Carpenter Yuka Yoshino, a member of the BC Regional Council of Carpenters, gave this moving speech at Build TogetHER’s International Women’s Day breakfast in March.
I was asked to come here today to speak to you about my journey in the trades – to tell my story for International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the achievements of women in every corner of the world. And the tradeswomen in this room have much to celebrate!
But it wasn’t easy to get here, and there is still more we must do. My own personal story is difficult, but sharing it helps me, and I hope it helps other women, too.
I was born in Japan and immigrated to Canada in 2008. I met and married my husband here before I immigrated. We had two children together. Anyone who has kids will know that they change you, and they become the most important thing in your life. So, when my husband became abusive, my children and I fled to a women’s shelter.
It wasn’t that long after we left him that he died, and I became a single parent.
Suddenly, I was well and truly on my own.
I needed to find a way to survive, for the sake of our family.
What experience did I have, you might ask? Well, I had worked in retail. I didn’t like it all that much. I didn’t care to sell things I don’t believe in to people who don’t need them.
Eventually, I sought help from an immigrant settlement organization. They had me take a career aptitude test and it showed that I should be in the trades! What? I didn’t know women could be in the trades! Shocker.
I started thinking about the trades in 2015. One of our local union reps happened to train at my gym, so my coach told him I was interested in a career in carpentry. He called me right away for an interview and signed me up as a material handler. That’s how I started my apprenticeship and now I’m in my fourth year.
So what have those last four years been like?
Well, I’m stronger than when I started, I’ll tell you that much.
I have a young son and daughter. Their day care opens at 7 a.m. I’m supposed to start work at 7 a.m. Do you see the problem?
Society sets an impossible standard for mothers. We are expected to work as if we don’t have children, and parent as if we don’t have jobs.
When I go to a job, I have to share with my employer my whole back story, that I need flexibility.
Since I don’t have family support here in Canada, I need to be able to leave work if my children need anything. They are 10 and 7, and they come first, of course. Most employers are understanding.
Then there is my family back in Japan. At first, they were surprised at my career choice. It’s a very different culture here in Canada, and women doing carpentry in Japan is rare. But they are happy I can support myself and my two children on what I make.
Later, I learned that my great-grandfather was a carpenter. I found some of his tools and brought them back to Canada with me. I hope to use them in the future but I have to be very careful maintaining them because they’re over 100 years old.
As for my children. I think I’m setting a good example for both of them. I’m teaching my son to respect the women who choose these careers. And I’m teaching my daughter that she can do anything she wants, even if it’s in a male-dominated industry. When and if she decides to go into the trades, my wish is that by then, there will be many, many more women in the trades and she will not have to face all the same barriers that every tradeswoman in this room still faces every day.
Luckily, I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great, open-minded carpenters who just see me as an apprentice and who want to teach me the trade.
And I am so proud of what I do!
There is an award-winning condominium complex in Victoria called the Jukebox, and I built the last set of concrete stairs there. I had been building other stairs as an apprentice, but when it came to the last set, my superintendent and journeyman told me I could build it! He even assigned me a tradeswoman as my apprentice!
At first, I was afraid. But my superintendent looked me in the eye and told me he knew I could do it and that I didn’t have to doubt myself. He had complete confidence in my work, my skills as a carpenter. I almost cried.
I learned so much on that project – not just about my trade, but about myself.
That it’s OK to be confident.
That you can be confident and still be humble.
That there is always something new to learn.
The stairs are still there and of course every time I drive past Jukebox, I am reminded of the passion I feel in my heart.
So that’s my story. I’m Yuka Yoshino.
And proud carpenter.
I wish everyone a happy International Women’s Day. Thank you.