Women employed in shipbuilding sector discuss gender differences

Starting 2021, women in Russia will get better access to work in dozens of professional positions in the transportation sector, including work on maritime and riverine vessels. This means that educational institutions will also accept women to departments and faculties previously inaccessible to them. For several years this was advocated by the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” and participants of the campaign #alljobs4allwomen. However, simply abolishing the prohibitions and restrictions is not enough: it is important to improve working conditions in the workplace, regardless of the gender of the employees, to widely inform women about opportunities that they have, and to change the all too familiar gender stereotypes, including the ones existing among teachers and students.

Two women talk about their experiences in education and work in the shipbuilding industry and shar their thoughts on gender stereotypes in the world of work.

A., deputy technical director at a fiberglass shipbuilding enterprise

We have a fairly large factory, which manufactures vessels out of fiberglass. There is gender division of labor here: only men work in the welding workshop, while only women work in the polymer workshop. Polymer workshop is considered to be hazardous production, there is a very pungent smell of tar there. Shapers, who work in this shop, lay out fiberglass cloth, impregnate it with glue, make a sort of a big “sandwich”. It is believed that this is “female” work, women do it better and faster, although hypothetically men can also work there. In this “women’s workshop” there are special bonuses for work in harmful conditions, employees there get milk and certain “health days” (extra days off). Previously, this workshop was very poorly ventilated, but now proper ventilation system was installed there and the situation improved. When hiring women, the managers conduct job interviews in several stages, they talk about the health risks, ask about having children (whether the women already have or plan to have children), but the decision on getting employed there is left to the employee.

One hundred years ago, women could not even vote, but the outstanding women of that era made a great contribution to science and culture – my idol, Marie Curie, who received the Nobel Prize, immediately comes to mind. Now gender roles have shifted so much that we all do what we want, and we are conscious about this, and this is OK. I am glad that in the modern world women have the opportunity to engage in science and other spheres that were previously inaccessible to them. It seems to me that in Russia women are particularly underestimated, their intellect and their self-consciousness does not really matter to anyone, and this is very sad.

Alexandra, employee in shipbuilding sector

I am 29 years old, and for 10 years now I have worked in my professional occupation. I received education in shipbuilding, and this was by chance, I ought to say: I didn’t get a non-paid place in college, so I decided to go to another faculty, where free scholarship was available, and it turned out to be shipbuilding. During my first two years I thought: “What am I doing here?” But then during the third year, we started special courses, it became more interesting for me, and I thought that it was great, that there were great prospects, that this was great work. I must admit, there were teachers who told us that we “girls” should go home to cook borscht and this used to bring us to tears. However, all the four girls who studied at the faculty went to work in shipbuilding sector.

During my studies, I went to work at the largest shipbuilding research center in Russia. It sounds beautiful, but the work was not particularly interesting. At the same time, I got a job in a design bureau at a shipbuilding plant. I worked for two years simultaneously at the plant and in the research center, then I went to work for a private company. Here they treat women decently, there are no wage differences. I deal with the internal construction of ships and vessels, with decoration and finishing works, insulation and furniture.

A lot of my friends work in spheres, which were completely atypical for women in the past: one works as a technologist in a metal smelting shop, another a specialist at a heating power plant, in a position related to nuclear reactors and IT. At the same time, one of my male friends got a job as a manicurist. Everything is so mixed up now that I don’t really understand how in the modern world there can only be male or female professional occupations.