By Kim Lewis
Imagine you are a skilled female, not quite 20-years-old, walking onto the floor of a manufacturing company staffed entirely by males…until you arrived. What potential challenges would you need to prepare yourself for? A Bristol Technical Education Center (BTEC) student did not have to imagine this scenario, she experienced it firsthand. Fortunately, the BTEC administration is paying attention to current trends in the workplace, and is motivated to take action by empowering students with specific communication and relationship strategies as they embark on their careers.
With the help of a grant in the amount of $1,600 from the Women and Girls’ Fund at the Main Street Community Foundation, BTEC is offering a healthy choices support group facilitated by the Prudence Crandall Center. The support group has given female students the opportunity to develop strategies for dealing proactively with workplace issues. The facilitator, Nikita Carmona, encourages the students to share their experiences by asking, “What types of workplace issues do you face in the classroom, at your internship, or in your current job environment?” At the end of the ten week spring session, students will be given a book, funded by the Parent Faculty Organization (PFO), “Odd Girl Out”, which deals with the topic of bullying and its impact on females. The program will run again for ten weeks during the 2013 fall semester. Currently, BTEC serves 152 students in eleventh and twelfth grade, as well as post-graduate registrants. All of the trade teachers are male. Currently, only twelve students are female. Courses of study include: automotive, manufacturing, welding, heating and air conditioning (HVAC), electronics, and culinary arts.
“I have learned that confrontation does not always have to be negative. This group has taught me that it’s okay to let others know how you’re feeling because a conflict can sometimes give people the opportunity to work a problem out and turn a situation around. Confrontation doesn’t always have to be an argument,” explains Johna, a Bristol Technical Education Center student. Six of her peers nod in agreement. Kara adds wisely, “Sometimes you have to allow yourself and others a cooling off period before having a discussion about a problem or disagreement. By taking the time to get your emotions under control, you’re less likely to say things you might regret.”
Sabrina, another BTEC student, warned that avoiding confrontation can also have negative consequences. “At one of my restaurant jobs, I was the only female dishwasher. The other dishwashers would let me do all of the work and they’d just hang out and talk. I didn’t speak up to let them know that I thought I was being treated unfairly. I just eventually got tired of doing everyone else’s work and quit.” Sabrina ultimately regretted her decision. She liked the restaurant, the waitresses were always friendly to her, and she believes that she would have had opportunities to advance to more appealing jobs if she had stayed. At the time, she lacked the confidence, assertiveness, and communication skills necessary to negotiate and enforce an equitable division of responsibilities among the entire dishwashing staff.
“How do you create a healthy work environment where you are a member of the team and not just the clean-up crew?” posits Bristol Technical Education Center principal Joyce Mowrey, “Women who encounter similar situations need to develop communication skills to assertively and respectfully set clear expectations for equal work responsibilities and fair division of labor. Women in male dominated workplaces must effectively set boundaries as they strive to cultivate positive, productive working relationships with their colleagues.”
Participants have explored the following topics through discussion and role playing: characteristics of healthy relationships; how to develop healthy relationships through effective communication and appropriate behavior; responsible and respectful ways of dealing with the opposite sex in the workplace; sexual harassment; and group generated topics. The program will also include an assembly for male students of the school to give them the opportunity discuss and learn about most of the same topics.
Joyce Mowrey and Michelle Andrade, School Counselor, agree that the healthy choices support group is making a significant impact with a ripple effect throughout the school and surrounding communities. Mrs. Mowrey explains, “Through participation in this program, students have developed the interpersonal and communication skills necessary to create and maintain positive relationships at Bristol Technical Education Center. Teachers have noticed a difference in the way students interact as a result of this program. The benefits also carry over into the students’ family and personal relationships, as well as their work relationships in their internship placements. Therefore, this program has the potential to positively impact workplace climates in our local communities.”