The Working Women
of Newfoundland

In a province with the country’s second largest wage gap, 21 women help us understand the fight against gender discrimination in Newfoundland’s male-dominated workforce.

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.

After 15 years advocating for herself in the industry, Joann Greeley began working with the Office to Advance Women Apprentices, an organization funded by the provincial government that is dedicated to finding employment opportunities for women in trades. “I spent so much of my own money over the years, put up with so much bullshit,” she recalls, with tears running down her cheeks. “Many women have children at home, they don’t have time to do the kicking and screaming. I have time to dedicate to advocating for them, so I will.”

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reflected in hourly wages or paycheques; they come to exist through deeply rooted systems of nepotism, sexism, and outdated regulations.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)

It came as a shock last year when Stephanie Courage was fired for admitting to smoking marijuana in the evenings for medical purposes and was forced to take up work as a baseline labourer making half her usual wage. She had just been appointed Safety Champion of the job site, yet her foreman said that smoking made her a liability. She says her dogs, friends, and belief in cosmic energy help her get by. “Doesn’t matter what kind of terrible day I had. There’s a peace in my house that I really appreciate.”  (07/10/19, St. John’s)

“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)

Donna is tired of fighting against being micromanaged, bullied and harassed at work. Her reputation for standing up against gender discrimination on job sites has made it difficult for her to find and sustain work. “I learned a long time ago that no one’s got my back. I don’t have a prince on a high horse coming to rescue me. I don’t even have a guy on a clydesdale. It’s just me. I have to take care of myself.”  (16/10/19, Pouch Cove)

“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)

When a fine art diploma wasn’t paying the bills, Amanda sought help from organizations dedicated to helping women find success in the trades. Thanks to an orientation program through Women in Resource Development and a scholarship through Office to Advance Women Apprentices, she is now completing her fourth and final block to become a Red Seal Millwright. (17/10/19, Paradise)
After three years away from the classroom to raise her son, Jasper (2), Amanda is working with these organizations to finish the millwright program she started. “He pushed me to want to better myself in a lot of ways, not just career-wise but as a person. He is a big part of why I want to continue this journey.” (17/10/19, Topsail Beach)

“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)

Tammy Snook is the youngest and only female street supervisor at Security Solutions NL. Arriving at her job in her dress and heels following Miss Newfoundland-Labrador engagements, Tammy became subject to many derogatory comments from male coworkers. The more she felt empowered by her role as Miss NL, the more sensitive she became to these comments. (12/10/19, St. John’s)

“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)

Rita and her husband Rod grew up in Lawn, a coastal fishing town in the Burin Peninsula with a population of 500. Fed up with having to commute over 50 kilometres a day to find work and a decent salary, Rita decided to enter the fishing industry with her husband. What started as fishing cod from a speedboat has become the Inshore Fish Enterprise, a $300,000 company with licenses to catch crab, lobster, cod, halibut and more. Rita prepares the longliner to steam out into the Atlantic Ocean to begin their 36-hour work day. It’s still a commute, but now she does it on her own terms. (14/10/19, Lawn)

“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)

Cassandra Whalen is surrounded by male students in her classroom at the Carpenter Millwright College. When we met Cassandra in October, she was finishing her program and pregnant with her second child. With the help of the Office to Advance Women Apprentices, Cassandra received a $10,000 scholarship from the Long Harbour Association, looking to diversify gender ratios in the trades. (16/10/19, Paradise)
Cassandra plays with her son, Greyson (4). After he was born, Cassandra enrolled herself in an eight-week weight loss program and went on to place third in her first bodybuilding competition only 11 months after she gave birth. Last year she won the overall title of Miss Bikini Newfoundland-Labrador. Her trophies are placed proudly on the mantle as a reminder of having self-discipline. (16/10/19, St. John’s)

“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)

Gina Burke responds to a call at the Mount Pearl Fire Station, St. John’s Regional Fire Department. She was the first female hired when the Station opened in 1992 and is the first female Captain in Newfoundland. Out of 200 people working in fire suppression, she is still one of only six women. (18/10/19, Mount Pearl)    
Gina and her husband Barry find a rare moment of rest together at home. Barry is also a Fire Captain at the Mount Pearl Station. For years they worked opposite shifts to share the duty of parenting. (18/10/19, St. John’s)

“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)

Michelle Janes always liked the idea of customizing a car to make it her own. “No one’s riding me off the road in her,” she says proudly of her 2018 Jeep Rangler unlimited.  From the age of four Michelle was learning about cars. At 17, she visited an auto shop to have her car painted and walked out with a job as their receptionist. Before long, she was spending most of her shifts in the back shop, learning how to paint cars. She moved on to an autobody shop, where she learned to tape, mask and sand vehicles. Within two and a half years, she was the go-to for any job that required immaculate attention to detail that only she could offer. (20/10/19, St. John’s)

“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)

Kim Drake was 39 years old by the time she finally got her driver’s license. Now she drives a 60 tonne dump truck hauling ore at the Canada Fluorspar mine in St. Lawrence. (15/10/19, St. Lawrence)
Kim is the first woman in a long line of miners. A government-enforced quota requires all major resource development projects to hire a certain number of female workers. Kim was selected as one of ten women sponsored to learn to drive a haul truck, giving her an opportunity to work at the mine.  (15/10/19, St. Lawrence)

“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)

For Kim Boland, working odd jobs for $7 an hour was not enough to support her children as a single parent. With the help of Women in Resource Development and other government programs sponsoring her, she went back to school to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps as a stone mason. Being the only woman and oldest in her class brought her close to quitting many times, but there was an obligation to see it through for her kids. Kim passed with 94%, and began her apprenticeship working for Ed Slaney at Slaney Masonry. She has now been with the company for eight years; she and Ed have been dating for four. Last Spring, he asked Kim to move in with him. Looking around their apartment, although the decor is not her own, she feels settled for the first time in her life. (18/10/19, Conception Bay South)

