Ladies First: Celebrating women of the industry on International Womens Day

Toronto, Ontario ⁠— Women make up approximately half of the world’s population. If you ask Google, it’ll tell you that about 49.58 percent of the global population identifies as female. For every 100 women, there are 101.68 men. It’s nearly 50-50.

But those numbers don’t check out when you look at skilled trades demographics. Only about five percent of the skilled trades workforce is female, according to Statistics Canada estimates. About one in ten Canadian apprentices of the skilled trades are women.

In celebration of International Womens Day, Collision Repair magazine spoke to women from various verticals of the collision repair industry to hear their experiences working in the trade.

Everyone has a different story as to how they wound up in the collision repair sector. For example, Christie Hall, area manager of operations for CARSTAR’s business in Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, says she joined the automotive industry “out of necessity.”

“I ended up loving it so much that I’ve made a great career out of it.”

Others, like Cheslie Lesnoski, an award-winning builder out of British Columbia, followed in the footsteps of her father, a collision repairer with 35 years of experience. She clearly made the right decision⁠; Chelsie owns the title of the first-ever woman to break the top three in SEMA’s Battle of the Builders, Young Guns.

Chelsie Lesnoski at SEMA 2021, where she placed top three in the Battle of the Builders Young Gun competition.

Making friends can be a task in any new job setting, but many women in the collision industry say they had to “learn” to get their fellow colleagues⁠—and customers⁠—to trust them.

“I learned as much as I could about repairs, so when I spoke to the customers or techs, I spoke with confidence,” says Christie.

A study by Statistics Canada found that women who study male-dominated apprenticeship programs generally face poorer labour market outcomes than their male counterparts. The study also said these women typically faced lower hourly wages than their main counterparts.

Meghan McEwen, a dual-trade technician with a passion for motorsports, says she faced many eyebrow raises during her training.

“[People] had a lot of doubts. They told me that it’s dusty, hard work. At five-foot-four, people would openly pass judgments just due to my size.”

Meghan McEwen sports her racing gear.

Others are luckier, like Desirae Ellingsen, head painter at Mervyn’s The Body Shop and recent Bodyworx Professional cover star.

“I’ve been really lucky. Plus, I grew up in a household with a lot of men in it⁠—I understand their humour. I have worked very hard to earn respect from my peers, but it all comes down to who you work with. I have friends in other industries that aren’t treated half as well as I am in my day-to-day routine.”

Like most members of the industry, these women are passionate about spreading the word about the great trade. They’re also passionate about lifting their fellow industry members up⁠—Christie says she trained her best friend to be an amazing appraiser.

“It’s one of my proudest accomplishments!” she said.

Christie recently presented as a speaker at the SAAR Spring Forum. Her discussion on the four generations of the Canadian workplace was met with widespread praise. “I didn’t expect to get such a great response!” she told Collision Repair.

The twenty-somethings of the industry are just as keen to attract more women to the trade.

“I wish trades were pushed more in general⁠—specifically to women,” said Desirae. “You can be a badass woman in a male-dominated industry.”

“[The industry] is missing out on quite literally half its workforce,” says Meghan. “It’s 2023⁠—racism, sexism and homophobia are outdated perspectives. It’s time to move on and invest in progress.”

You can help advocate for women in the collision repair trade by taking part in Women’s Industry Network meetings and initiatives⁠—it’s open to all genders!


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