According to the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, only 30% of the industrial sector’s positions are held by women. This field is actually considered to be more “masculine”, which explains why women traditionally struggle to find their place. Nonetheless, during the past few years, they progressively imposed themselves in certain specific areas, including in industrial maintenance.
It is true that very few women achieve to get to decision-making positions and that very specific industrial sectors are still almost exclusively masculine. That is why we wanted to hear about the women who work in such environments on a daily basis to better understand what it looks like, to give them the possibility to explain what they do exactly and to know how they feel. Old habits die hard, but they all still manage to deliver a very positive message!
“I strongly encourage young women to assert themselves and to choose this kind of positions. Motivation is the only thing that really counts: just go down the path you want to”
A rather successful integration in companies
We could have expected for the integration in such an almost exclusively masculine environment to be very hard, but it’s in fact the opposite. A vast majority of women don’t really notice any difference in the way their colleagues treat them, and they become part of the team really quickly. The integration would even be easier with men rather than with women! The respondents talk about the difference they notice in a very positive way, like Christelle Lorillou, who has a fixed-term contract at Vinci Facilities (a major concessions and construction company): “Men tend to be nicer with me than with each other. They’re also more courteous, more respectful in the way they talk and less rude”. Some employees are more attentive while others remain quite indifferent, which proves that gender differences aren’t an obstacle.
Some of the women surveyed explain that they sometimes had to change their behavior at the beginning in order to be integrated and to feel accepted, just like this Nespresso’s employee explains: “When I first arrived, without being a tomboy, I wanted to stay very strict when it came to the work environment, to bad jokes… I myself pay much attention to what I say because I don’t want it to be misinterpreted. Once I know my colleagues better, I become more friendly, but I always stay careful”. Angélique Barbedette, maintenance technician at Sanofi, says that she “always remain[s] careful with what [she] say[s] or do[es] as some men tend to misinterpret it”. Christelle Lorillou explains: “I am simply true to myself, even if I remain really serious at first. Once I am completely integrated and that I have proved my competences, I feel a bit more relaxed and I talk a lot with my colleagues”. Another woman jokes: “Now the colleagues in charge of bringing back pastries in the morning always bring me my favorite ones too!”.
Who said that industrial jobs were only for men?
Even if women are a minority in this area, they are passionate about what they do. Among the respondents, the majority discovered an interest in maintenance during their studies, either in middle or high school, sometimes later. Some wanted to understand why equipment could fail, others needed to strip down objects to see exactly how they work, others have always been good with their hands: they all successfully overcame the difficulties that were potentially gender-related.
In fact, a survey conducted in 2016 by the French association Elles bougent among 1,000 girls proved that they mainly had an interest in medical, paramedical, luxury or media sectors rather than in robotics, IT, automotive or aeronautics, which are traditionally preferred by boys.
Despite this, the women asked in the framework of our study prove that industrial maintenance is not just a men’s matter. It just needs for these jobs to be better explained and highlighted in order to arouse vocations, and that’s exactly what shows the association’s survey: 63% of the female students think that industrial companies don’t value women enough. Your gender doesn’t define the area or subject in which you have an interest, and they are as many reasons as people to like this kind of jobs. The respondents explain that they enjoy the fact that each day is different from the previous one, their relationship with their colleagues and the group’s cohesion as well as being able to bring a vision that is different from the men’s ones. One of the women explains: “When we fix what has been broken, we’re like equipment superheros! We are able to help people out and feel really valued”.
Why employing women in the industrial sector is essential
The respondents are unanimous: having female coworkers in industrial maintenance teams has a lot of advantages. One of them, who currently works at Sandvik, assures that “the interpersonal relations with men are easier, it allows you to exchange ideas about the different ways of thinking, creating and doing things, that are all complementary”. This technician, employed at Nespresso, tells us more about her experience: “In general, men are more careful, they talk more easily about their feelings at work and care more about the way they talk and act. In all the teams I worked with, people have always admitted that having a female coworker helps channeling the energy. People may be doubtful about my competences at first, but once I show them what I can do, everything’s fine”.
