Conversations with female electrical pros who challenge the status quo – from the editor
February 24, 2022 | By Anthony Capkun
“That’s what we need to tell the young girls in school right now; we need to tell them the story of electricity”
February 24, 2022 – You can’t be what you can’t see. Wise words from Jennifer Green, who I interviewed back in 2021 when she was part of team of advisors who were charged by Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training & Skills Development to come up with recommendations for attracting youth to the trades.
“Growing up, you go to the doctor for regular shots, when you’re sick… so everybody knows what a doctor is,” said Green, who is an industrial mechanic millwright. “So how do we even begin to remotely explain what the trades are, if a child or youth doesn’t grow up with it, or see it in their daily life?”
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
“I could not agree more,” says Michelle Branigan, head of Electricity Human Resources Canada. “The more women we can attract to the electrical sectors, the more role models—influencers, if you will—we have to inspire even more women or other underrepresented groups to considering entering the industry.”
For this instalment of Women in Power, we continue doing just that: showcasing some female electrical industry pros who, like the title suggests, challenged the status quo to advance the normalcy of women in the electrical world.
When we launched this Special Feature last year, we focused on women who started on the tools as construction electricians, motor winders, maintenance, and linemen.
But our electrical sector involves so many more professionals: engineering, distribution, generation, technical sales, standards… you get the idea.
“Oh, you said it, Anthony,” Michelle nods in agreement. “Not unlike other industries, the electrical sector is also competing for the best talent. With impending retirements, the skilled trades need new blood, without question. But there is also always a need for quality, talented people in other areas of the business… business development and sales, project management, executive leadership are just some examples of great jobs in the sector. And they are all important when it comes to keeping the lights on.”
Michelle points to research EHRC conducted to gain insight into what the next generation of talent are looking for in a job, and their understanding of the electricity industry (Generation Impact, 2020). That study reinforced that the next-gen workforce is primarily looking for work that is secure and pays well, but also satisfies their interests both on the job and off. There is a desire among young women to be part of something that is fulfilling, or challenges them.
“We have a great story to tell about this industry,” says Michelle. “Providing Canadians with something we all need every day—keeping the lights on in our homes, hospitals and businesses—is something of which those working in the sector can be incredibly proud. That’s what we need to tell the young girls in school right now; we need to tell them the story of electricity, of the energy industry, and ensure they know of all the career opportunities that exist out there.”
Lorraine is among Nova Scotia’s earliest female licensed electricians. I interviewed her last fall and, at age 72, you could still find her on the tools… maybe on a scissor-lift installing light fixtures, or fixing/retrofitting a trailer.
A convention-breaker to be sure, Lorraine pursued her dream of becoming an electrician, even when the apprentice registration authority told her “we don’t want to take a married woman”.
Joanna, meantime, has been involved in business development in the energy space ever since I’ve known her. But she finds herself in this feature because Joanna is also the president & CEO of Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE), a group founded in her own backyard.
“Whether it’s in the boardroom or on the construction site, I’ve typically been the only female there,” Joanna recalled when we chatted, “and I really wanted to see that number elevated.”
From those humble beginnings, WiRE has expanded all across Canada, and has even gone international.
“Role models are so important,” says Michelle. “If someone looks at an employer’s website or job ads and does not see anyone who looks like them, they’re extremely unlikely to see themselves having a successful career there.”
“There is a real opportunity to diversify our workforce and invite people of all types into this industry, so that the workforce actually reflects the make-up of the Canadian population. That’s why this story is so important: we need women successfully working in the industry to talk about how they got there, why they love it, and inspire other women to join.”
I’d love to hear from you if you have a story to share. Meantime, please enjoy reading about Lorraine and Joanna. As we share more of these kinds of stories, the women in our lives will be able to both see and be.
“Women in Power” is a SPECIAL FEATURE brought to you by Electrical Business Magazine in partnership with Electricity Human Resources Canada. This feature—along with more great content—appears in the February 2022 edition of Electrical Business Magazine. Back issues are located in our Digital Archive.
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