Meaghan Griffith never imagined she’d end up being a welder. Now, two years into her career, she’s preparing to become a mother while also fighting for equality for women in skilled trades.
She explored several career paths before learning about welding, and now she’s proving that the trades are for women by holding her own in a male-dominated industry, making her voice heard and advocating for sexual-harassment training.
From the start, she had to figure out a balance of fitting in while also being taken seriously: “It’s wanting to be accepted into the group, but also standing up for yourself, which is a very fine line,” she says.
But despite the nature of the industry being somewhat of an old boys’ club, Griffith loves what she does. “People probably don’t look at it and see all the sparks and think it’s relaxing,” she says. However, she explains that “a lot of women will say it’s like sewing with fire, which is a cliché, but it’s true.”
Griffith shares how she got into welding and her words of wisdom for other women in the trades.
The journey to becoming a woman welder
Growing up in British Columbia, Griffith was surrounded by the natural beauty of the area, and plenty of industry.
“I grew up here in BC in the Lower Mainland, and I haven’t left,” she says. ”There’s so much greenery and things to do outdoors, and there’s a ton of industry. So I’ve always felt like I can stay here, even though the cost-of-living is going up. I think that being in the trades, I can keep up with that.”
When she started exploring her career journey, she tried out a few different paths that didn’t quite fit. “I went to college a couple of different times, and tried out nursing and found the environment a little bit overwhelming, and tried a couple of different career paths, [including] microblading, and then ended up in construction, just because I kind of liked the vibe of the people — [they were very] chill,” Griffith says. “There are attitudes, but it’s a little bit different than in an office. You can be like pretty forthright with people, and I like that.”
When the opportunity arose to take on a one-week exposure course in welding training, Griffith took it — and it fit.
“They gave us all of the gear we would need to get started in the industry,” she explains. “And then, the very next week, they were starting a nine-month course. So this career has kind of just rolled out in front of me and it’s been like serendipity. It’s worked out well.”
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Countering traditional mindsets about women in trades
At first, working in welding was somewhat intimidating, but Griffith was relieved to learn she wasn’t the only woman. “I felt I would know the type of people involved, because I’d worked beside the trades, but it was super intimidating. I felt a lot better when I found that my class was half women. It was 12 people, and that was pretty great,” she says.
Still, as Griffith notes, traditional mindsets still existed: “I remember one class when the teacher was talking about health and safety, and he had just kind of touched on pregnancy and maternity leave. And then he was like, ‘Well, you know, I’m not really going to go into that, OK, I’m going to move on.’ And I remember him looking me right in the eye, and I should have [said], ‘Half of your class is going to deal with that and the other half, their partners might deal with that.’ I mean, it even matters to the men that are [working], their reproductive rights.”
Encountering these outdated mindsets, however, helped Griffith find her voice. “So I slowly became a lot more vocal throughout the year, and I don’t think they really were prepared for that,” she says.
“I would bump into other guys in the school and they’d be like, ‘Yeah, women actually can be pretty good welders.’ I’m already doing it, why [were they] mansplaining my job to me? I got it. Thanks very much.”
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How she navigates being a woman in a male-dominated industry
For Griffith, it’s all about finding a balance within a traditionally male-dominated space.
“You don’t want to laugh things off necessarily, because it’ll just progress and continue. So it’s just being very tactful in the way that you challenge their ideas, sometimes just asking them to explain themselves. [I’ll say] ‘Why is that? Can you tell me more about that?’ And there’s not much more to that conversation.”
Another element of this balance is being aware of certain types of barriers that arise for women in male-dominated industries. For Griffith this includes some negative experiences with sexual harassment and with people who only seem open to letting certain types of women into a male space.
What a typical day is like as a woman welder
For Griffith, a typical day varies depending on what needs to be done. “You might be in the shop, you might be outside, it might be pouring rain or it might be 40 degrees,” she says. “You might have to bring all of your tools to a site. And then if you’re on a site, you’re picking up 60-pound lengths of electrical cable and you have to sling that across the whole site. And, as a smaller woman, I always go for those hard jobs that I know I can manage that everybody else hates, to show that I’m there to work hard.”
The work can be physically demanding. As she explains, “So everything’s on the ground and is all wet, and you might have to be in a boom lift and go 40-feet in the air and the wind’s blowing and you’re freezing. But at my shop right now, I’m pretty good. We have a roof over our heads.”
“[I’ll] bring a piece of equipment onto my table – it might be a 900-pound thumb that goes on [an excavator] bucket or like a good 1,500-pound bucket – put it on my table, and there’s a lot of working with the frame to move it around, because [with] the process I use, [you] can only have it flat when you weld. But this bucket is totally rounded and it’s got a top and sides at the bottom and inside. You have to preheat everything. In the summertime, when it’s 30 degrees, we heat it to 400 degrees, so it’s like getting in an oven.”
Griffith’s day-to-day work requires a lot of careful thought in order to stay safe. “So you have to think a lot about what order you’re doing things and you have to be very aware of the physics to keep yourself safe. You’re using wedges and props, and you just want to double shake things to make sure if we have a little earthquake, nothing happens. If I have my helmet on and someone in the forklift bumps my table, I have to make sure that everything’s super secure because it could be your life on the line.”