Mentalities are now changing, according to this former employee of the Electrolux group: “Men I used to work with have always considered me as one of them, I mean as if I was a man but providing a different approach of industrial maintenance”. Christelle Lorillou agrees: “The more the time goes by, the more men appreciate the fact that women are finding their way in this field. It is progressively changing and you just need to prove that you’re good at your job to understand that this cooperation is just pure pleasure. I strongly encourage young women to assert themselves and to choose this kind of positions. Motivation is the only thing that really counts: don’t listen to the wagging tongues and just go down the path you want to”.
Sexism is still well-established
Despite all respondents’ enthusiasm about the evolution they notice in their work environment on a daily basis, some of them still complain about the sexism they very often experience both personally and professionally. Myriam Marzolf, who is a maintenance engineering technician, describes her experience: “I sometimes receive comments about my job, considered to be a man’s one. I often have this problem with employers. When you’re looking for a job, a lot of people don’t want to hire you simply because we are women”.
There is actually much to say and it is pretty upsetting: “I remember one time where I had an interview for a technician position. The boss, at an advanced stage in his career, was interviewing me and was in fact very embarrassed because he wasn’t expecting a woman. He finally offered me a secretary position instead of a technician one. My two-weeks trial period wasn’t satisfying in the end. I couldn’t stand the atmosphere”. This other testimony proves that stereotypes persist: “One day, a female customer seriously asked me what went wrong with my father considering the job I was doing… I couldn’t make her understand that it was a personal choice! It was kind of insulting”.
These anecdotes are in fact very common, as shows the survey conducted by the French association Elles bougent: 61% of female engineers have already been discriminated in the work world because of their gender, and 56% of female students are convinced that they will experience it when they’ll work simply because they are women. How can we possibly encourage them to chose these jobs, that are traditionally considered to be masculine, and not spreading a positive and kindly message?
Encourage girls to turn to industrial careers
We already said that, instinctively, girls tend to turn to certain specific areas, like paramedical, medical, luxury or media. In order to encourage them and to make them understand that industrial maintenance can be made for them too, we have to put the emphasis on the wide range of jobs that exist. The above-mentioned survey shows for instance that 84% of the students recognize that they don’t know enough about these careers and that they’re not given enough information to actually make their own choices and be able to decide what they want to do. All these figures prove that role models are essential to make choices. If students can relate to successful female figures who talk about their experience, they will have more chances to find their place in industry.
A change in attitude and behaviors
The survey we conducted shows that maintenance women make things happen and want to change ideas. Christelle Lorillou explains: “People are not used to see women in this field, so I talk about it as soon as I have the occasion. People who know me well aren’t surprised because my personality fits to my job”. It is of course thanks to communication that things become normal and accepted by all. Another women adds: “Almost every day, women thank me for helping our society to change, they explain to me that they would have wanted to be able to do the same thing… Men are usually surprised, and in general no one remains indifferent. You have to be open-minded and accept all these discussions”.
Other organisations have quite an influence and also make things change. That’s the case with the association Elles bougent, created in 2005 and aiming to motivate girls to turn to industrial jobs. It wants to prove that this sector is not just for men but that women also have a very important role to play. The events and meetings organized progressively open up new possibilities!
Even if industrial maintenance seems to still be very masculine, women working in this field prove that they have the same competences to succeed and change society. Employers struggle to hire people, these industrial jobs have a bad reputation and very few young people turn to these careers. We know about all these issues as well as about the sexist and demoralizing comments female students very often receive: how is it that that we continue to encourage boys harder than girls? We know that vocational fields tend to suffer from a bad image, even if they allow companies to hire very qualified technicians, which can cope with the lack of industrial profiles in the industry. It is time to evolve towards a more open market.
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