PREJUDICE CAN BE HARD TO SHAKE OFF, ESPECIALLY IN THE INDUSTRY
So when an offshore wind turbine plant that assembles parts which can weigh up to 50 tons goes and reveals it has about 30% women in its workforce, the claim is bound to raise a few eyebrows. The plant, which opened in late 2014, is headed by Pascal Girault, who believes that diversity is something self-evident: “I am convinced that an organization will perform better if it favours gender diversity. All the same, I did not want any kind of quota system at the plant. It seems to me that extra open-mindedness and respectful behaviour are more effective than positive discrimination.”
DIVERSITY PUT INTO PRACTICE
Once the principle of diversity has been accepted, how do you put it into practice? “In our industry, there aren’t many women who apply for positions as operators or technicians,” explains Aurélie Deveille, the plant’s Human Resources Manager, “so we examine every application.”
In order to spot the women who might be suitable for such positions, the Saint-Nazaire plant has been in touch with temp agencies and with Pôle Emploi (France’s Job Centre), who has developed a recruitment method based on abilities; the idea is to run a five-hour test to evaluate vision in space, assembling skills and the capacity to follow procedures in the assembly of small Meccano-like structures and cable trays.
So in what way is this method suitable for women? “The technique helps to extend our recruitment to candidates (both men and women) from a great variety of backgrounds. Some women have turned out to possess a genuine talent for manual work, yet they had been steered towards the standard female sectors, like social work for instance.”
Once again, what is at issue is overcoming prejudice--prejudice among recruiters, who might mistakenly believe that a female applicant cannot fit the part for an operator position. And prejudice too among applicants, who sometimes are not aware that they possess the skills required for that kind of position.
Once the test has been completed, the applicants begin a five-week course under real-life conditions: they must learn everything there is to know about clamping, lifting, and cabling. In the workshop, the women perform exactly the same tasks as the men and they obey the same rules, for instance the rule that states that no one may lift more than twelve kilos by themselves. “Our activity faces some challenges in terms of ergonomics,” explains Aurélie Deveille. “And the efforts we make to improve working conditions focus on promoting diversity. In any case, the job demands good physical fitness, whether man or woman. After all, they do handle pretty heavy hydraulic keys and screws weighing several kilos.”
As for the issue of integrating women into a working environment that is mostly male-dominated, at the Saint-Nazaire workshops the integration happened quite naturally. “Since we have set up a diversity approach from the moment the plant opened, the presence of women in the workshops is totally accepted by everyone, and the women who join our company feel comfortable,” says Aurélie.
Nevertheless, in terms of family organization, women are still the ones who most often handle chores like school drop-offs and looking after the children. As a result, they can sometimes not be as flexible when it comes to working hours, which can prove complicated, especially with shift work. Regardless, things are changing, and it could so happen that by paving the way towards diversity, the Saint-Nazaire plant will lead every one of us to take a long, hard look at our preconceptions about women working in industry.