That made me start looking into millwrights and possible schooling options. I discovered the Centre for Skilled Trades and Development in Burlington. They offered a Millwright/Tool and Die Pre-Apprenticeship Program affiliated with a company that would hire you depending on how the training goes. The program was also only 6 months, which was great because I wouldn’t have to take a long break from working full time. Based on the schooling, I decided I would become a tool and die maker (not a millwright) and was hired as an apprentice. I continued my training for 3 more years by going to Sheridan College one day a week while continuing to work. It was great because I wasn’t racking up any student debt (my tuition was only $400 a year) and received government grants from companies supporting the skilled trades.

D: What was your very first day on the job like?

K: The first day was extremely over whelming! No amount of classroom training can prepare you for, what looks like, such a chaotic environment. A production plant is fast paced with many moving elements. I could feel that eyes were on me. To make things worse, I didn’t have a proper work uniform yet so I felt really self-conscious walking around in my jeans since they are more form fitting than regular uniform pants.

D: Were you scared at all to work in a mostly male-dominated industry?

K: I feel like scared is the wrong term. I think I was just as nervous as anyone would be starting a new job, regardless of gender. I had no idea if and how I would be accepted. I honestly believe the men I worked with were just as nervous and worried that they might say something wrong or inappropriate to me. For the first couple months, I don’t think I had a genuine conversation or joked around with any of my coworkers. The conversation was often super formal or just filler talk about the job. It definitely became easier to bond with my coworkers when I got a new job at a different company that had more employees closer to my age.

It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.

D: What are you most proud of during your time in the tool and die industry?

K: My current role as a lead hand has come with a lot of responsibility, stress, and a strong feeling of pride. I am one of very few female tool and die makers and it’s even rarer for one to take on a supervisor type position. It is the most stressful and challenging job I have ever had, and that just proves to me what a smart decision I made with this career path.

D: What are some funny or crazy stories that you can share with us?

K: I have been in a fair share of strange, awkward, and funny situations at work; most times it becomes a good story to tell my friends and sometimes it’s something that really pisses me off. I can share that the men’s washroom is covered with graffiti and inappropriate writing on the walls. When a co-worker told me about that I was so confused because they were all working adults, I just didn’t get it. There was also a time when a mystery person was drawing penises all over the factory, and it got so bad that management had to get involved and start checking security cameras. It was so embarrassingly unprofessional and they never figured out who it was.

I remember at the first place I worked, there was this one line worker that wouldn’t stop asking me out. The first time he asked me, I politely said “no sorry, I have a boyfriend.” But he would still always ask to take me out to dinner! I would walk a different way around the shop to avoid him because it was always such an uncomfortable conversation. Eventually he quit or was fired, so I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. Now, if anyone asks me out I just immediately shut it down. I have worked at my current company for so long everyone knows me and that I’m married and it’s not a situation I face anymore.

Boys Locker Room by Mari Gildea

Other than that type of thing, every now and then at the lunch table someone will be looking at their phone and they start laughing and pass the phone around to the other guys at the table. Then they stop and realize I am also at the table and they don’t know if they should pass the phone to me or not. I guess they don’t want to take the chance of potentially offending me. It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.

More recently, I found myself working down in the States fixing issues an assembly plant had with the dies we built them. The plant manager would go and talk to one of the guys who was down there working with me and asked him for timelines and the progress of the job. My co-worker paused and proceeded to point at me and say “I don’t know, go ask my boss.” Honestly, I find nothing really phases me any more. I really enjoy my job and the work environment. The job is awesome; not just the work and the financial benefits, but all the entertaining stories I get to tell my friends.

D: Tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments, or something you are most proud of.

K: I have had a lot of success in my career, (considering I have only been working in this industry for 6 years) and I am already a lead hand at my company. But, I am the proudest of the fact that I am able to inspire other woman to work in the trades, and breakdown the preconceived beliefs about women working in this industry. Volunteering with Skills Ontario and talking to high school girls about the many career options out there brings me great pride. I have had a couple different women tell me that my career story gave them motivation to pursue a future in the trades.

D: What does your husband think about your profession?

When we were first dating and I told him I was quitting the bakery to go back to school for a tool and die maker, he was confused. Mostly because he had no idea what a tool and die maker was, and secondly because he didn’t want me to stop making delicious cookies. Now that he gets what I do every day, he is really impressed and proud of what I have been able to accomplish. However, sometimes he can get frustrated with the amount of hours I work. There are times when I will work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week and get home and immediately pass out on the couch. We have talked about balancing work and life, and how there will be times when I have to work those long days, or randomly go to the States for three weeks for a job. He knows how important my job is to me, and he’s the person I confide in when I had a bad day, when nothing goes right, and when I’m questioning my abilities. My career has also been beneficial to him: he doesn’t have to be the sole breadwinner in our household, and was able to take a lower paying position with better options for advancement because I could support us.

D: Thank you, Kelsey! You can add this blog post to your wall of newspaper and magazine articles about how amazing you are!

K: [Eye roll and laughs]

An Unlikely Feminist

feminism definition:  the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. … : the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.

My parents raised four feminists.  My youngest sister Debi, older sister Darcy, and my older brother Gord…all feminists.  I’ve always thought of my Mom as a trailblazer, but looking at the definition, I now realize so was my Dad.  Reserved and quiet, he was my mom’s greatest supporter.

I am grateful for all the women that came before me and fought so hard for the equalities I don’t think twice of not ever having today.  Not to take anything away from them, I would also like to acknowledge the men that have also believed in equality, and to those that live it every day.

So I want to thank my parents for raising not three feminists (my sisters and I) – but raising four.  As my brother in turn is doing the same with his sons, and so the feminist movement grows, not just with our daughters, but with our sons.

Feminism is a great gift parents can mentor – for our daughters, and our sons.