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Tradeswomen are stuck wearing men’s gear, calling for ‘not pink’ work clothes

February 9, 2022
Tradeswomen are stuck wearing men’s gear, calling for ‘not pink’ work clothes

Many women in the trades struggle to find comfortable and safe gear.

During her shift as a fuel truck driver between construction sites, Aslan Selby says that she’s tired of tripping over or fumbling with her oversize gloves while her male colleagues have options.

After six months on the job, she’s still looking for a pair of black high-visibility, rainproof coveralls that are not designed and sized for men but rather fit her five-foot-three-inch frame comfortably. 

Selby explained that clothing that is too large could also be dangerous. Baggy coveralls can get tangled in equipment, and oversized gloves make using tools difficult.   

The Orangeville, Ont. resident is among a growing number of women struggling to find the gear that fits correctly and keeps them safe and comfortable. CBC News spoke to four women about how workwear brands offer very few options, if any, for women.   

According to Selby, stores stock a small supply of uniforms, and companies that provide uniforms often have men’s sizes only. Products for women are often pink – a colour she won’t wear on a job site.

“I’ve always worked in a male-dominated industry, so it’s like a slap in the face,” said Selby. “We’re not all pink and pretty. We’re out there to do a job. Just give us some normal black.”

Women encouraged to enter the trades

Statistics Canada shows that about 4 percent of tradespeople are women or more than 34,000 workers. To increase the number of women in trades, Ontario announced in November it would spend $90 million to attract young people to skilled trades and address the labour shortage.

Women already face hurdles entering male-dominated industries like construction, such as not being encouraged in high school or feeling uncomfortable on job sites.

Although providing women with work gear won’t solve everything, it’s an essential step towards ensuring they feel included. 

‘Affordable, stylish and not pink’ 

As the CEO of the Toronto-based construction company, Ethelfox Construct, Natasha Ferguson is also fed up with trying to find pants that fit both herself and her 70 percent female staff. Instead, she sees the painting and drywalling in ripped jeans.

Ferguson said last year; she went to a popular workwear store where a sales representative directed her to a back “cubbyhole” filled with women’s construction clothing but found not a single pair of pants that fit. In addition, they were not available online.

That’s when she decided to create her own work clothing line for women that she describes as “affordable and stylish and not pink.”  

“We haven’t been seen in the construction industry, so of course, there’s going to be a lack of things for us,” Ferguson said. “The only reason why I would be going ahead and doing this is because I understand there will be a demand once myself and others do the work getting more women in the trades.” 

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