The best part of working in her skilled trade
As demanding as the work can be, the upsides align well for Griffith. “What I love is particularly what I’m doing these days – there’s no harsh timelines, there are no customers that are breathing down my neck. I just listen to my podcasts or my music, and I just work away and it’s really calm. It’s really chill. And that’s what I like in life,” she says.
“I used to be a traffic control person, where you’re constantly worried for your life and someone’s coming at you all the time, and I just love that [my work now is] so relaxing. I know what my day is going to look like. I’m pretty comfortable with a group of guys that are so great. They just treat me like one of the guys, and that’s all I want.”
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Being a welder means a full schedule
The hours can be long for welders like Griffith — but that also means that there’s plenty of opportunity.
“Generally, a lot of the welders work six days a week. Saturdays are optional, but you’re getting overtime,” she explains. “So as long as you’re getting that overtime, you really obviously like to have it. Sometimes I’ll try and stay late. Sometimes you can work seven days a week. A lot of the time you can get as many hours as you want, which is great. I don’t want to make too many hours before the tax comes and gets me. It’s nice that you get the option to have the hours that you want, as I’ve been not feeling great in my first trimester. I haven’t elected for overtime since I’ve been pregnant.”
Finding work-life balance can be a challenge in skilled trades, just as we might think of for non-trade careers.
“I would rather start late on a Saturday and work through the afternoon. But we start at 6:15 AM. Some guys will start at 5 AM on the weekdays and then at 3:30 AM on Saturdays. But if they have kids, then they can go home and hang out with them. I’ve met one of the best dads ever in the trades, and they’re like, ‘I worked so damn hard so that I can get my kids what they want and show them what hard work looks like.’ And that’s exactly why I got into the trades.”
For Griffith, working in trades is a fit for family life. “I got into it for family reasons, because I wanted to have a reliable income and show my kids that their mom is tough like my mom showed me. And there’s nothing wrong with getting dirty to make your dollars at the end of the day. So there’s a lot of great parents in the trades and I like my job because we can just pick up an item any time. There’s no timeline. Specifically, it can be really flexible for me to go to my maternity appointments.”
Maintaining a beauty routine in a tough line of work
Griffith takes steps to protect her hair while she’s at work. “I usually wear a silk hair wrap,” she explains. “Welders will wear a really rough cotton welding cap, and it just frizzes everything up here flattens your hair down. And so I just find it keeps your hair nice and smooth to have silk on.”
On the job, keeping your hair out of the way is essential. “You want to have your hair back. I was noticing [at] my last haircut all of my bottom hair was singed short; it was all burned down because I hadn’t been protecting it properly,” she says. “So you have to have all of your hair tucked in. It will dry it out if it doesn’t actually burn it with the heat. So I do love to have my hair out, but in the long term, it’s better to cover it.”
When it comes to looking and feeling her best while at work – even under her helmet – she has the Violet Crush line from John Frieda to keep her blonde curls popping. Thanks to the heat that comes from working in welding, taking care of her hair is important in order to keep it moisturized and protected.
“[The John Frieda Violet Crush line is] great,” she says. “It smells really awesome. And I literally saw a difference in my blonde tone from one wash, I couldn’t believe it. It was really great and my hair felt really soft.”
“I never tried mousse before, but [the Frizz Ease Dream Curls Curl Reviver Mousse] really worked,” she says, adding that her curls “felt really nourished.”
“I’m really enjoying getting into the different products and trying it. The [Frizz Ease Dream Curls Creme Oil] was super moisturizing and really nice, so I’ve been using it and I really love it.”
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Tips for female welders or for other women who might want to get started in welding
When it comes to tips for women who may want to follow in her footsteps, Griffith offers a few suggestions. Aside from practical tips — like to use plenty of sunscreen to prevent UV damage — she also suggests looking for the support of other like-minded women.
“Finding other women who also are in the trades is really huge, because you can kind of compare your experiences and reflect on what things are appropriate or make sense, or what’s the best path for a girl to do,” she says.
“I am in a group called BC Women in the Trades, and it is the most active Facebook group I’ve ever seen. It’s electricians and tile-setting people and painters and welders and traffic control people, you name it. And they’re always posting employment opportunities, bursaries, scholarships and jobs. Just general support. And that’s fantastic. I’ve gotten so much out of that group, so that’s great. Yeah, knowing other women, even like Instagram, I found a little family and a lot of really great support on there.”
Griffith’s final tip? Take the time to focus on what you really want, and follow through to counter imposter syndrome.
“…I think just having a real clear vision of finishing what you start, because everyone’s been in school part way and felt like, ‘Is this the path for me?’” she says, adding that you’ll have a good chance of success if you can “…just keep working, get in the field and kind of fake it till you make it.”
“I have a lot of imposter syndrome to this day and I’m like, ‘What am I doing?’ It’s so weird,” she says. “I would never have pictured this in high school or even years ago, but I love my days, there’s so much work opportunity, I can choose where I want to be.”