Women in the Trades: Meet GNI's Only All-Female Crew
March 02, 2022
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. And we can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by introducing you to two strong, capable young women who are breaking down biases in their jobs, every day.
Like most construction trades, insulation is a pretty male-dominated field. So when you’re getting your attic insulated and a female crew shows up at your house, it can be a bit of a surprise. Although there are 10 female crew members across all Great Northern Insulation locations, Sabrina and Tiffany, who work at GNI’s Woodstock branch, are the company’s only full-time all-female team. We talked to them about their careers, their days on the job, and what it’s like being a woman in the trades.
Do you often get surprised reactions when you walk into a job site?
Sabrina: ALL THE TIME. At first, people are a little shocked, and then, a lot of them are happy, and in some cases, relieved. But sometimes there’s skepticism mixed in there, too. They’re like “It’s just you? No one else is coming?” But generally, our experiences have been pretty positive.
Tiffany: We recently had a customer who is a young mom – she was home with her baby while her husband was at work. The day she was having the work done, she had a friend come over because she assumed it was going to be two guys coming into her house, and she didn’t want to be alone. When she saw us, she was really happy.
How did you end up working together on the same truck?
Sabrina: Tiffany is actually the one who got me to come work at GNI – we’ve been friends for years. We work together well, but being a team is convenient. While we all start work at the same time, when we finish really depends on the job we’re doing that day. And since we both live in London, it just works out better as we can share a ride to and from work.
How did you end up becoming insulation installers?
Tiffany: I went to college for Outdoor and Adventure education, but it was too seasonal so I decided to study carpentry instead. In carpentry school – it was actually part of the Women in Skilled Trades program – someone from GNI came in to do a presentation about the company. I knew I wanted to do something other than framing and working outdoors all the time, so I applied, and I’ve been here for a year and a half now.
Sabrina: I was working in the culinary field, but with COVID, hospitality wasn’t doing so great. I started doing lawn care and realized I really like working with my hands and doing something more physical. But lawn care is seasonal and I was looking for something I could do year-round, so that’s when Tiff introduced me to Great Northern.
What’s it like working in such a male-dominated field?
Tiffany: Well, since there are only three female crew members at the Woodstock office, we definitely get attention. During my first week, a bunch of other installers came up to me and said “Congratulations, you’re the woman who’s been here the longest.” And I was like…after a week?? Apparently the one they hired before me only lasted three days. Not sure why – everyone is really respectful, although sometimes new guys will want to carry the ladder and do stuff for us.
They realize pretty fast that we can do it. And I kind of roll my eyes and think “yeah, I’ve been doing this longer than you have.” But I do realize that change takes time. We’re setting a new standard here, and it takes people a while to get used to seeing women in these jobs and understand how capable we are.
You both moved into insulation from very different industries – what was it like making the switch?
Sabrina: I’ve never done anything in construction, so it was a little tough while I got the hang of things. But the company provided training and paired me with a more experienced installer, so I learned pretty fast. I really like the face-to-face interactions we have with customers – it’s nice to be able to talk to them, we’re not just there to do our jobs and leave.
Tiffany: It was less of a transition for me, since I was already in construction, but there was still a lot to learn. But you pick things up pretty fast when you’re doing something for 8 hours every day. Plus, they paired me with young, like-minded guys to make sure I was comfortable. They’re all great guys, I didn’t have problems with anybody.
What would you say to another woman who’s thinking of becoming an installer – or just going into the trades?
Tiffany: I’d say don’t go in expecting a stereotype. Just because it’s mostly men doesn’t mean you’ll be working with a bunch of sexist guys who are going to give you a hard time. Go in with an open mind, be willing to learn, and understand that things are changing. And also keep in mind that while it isn’t a particularly hard job, it can be challenging. You have to be comfortable getting dirty, fitting in tight spaces, and going into dark areas.
Sabrina: And you can’t be afraid of spiders! I used to be, but this job has toughened me up.
Interested in becoming an insulation installer?
If you’re looking for a satisfying, year-round career with a company that supports you, helps you grow and keeps you busy, we’d love to hear from you. We’re hiring for positions across Ontario – apply today!