The construction industry is not known as a trade that is traditionally very open to women, but there are women making it in the industry. They work hard, hold their own, and don’t expect special treatment from anyone.
Natalie Godin has been a glazier in the Ottawa region since 2000. Glaziers install architectural metal frames and glass into buildings, primarily in the commercial and institutional sectors. It’s a physically demanding job, where you spend your entire shift outside in the hard sun or bitter cold of Ottawa winters.
Godin got her start in the industry when someone noticed how hard she worked on her own home. “I met someone that noticed that I was doing my own renovations, my own anything,” she says. “If something needed to be done, I would just do it. So he gave me a chance.” She started out working on the Quebec side, where she lives, because they were able to offer guaranteed hours, something she needed as a single parent with three boys.
“As a woman in construction, you have to work hard,” she says. “You have to surpass yourself; you can’t be a slacker. You have to give 110 per cent if you want to succeed, so you have to work pretty damn hard. And I did.” Her hard work is what set her apart on site. Godin was never the first one laid off when work slowed down, because her work ethic was well known.
Having women on site in the demanding jobs, like being a glazier, can be a benefit to employers as it motivates the men. “I was told that maybe if the guys see you doing certain things, they’ll pick up their boots and do it themselves and stop complaining,” she explains. “And it’s true. When they see a woman climbing up high, they kind of shut up and get to work.”
Godin is a petite woman, which doesn’t make her job any easier, but it’s her endurance that keeps her going. “I wouldn’t stop until it was time to go to bed,” she says. “Once you’ve spent eight hours outside in the wintertime, if you sit down you aren’t getting back up. Raising three boys, that wasn’t an option. When I get home, the other shift starts.”
When you’re surrounded by men at work, you have to have a sense of humour, she says. She always wanted her colleagues to be able to speak freely around her and treat her as one of the guys. As for earning their respect, she says it’s the same for anyone starting out. If you start off by dragging your boots, that’s what you’ll be remembered for.
Godin emphasizes that she was always treated well, but she made her own way. “If you have a bit of heart, you’re going to succeed,” she says. “I was never afraid of getting dirty. But to convince them you can do it, you need to be convinced yourself.”
Godin is a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Ontario Council (IUPAT). Local 200 represents a variety of skilled trades in the Ottawa region, including painters, drywall finishers, glaziers (glass and metal technicians), EIFS stucco workers, and hazardous materials workers.
The union helps workers get a fair wage, combat unfair treatment from employers, complete further training in their industry, and improve their standard of living.
“I will say they opened doors for us, they were there to help us and give us a chance, more than some industries that may not be as open to what we can do,” says Godin. “They never made it hard for me as a woman.”