Women continue to be underrepresented in skilled trades in Canada, and Erin Vaughan, president and CEO of Kinetic Auto Service Ltd. in Regina, is one of them.
She wants the trades to become a better place for women, and to support women making inroads in all sorts of male-dominated fields, including science and politics. So Vaughan, along with fellow Regina business owners Erin Caleval and Matt Thompson, launched a clothing company to help do just that.
EmpowHER apparel sells t-shirts and bunnyhugs with snappy slogans like "queen of the current," "I don't discriminate, men can be mechanics too" and "a woman's place is on a ballot."
"We wanted to have slogans that speak to our experiences in the professions that we do," said Vaughan. "We wanted to be able to say the things that women sometimes feel. I know in the trades, we're unable to find shirts that speak to our profession. There's lots for men, but really none for women.
"So I just wanted to be able to provide women with the opportunity to have something they can wear that says 'hey, this is my experience.'"
As for Vaughan's own experiences, she says the need for these sorts of t-shirts and slogans became clear to her over the course of her career in a male-dominated industry.
"It wasn't one moment, but many moments over the years," she said.
According to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, fewer than four per cent of the people who held industrial, electrical or construction jobs in 2019 were women.
But Vaughan also knows it will take more than new clothes to create a positive environment for women to want to participate in these industries.
"It comes down to language and it comes down to policies," she said. "What can we do to create an inclusive space for women to succeed? That's really the kind of thing I'm trying to focus on. How do we get more women interested?"
For Vaughan, that means being a role model for young girls and encouraging them to pursue their interests in these fields, then supporting them when they get their foot in the door.
"Give them an environment that is professional, that is supportive, and also encourage them to move forward and move up," she said.
Policies that reflect the reality of many women's lives, like flexible hours to allow for child care responsibilities, could also go a long way.
And Vaughan says more business owners are going to have to think about encouraging women to take up careers in the trades at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, as employee shortages have caused havoc for many industries.
"I think what's going to happen is that there is going to be an employee shortage — I think that's going to continue happening," she said. "And when we start looking at the whole pool of humans that can do this work, women are absolutely capable of doing it.
"All these men need to do is create the environment: if you build it, they will come."
EmpowHER apparel is also helping to encourage these culture shifts with a grant and scholarship program. $5 from every shirt sold goes toward scholarships for women in science and politics, as well as grants for women who want to start their own business in the trades or grants for companies looking to make a more inclusive environment.
"If we pool our resources, we can try to solve these problems and figure out a way to help more women become empowered to do these careers that they really want," said Vaughan.