11 July 2011

Challenging Socialization

Socialization - according to dictionary.com is

a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.

I want to look a little closer at this definition in the context of women in trades. Let's start with the term "continuing process" - this could be an upbringing for example or the training that a soldier goes through to learn what is expected of them. Norms are the things that people normally do.

Let's look at this definition in terms of lived reality.....

My own upbringing (continuing process) in rural Newfoundland shaped who I was by the time I joined the army at age 17 to become a mechanic. By watching the adults around me, I learned that men worked outside the home, normally in construction and the women looked after the children, cleaned the house, did the homework, cared for the elderly and were never allowed to have the remote. OK, we didn't have a remote but you get the drift. That was my socialization process as a young child.

I experienced a new socialization process at age 17 when I joined the army to become a mechanic. In this new role (identity), I became a soldier and a non-traditional woman. Things were a whole lot different than they were back home. I don't think anyone ever said - she needs a new socialization but we were subjected to training that would see us adopt the identity of soldier.

I moved far away from home and stayed there for the next 10 years - it was a real eye opener for me to meet women whose upbringing had been totally different than mine. It was my first real notion that we were not all alike and our roles as women was different depending upon where we grew up and what your social status was. I met many women who were a lot more empowered than I was even though at the time I didn't have the language to understand what I was experiencing - that came later.

In the military, women fell into two camps - there were the people who came from the more rural areas who were known for their hard work and dedication. We rarely were outspoken or assertive. Then there were the women who were real outspoken - we referred to them as complainers and now that I'm an empowered woman - I respectfully correct that and call them great role models. They made a positive impact on me although at the time I didn't have the language to describe what I was experiencing.

Whenever there is a recruitment drive for non-traditional work or military service and unskilled labour, the target area is the poor. It makes sense to recruit from there because they need jobs and they're more than willing to put up with adverse work conditions. We see it replicated everywhere.

Labour shortage is a word that is heard often these days and that's a signal that more disadvantaged people will be mobilized into these positions. I have yet to see an equity program that includes women in a discussion about her socialization process. Those who design programs for women in trades often focus on nutrition, upper body strength and maybe exposure to the trades. But they fail to give women what they really need - a chance to reflect upon where they came from and where they are going.

I often tell people that if they were going to climb Mt. Everest, they would train and acclimtize for that environment - the same can be said for women entering the trades - there are norms here that we are not familiar with - learn what they are. Learn the norms that we've already bought into. Be courageous enough to challenge our own assumptions so that at the end of the day we can be tradeswomen and not just women in trades.

Back in my day we heard the men complain "Why do you get paid the same as I do but I have to tell you what to do?" This phrase speaks volumes about socialization. If a woman expects to get paid the same as a man gets paid, it's important that she be made aware of the expectation that she step up her game.

There's also another clear danger for women in trades brought on by lack of preparation - getting stuck in work that is traditionally women's work in the home. In the mechanic trade, that might mean doing service work - oil changes and preventive maintenance as opposed to the more choice work of diagnostics and percission rebuild. It happens all the time. It is done in a sneaky fashion also to make it look like they are doing you a favour by giving you the lighter work. Awareness goes a long way.

The remedy lies in new training - learning new ways of doing things.

Socialization is not a one time process - you can reinvent yourself at any point - it's a "continuing process" meaning that it is never completed - keep that in mind as you begin your new journey.

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