“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)

Katie stands in front of the grounding station at Dowdon Point, where she completed her third work term as a civil engineering student. A program through Women in Science and Engineering kickstarted her interest in hydraulics. (10/10/19, Conception Bay South)
Katie takes off her work boots and puts on a gown she wore as the Rose of Trilee, proudly celebrating her femininity. The organization selects young women worldwide to travel to Ireland and represent their heritage. (10/10/19, Paradise)

“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)

“An elementary school student just stole that truck!,” someone shouted. It was Patsy King, a five-foot-tall, fast-talking firecracker just heading out to do her job.
Patsy became the first female to work for the City of St. John’s in 1985, all because she knew how to drive a pick-up truck. She leaped at the chance to get full-time employment when the government began sponsoring women in 1991 to enter the trades. She now drives a tandem truck for the snow removal on emergency routes. (08/10/19, St. John’s)

Patsy admires the view from her beautiful home overlooking St. John’s. In her motivational speeches she encourages young girls to enter into the trades and pursue the comforts and independence that working in trades has given her. (08/10/19, St. John’s)

“About every boat in Garnish has a woman on it now.”

Tonia Grandy, Fish Harvester, Garnish (40)

When she fell in love with a fisherman, Tonia Grandy knew the only way to be with him was to join him on the water. Within eight years of operating their fishery business as a team, Tonia and her husband Preston have expanded their franchise into two enterprises. (13/10/19, Garnish)
Tonia’s daughter, Abbeygail (9), was the first to discover the green crab, an invasive species that has the potential to destroy the lobster industry in Garnish Bay. Abbeygail has dreams of becoming a marine biologist and running the first all-female crew when she grows up. (13/10/19, Garnish)

“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) 

Karen Caines lives in the house she grew up in, taking comfort in staying close to family roots. Declining wild fish populations and advancing technologies have impacted the once booming fish plant in Fortune Bay where she grew up. Every member of Karen’s family has worked at the plant since it opened in 1952. She has been there for 43 years. (14/10/19, Fortune)
When the plant closed its doors in 2005, Karen did everything she could to see it reopen, representing her coworkers as Chair for the local FFAW Union. The plant reopened under Ocean Choice in 2007. Even though she has dropped from working 50 weeks a year to only 15, making it impossible to collect employment insurance, Karen takes comfort knowing that she fought for what she cares most about. (14/10/19, Fortune).

“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)

Wendy Rose at Tval Skincare, Writers’ Alliance of NL, Hooligan’s Tattoo Shop and writing an art review late into the night at her home in downtown St. John’s. Wendy is known in St. John’s as one of the leading reviewers of the arts, but to stay financially afloat she must work three part-time positions. Stats Canada does not include part-time workers in their reports to determine average incomes, which excludes a huge number of women that are falling victim to the wage gap. (09/10/19, St. John’s)

“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)

Lacey Brady, a hairstylist at Chatters Hair Salon, is currently working towards her Red Seal certification. Although it is an apprenticeable trade, hairstyling does not earn the same income as building trades. Hairstylists are set at minimum wage and work on commission. Many speculate that the inclusion of hairdressing in the statistics, being a predominantly female role, is simply to improve the appearance of the number of female workers in trades.  (11/10/19, St. John’s)

“Wait ‘til I’ll get her red again, then you can
take a picture,” he says.

Anne Champon, Mine Superintendent, St. Lawrence (36)

As she explains once again how her latest protocols have been introduced for their own safety, Anne Champon is faced with backlash from her male subordinates. One worker tells her that her face is getting red. Another says her voice goes high when she’s upset. Constantly being talked over, Anne has to push to be respected by her staff because she is a woman. (15/10/19, St. Lawrence)

“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)

Annie Parrell has shifted her career from working on oil rigs to an office position in petroleum development. Surrounded by women at work, she feels a kinship she hasn’t before. “Still, the higher-ups are mostly men. Now the conversation has shifted to the fact that I don’t qualify for certain considerations because I don’t have children.” (21/10/19, Mount Pearl)
A sign indicates a makeshift female washroom on a job site. Something so simple as an accessible washroom stands as an example for many who fight for workplace safety. (07/10/19, St. John’s)

“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)

Ali Cecutti is used to being the only female kitchen staff, with young women often being hired as servers. When she moved to Newfoundland from Ontario in 2015, she found nepotism kept her from getting a job on the island. She recently stepped down from a sous chef position to pursue a business degree at Memorial University, hoping to one day open her own spot rather than fight for respect in the industry. “It is difficult to be taken seriously sometimes, and there are still plenty of cooks who treat the kitchen like a boys club, saying that girls should be servers and not chefs.” (17/10/19, St. John’s)

“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)

Andrea began restoring photos after moving back home to care for her father following his heart attack. She found a box of old family photos and decided to nurse them back to health using editing skills she acquired in film school. She now operates Carpenter Photo Restoration from her bedroom office. As a trans woman, Andrea has worked endlessly to learn the skills she needs to look and feel like the woman she is as she navigates her transition. Just as with her photographs, she edits to bring out the beauty, to conserve and amplify what is cherished in herself. “Just like with restoration, you can go too far to pass as a woman and not realize. But in real life, it is trial by fire.” (20/10/19, St. John’s)
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Written By
Vanessa Tignanelli

Vanessa Tignanelli

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. / @vantigphoto