Joann Greeley had to pose as a man to get a job in her trade. After returning to school at 35 to become an electrician and graduating with top marks, she phoned every electrical company in St. John’s, only to be told they had no opportunities for her, while her male colleagues got hired. “I finally sent my resume in as Joe and got a call,” she laments.
Newfoundland has traditionally been a natural resource development province. Although gender-based discrimination in the workplace is a global issue, having an economy highly dependent on fisheries, lumber, mining and other high-income trades means Newfoundland’s workforce has been historically male-dominated — a fact that can be seen in the province’s gender wage gap. In 2013, women in Newfoundland were making 66 cents for every dollar a man made. In 2017 it dropped to 63 cents. Today, the province has the second largest wage gap in Canada, behind Alberta.
However, pay differences are not alway reflected in hourly wages or paycheques; they come to exist through deeply rooted systems of nepotism, sexism, and outdated regulations. Organizations have been created across Newfoundland to help make opportunities available for women entering the workforce. Alongside government initiatives, such as financial endorsements and quotas encouraging employers to hire a certain number of women, these initiatives have led to an increase in women working in male-dominated industries each year. Still, only 6 to 9 percent of trades workers in Newfoundland are female. It is only by including non-building trades and excluding part-time workers in the analysis that gender-based statistics appear more equal
In October 2019, True North Photo Journal photographer Vanessa Tignanelli recorded the stories of 21 working women from St. John’s to the Burin Peninsula who are paving the way for the next generation. Their stories exemplify how women are breaking barriers, overcoming stereotypes, fighting for financial stability, and rising against the systems of discrimination rooted in the island’s economic history.
These are the working women of Newfoundland.
“I can’t help but wonder if I was fired because I’m a strong and stubborn woman.”
Stephanie Courage, Red Seal Industrial Plumber, St. John’s (33)
“One worker came over while I was laying flooring, pulled down his fly and said ‘while you’re down there.’ I suspect I was laid off two weeks later for speaking out about it.”
Donna Murphy, Carpenter, Pouch Cove (54)
“My challenges represent what many mothers struggle with. As much as you like to think you can do it by yourself, you can’t always.”
Amanda Rees, Apprentice Millwright, Conception Bay South (33)
“The sexual jokes, the negative connotations about pageants, fighting for respect in a male-dominated job…it was all water off a duck’s back, but now the duck is snapping back.”
Tammy Snook, Security Supervisor / 2018 Miss Newfoundland-Labrador / Business Student, St. John’s (22)
“I was seasick for three years, but I had made up my mind that I was going to make it work.”
Rita Roul, Fisheries Enterprise Owner, Lawn (59)
“To those who told me that women should be home making babies instead of chasing other goals, I’ve proven I can do both.”
Cassandra Whalen, Red Seal Millwright / Miss Bikini Newfoundland-Labrador, St. John’s (29)
“I saw my mother be just as much of a breadwinner as my father, so I didn’t think about gender-specific jobs. I was brought up to believe that if I wanted to do something I could do it.”
Gina Burke, Fire Captain, Mount Pearl (49)
“I have to prove to every customer that I know what I’m talking about, simply because I don’t look the part of working in a garage. When they ask if there’s a guy around I tell them, you see that black Jeep out there? I built it.”
Michelle Janes, Autobody / Sales Manager at NL Lightbars and Off Road Accessories, St. John’s (25)
“You still feel like you have to prove yourself because you’re a woman. You have to go above and beyond just to feel equal.”
Kim Drake, Haul Truck Driver, Saint Lawrence (45)
“I was a single mother in desperate need for help, and came within inches of going to Social Services. Instead I attended a discussion on women working in trades.”
Kim Boland, Mason, Conception Bay South (55)
“I love having the balance between going to work with the guys and being a part of women empowerment groups.”
Katie Hanlon-Wadman, Civil Engineer / 2017 Rose of Trilee / Mary Kay Consultant, Paradise (22)
“People are shocked when they see me driving by in a 3000 tonne truck. I just blow them a kiss!”
Patsy King, Red Seal Heavy Equipment Operator, St. John’s (55)
“About every boat in Garnish has a woman on it now.”
Tonia Grandy, Fish Harvester, Garnish (40)
“Fortune is my history. Fisheries is my life. I will fight for this fish plant as long as I can, same as I’ve always done.”
Karen Caines, Fish Plant Worker / Chair of Local FFAW Union, Fortune (69)
“I’ll write a story in January that’s published in May and won’t get paid until June. I have to work these part-time jobs that have little to do with my actual career, simply because as a gig worker I’m in a perpetual state of being owed money.”
Wendy Rose, Freelance Arts Journalist / Part-Time Worker, St. John’s (28)
“We’re the bottom of the barrel. I work nights and overtime because it’s the only way to make money in this trade.”
Lacey Brady, Hairstylist, Grand Bank (32)
“Wait ‘til I’ll get her red again, then you can take a picture,” he says.
Anne Champon, Mine Superintendent, St. Lawrence (36)
“There were only male washrooms, so I had to go offsite and take off all my gear each time I needed to use the bathroom. It was so much trouble that I stopped drinking water altogether.”
Annie Parrell, Geologist, Mount Pearl (33)
“They refer to the servers as “the girls”. I feel it devalues what I do, what I went to school for. As if all young pretty girls should be doing is carrying food and not making it.”
Ali Cecutti, Chef / Student, St. John’s (25)
“The artist’s life is a constant battle of having to prove your skills to yourself and to others. I often worry that the men in my field make more money and are given more opportunities.”
Andrea Carpenter, Artist / Owner of Carpenter Photo Restoration, St. John’s (25)
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Vanessa Tignanelli is a Canadian documentary photographer and videographer based in North Bay, Ontario. Combining her training in conceptual art, journalism and filmmaking, her work moves beyond the typical snapshot to the more significant environmental portrait, encapsulating the essence of those who share their stories with her. Her work aims to reconcile things that appear to be in opposition, working with themes confronting sexism, ageism and classicism. Vanessa's work has been recognized by the Royal Family, NPAC National Photographs of the Year Awards, and InFocus Photo Exhibit and Award. She is a graduate of the studio art program at University of Guelph and the photojournalism program at Loyalist College. Her work has appeared in publications such as CBC, The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg, VICE, Photographers Without Borders, National Post, Toronto Star, PhotoEd Magazine, Waterloo Region Record and more. www.vanessatignanelli.com / @vantigphoto
I’m disappointed that Labrador was not included at all in this article. I’m a red seal electrician from Labrador (with a diploma in construction project management) , currently living in Newfoundland. There are many tradeswoman in Labrador as well.
Hi Amanda, thanks for your comment. I agree that Labrador is extremely important to include in the conversation. Unfortunately, as independent documentary photographers, we paid out of pocket to go and cover this story and did not have the budget to also fly to Labrador this time. Hopefully we get the opportunity to return to continue this important story, speak to more voices, and learn about Labrador’s experience. Thank you!
Thank you for this wonderful piece!! I have family in Newfoundland and feel a sense of home there – I’m planning to move there in a couple of years but have always struggled with how much sexism I encounter when I’m there.
When it affected my kids, though, that was too much. We were out on a boat and my ocean-obsessed daughter (~12 at the time) shared some ideas and information she’d learned. Everyone was pleased at her interest and knowledge, and we talked about how she planned to study marine biology at university. The boat owner pointed to his toddler son and said, “maybe she could be his assistant out here one day.” I knew then I wouldn’t raise my kids there. I’m glad to hear things are improving, if slowly.