Tired work boots
Caption: Size 8 boots with stories to tell (photo Ewen Turner)
Bear prints in mud
Caption: If you go down to the woods today, you better bring a picnic (photo author’s own)
A toilet in the woods open to the elements
Caption: Does our industry lack diversity? Does a bear s#!t in the woods? (photo author’s own)
Timber filling a hole in a road with truck driving over it
Caption: Let’s fix this! Temporary road fix after a wash out, NW Ontario (photo Marathon PGM)
Author and a colleague log cylindrical pieces of drilled rock core
Caption: Logging drill core – safe from bears (photo authors own)
Black bear in the boreal forest
Caption: I now know they prefer blueberries (photo Dave Good)
Author with three male colleagues outside a helicopter
Caption: Before drones (photo author’s own)
Author atop a tall tottering pile of choss dolerite standing isolated in a canyon
Caption: The author on Dorion Tower which may now have fallen down. Analogies on a postcard please (photo Thunder Bay Alpine Club)

These rigger boots are done! Well-used and loved, they’ve always been a bit generous; I couldn’t get a pair in my size. You might know how self-conscious it feels with new kit. But especially shiny work boots (two sizes too big) – green horn, wet behind the ears, the new guy. Except I wasn’t a guy, and I’d come from two years in geological exploration in the Boreal woods…though it was termed the ‘Canadian bush’ apparently, woods are for picnics! Speaking to female colleagues and doing some shopping this month, it’s still a challenge to find safety boots below a size 5.

Retiring my boots on International Women’s Day made me reflect on some of the most rewarding work I’ve done thus far. The adventure and freedom of remote, wild places – the peace of zero phone reception and maybe a nap after lunch. Working remotely and alone comes with risks of course, but despite this, I preferred not to declare my destination ‘in the field’ to the office beforehand; I’d rather take my chances with the elements, the terrain (and the wildlife) than advertise my position to an all-male team. Same goes with high-vis gear and harassment by male strangers - turns out a woman working in the woods or hills is a reliable magnet for unwanted male attention, well-meaning or not. I made an exception during the US hunting season however, where men with guns had a reputation for shooting at anything that moved!

That attitude of mine to want anonymity is a real problem for safety at work, but it’s not paranoia; it comes from years of experience, and my female colleagues concur. Women and minoritised folks have a chronic added risk assessment to consider when it comes to harassment. In fact, toxic masculinity (or machismo) at work harms us all: casual disregard for personal safety on construction sites and whilst surveying derelict sites, working when we’re sick or injured, taking risks with equipment, or not wanting to be bothered wearing PPE.

Looking back at my career I realise that in order to be included I effectively had to pretend to be a man. That was what I understood was required to do the job I wanted – work the establisheds ystem to get equality. The women ahead of me (if they existed) were double-hard; tougher than the men. So, I put on several pairs of socks and got out there. In Canada, I recall this meant a few things: I got stacked (muscley) to carry as many boxes of drill core as anyone else, I borrowed a dog from the SPCA pound to take out for the day, and once a month made excuses to stay at the cabin mapping when I was on my period because a prospector told me bears could smell the blood. I was strong as an ox by the end of the season, though my colleagues nailed a particularly magnetite-rich box of core to my bench one day which confused me longer than it should. In retrospect, our bears seemed to prefer chewing on quad bikes, scooping up drill grease and scoffing blueberries to stalking women on their period. Plus, the dog was apparently a bit of a risk with the bears – merrily taunting it before getting bored and heading back to its human with the cross bear in hot pursuit! We live and learn. 

I’m not going to write explicitly about the misogyny and sexism; I think we all know about it. Like other ‘isms’ and ‘phobias’ the problems for me came when men were passive about what they’d witnessed. I was complaining upwards to men that had never experienced discrimination and therefore didn’t believe in it (and probably didn’t know what to do). I take responsibility too – I don’t want to act as a gatekeeper telling other minoritised groups coming after me that they have to ‘suck it up’ because I did. I want to see Black and brown people, people with disabilities, neuro-diverse, trans and non-binary people thrive in land-based industries should they wish to. I’m gradually learning what this responsibility might look like. So far, I’ve understood that we need to learn about equity (as opposed to equality); accepting that sometimes people need to be treated differently in order to ensure opportunity and provide welcome. And to recognise the inherent value in difference. I think we’re now embracing species and age diversity in our woodlands, can we do the same with types of diversity in our workforce?

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