In Conversation with Women in HVACR (WIHVACR)

Women in HVAC-R Canada (WIHVACR) launched in 2020 with a goal to promote the inclusion of women in the sector. Several years later, the non-profit organization has become a vocal advocate for industry diversity and continues to build on its founding mission.

Recently, HRAI chatted with Sandra Ansell, WIHVACR member and Account Manager at Carmichael Engineering, to learn more about this industry priority.

Why are groups like WIHVACR important to the industry?

There is still an ongoing need to remove a few stigmas or misconceptions about women in the trades. And I'm not just talking about HVACR, but all of them. The reality is that women do exist in the trade; there are women right now working in the field, and they've been here for a while. I've been in the industry for pretty much all my life. So, groups like WIHVACR are here to say that women are here, we bring just as many skills to the table, and you don't have to treat us any differently than the guy who's already been working beside you.

Part of our mission is also reminding women there is a space for them in HVACR and the trades. If you have an interest in plumbing, carpentry, or whatever, don't be afraid to do it. It's so rewarding. I'll meet girls at trade shows who say they love to draw and are also interested in mechanical stuff, and they'll be surprised when I say they can put those two together in a trade. The doors are much more open to women than before, so if you have an interest, go for it.

You mentioned growing up in the trades…?

I'm a third-generation HVAC worker. My grandfather was an engineer and my dad's an HVACR business owner and refrigeration mechanic. When I was growing up, he'd constantly take on service calls, show me the tools, and all that fun stuff. I was proud of the fact that when I was in high school, I'd sometimes see my dad's truck parked out in front and know he was working on the roof.

But then, there was also a time when I didn't work with my dad because it wasn't seen as something for women to do. That's when I went off and did my thing for 15 years. Then, there came a time when he called and said he needed some help, so I came back and I've been in the trade ever since. 

Do you still think it is difficult for women to be accepted in the trades after all these years?

A little bit, yeah. I still agree that it is still somewhat of a man's world, and we sometimes feel that we have to speak a little louder or insert ourselves more to be noticed. As a woman, it can still feel like you're always giving 110% just to be seen. That will change with more women in the trade. And like I said, that's the whole concept with WINHAVC: to bring more women into the job and show that they really aren't any different when it comes to doing the job.

How can HVACR companies support WIHVACR’s mission?

It's funny you ask that because at Carmichael, we've just started a women in HVAC group, and the women who are part of it are saying that it's nice to finally have people to talk to who have similar experiences and can help you get through some of those hurdles. So, in terms of what I'd say to HVAC companies, it'd be to associate yourself with these types of programs. Promote them. Make it known you're the type of company that supports those groups so that the women who work for you or want to apply for a job in HVACR realize you're a place where they won't be shuffled aside and that they'll be valued.

And then, it's just about practicing simple respect. To give you an example, I was at a job site once, and there was a circle of men all talking to each other, but I was locked into the conversation. Any other time, in any other social situation, if somebody was behind you, and you knew that they were on about there about the same thing, you'd take a step aside and make room for them, right? So, sometimes, supporting women in HVACR is just doing small but impactful things.

At the end of the day, it's just about being aware and showing respect and inclusion. I'm lucky to work with a great group of guys who support me 100% and vice versa. It's an environment where I feel comfortable asserting myself in a situation, voicing my opinion, or asking a question. I don't always get that same vibe when I'm working with people outside my company, and that's just how it is. I don't take offence to it, but there is a difference.

What advice would you offer women entering the trade?

Don't be hesitant to learn, ask questions, or insert yourself in a situation. Don't exclude yourself because you're a woman. It may be uncomfortable, but good things will come from putting yourself out there.

And then, keep at it. Keep going forward. HVAC companies are a great place to work, and there are women in them who will join you along the journey. I've met such a wonderful group of women in my work and through WINHVAC, so know that we're here and you don't have to look far to find us.


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