Stereotypical gender roles have historically discouraged women from careers like welding, and some organizations are working to counteract that.
“How old are you?” I ask the little girl brandishing a MIG welding gun, standing in one of our Dr. Seuss-themed welding booths at Weld Like A Girl in Yuma, Arizona. “Five,” she draws out, rolling her eyes like, “Duh, aren’t all five-year-olds welding right now?” Her parents proudly stand off to the side, looking through state-of-the-art auto-darkening welding helmets to admire their young daughter’s efforts and work.
We wish it could be like this more often, and that girls don’t need to “break out of the mold” to be welders (or electricians or plumbers or carpenters or drillers) but may simply choose a career path that interests and excites them.
Unfortunately, choosing a career that goes against traditional gender norms are sometimes viewed as a threat.
Usually the scenario goes like this. A man might say, “I mean, don’t get me wrong, but you don’t look like a typical welder,” to a female instructor at Weld Like A Girl, who smiles and responds, “Oh, you mean I smell better at the end of the day?” She’s been a certified welding inspector (CWI) and certified welding educator (CWE) with the American Welding Society (AWS) for years. And yet, she has to prove herself every day. Just like the helicopter pilot in Katmandu, Nepal, who navigated through a monsoon storm impassable to fixed-wing aircraft. She was probably one of the best pilots ever, and yet, her male counterparts constantly challenged her and made her prove her worth.
Innumerable times I have been asked, “How did you get into welding?” implying welding is a low-level career and any self-respecting, well-educated woman would want no part of it. I usually joke back, “I was told I had the wrong butt to be a plumber.”
If Weld Like A Girl staff and interns had a dollar for every time we heard, “I wanted to be a welder but my father said I can’t because I’m a girl,” or “because I want to go to the prom,” we would make the Forbes Fortune 500 club in a heartbeat. The truth is this. Motivated people who are well-taught in a supportive environment will always surpass your expectations. Society needs to move away from vestigial stereotypes and nurture passion and aptitude. So far at Weld Like A Girl, we’ve taught all walks of life from 5-years-old to 88 years young.
The point is, we need to break away from defining careers by gender, socioeconomic status, race, or disability, and foster potential wherever it is found. To build the future, one must not only think outside of the box, but redesign and reconstruct it altogether.