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Political, automotive landscapes changing for B.C. women, still more work to be done

On International Women’s Day, local women in politics and automotive say there has been a marked improvement over the years, but there’s still more room for improvement.

According to Comox mayor Nicole Minions, the political landscape for women and girls has massively improved and so have interest levels.

“Now I have the opportunity to meet with different high school classes, girl guides, some elementary school classes. I get a lot of really inquisitive questions from some of the girls in class,” said Minions.

“It’s having those one-on-one conversations. It seems like there’s more interest and more engagement from kids as young as six or seven upwards to definitely the teenage ages.”

Minions adds that the Comox Valley has a very encouraging environment for women in local government. This is partly because two of the area’s three mayors are women, along with its local MP and MLA.

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Changes have also been noted in the automotive industry. Georgia Strait Collision general manager Melanie Mentlein says it is far more accepting.

“I started cleaning washrooms; it was a weekend job when I was a teenager. Back in the day, you’d be cleaning the bathrooms, and it would be the Penthouse and the Playboys under the sink and females outside the office weas normal,” said Mentlein.

“As I developed and grew my career into parts management, it was still an anomaly versus today where our workspace is very inclusive, teams are very receptive of females in the workplace.”

Despite improvements in both sectors, they say barriers still exist. But time seems to be affecting how frequently they come up and how they are dealt with.

“There’s still some barriers with the economics of childcare or sometimes the women tend to be more of the caregiver side or its hard for females a little more to take on those second jobs,” said Minions.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge the some of the barriers and be supportive of those things.”

Cumberland mayor Vickey Brown echos Minions’ comments, adding that it can also be very difficult to get into politics as the cost of living rises.

“We don’t get paid enough to make it a job, and yet it takes a lot of time and a lot of time away from your kids if you have kids,” said Brown. “If we want diverse perspectives, we need to find ways to support women to run and other BIPOC community members.

“This work is really challenging to do with a full-time job. I’ve noticed that change on our council. This time, three out of five of us are working full time and trying to do council.”

Brown adds social media has also had a large impact on councillors with negative comments and safety concerns.

Mentlein says stereotypical career paths also influence where women work.

“Women are still encouraged in different directions, it’s not the first place that a woman thinks to go and work in automotive,” said Mentlein. “There’s still room for both, and that’s learning on both sides.

“I have an incredible crew behind me and they’re super respectful, but not everywhere is there yet. It is changing, the workplace is cleaner, it’s far more transparent than it ever was as far as our industry goes.”

While improvements are being made, all three women say the more women and girls are in the industries and politics, the better it will become. They all encourage you to go for it and promote balance in the workplace.

“Dream big, dream outside of the box because you’re capable of so much more. What a female can bring to every trade is so much more different,” said Mentlein.

“We need dynamics, we need different ways of thinking, you need to have a whole well-rounded crew to make a successful business. Our brains are wired differently than men – for painters, females can see colour better – those things make a business successful and the rewards going into these careers are very rewarding.”

“If there are women out there considering leadership positions, please reach out to the other female leaders,” said Brown. “We want to support you.”

“If you have that interest of passion, try to find someone you can connect in some kind of a mentorship role or go to work with them and ask any questions you have,” added Minions.

“I think the hardest part is a lot of people think they’re not ready or don’t know enough, the reality is a lot of us are learning as we go as well.”

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