Julia Hemphill on the Future of Labor Relations

Julia Hemphill imagines a future where gender location no longer limits the industries that women enter, and their advancement in male-dominated fields is not capped because of perceived differences. According to Julia, in coming years the term “gender” will encompass new meanings that will redefine women’s role in the workplace. With the help of advocacy and research, women will soon be able to assume more roles than ever before in traditionally male-dominated industries. By 2030, Julia envisions digital and physical spaces to be more accepting and inclusive; from online communities to washrooms and gender-specific gyms, Julia foresees these spaces becoming safe, gender neutral environments for all.

In the next 10-20 years, how will women play a role in traditionally male dominated industries? How might their roles be different than today?

Gender is a major organizing feature in terms of work. What we do, and how much we make doing it is highly correlated with this feature of identity.

It was disappointing to see recent statistics that indicate that the gender wage disparity has actually widened in Canada over the last 5 years – women earning 72% of what men do. Male-dominated fields, such as construction, are not an exception to this national trend – women systematically make less money compared to their male counterparts.

That said, there is room for optimism when it comes to the future of these industries. This optimism is rooted in two interrelated cultural shifts:

Traditional understandings of “gender” as a binary, stable “male-female” variable are proving to be archaic, simplistic, and rigid. Gender is an increasingly complex, blurry, and fluid category of identity (in fact, it always was but is now just recently becoming recognized as such within mainstream culture).  As our perception of gender continues to become more dynamic and generous, as I have no doubt it will over the next 10-20 years, it follows that so too will our gender roles. This has the potential to open up opportunities for all genders. Of course, there will be resistance to this. The hostility towards transgender people unfortunately demonstrated such resistance.

Gender is an increasingly complex, blurry, and fluid category of identity.

There is plenty of industry-specific buy-in when it comes to opening up opportunities for women to succeed. For example, there are groups across Canada who are working hard to support women and lead structural changes in the construction industry. Women are driving these changes with the support of male allies. Again, I am optimistic that their advocacy and research will lead to more women (as well as people of color) in leadership positions within male-dominated fields.

How might etiquette for men and women change in both digital and physical spaces by 2030?

In terms of digital spaces, if you are a woman, and you exist on the internet, you are subject to abuse. There are about a million examples of this. At the moment, I’m thinking about Anita Sarkeesian and that time she wanted to discuss misogyny in video games. Her efforts were famously met with a barrage of threats of rape and abuse. Women in science are likewise subject to discrimination, misogyny, and, sadly, sexual harassment.

There is no doubt that the internet can be a space where misogyny, racism, homophobia, and all of those other awful phobias and -isms can fester.

Recently, the CBC announced that they would stop allowing commenters to be anonymous. Obviously, this does not come without complications. But, transparency and accountability might have the potential to lead to safer spaces online and drive a more inclusive and diplomatic online etiquette.

In terms of physical spaces, we will see plenty of changes when it comes to binary spaces such as washrooms, and even women’s-only gyms. There is plenty at stake in how we define those who are welcomed and those who are unwelcome in these spaces. This is  especially true for those who are considered unwelcome – there are plenty examples of violence perpetrated against those who are defined as being in “the wrong” restroom. This will and should change.

How might technological or social changes shift the role of women in industries such as construction or automation?

Obviously, technological and social changes are deeply intertwined. In terms of social changes, I think I’ve sufficiently discussed those above.

When it comes to technological changes, there are many that would change the role of women and others. For example, in some types of construction work, some women might be disadvantaged when it comes to the more arduous demands of physical labor. On average, women tend to have about 70% the physical strength of men, which can be a limiting factor. This is where technology can help. One futuristic innovation that comes to mind is the exoskeleton robotic suit, such as the one being developed by Panasonic. This device is worn like a pair of pants, but it increase a person’s lifting capacity by a significant margin. One can easily imagine other assistive devices that work in similar ways. Women won’t be the only ones to benefit from this technology as it could also help people with disabilities and the elderly. Ultimately, they have the potential to assist most of us regardless of our current gender and ability.

You are focused on advocacy in an industry that is lacking female representation. In the future, do you imagine advocates for men entering more traditionally female industries (e.g. care, health, education)?

Men encounter a lot of hardships when they enter certain “traditionally female” fields. For example a male childcare worker (a “manny”) becomes a cultural joke (yes, due to recent Netflix binging, I’m thinking of that episode of Friends with Freddie Prinze Jr.). The idea that men should not do care work comes from rigid ideas about hegemonic masculinity. This is unfortunate, as I have no doubt that there are plenty of men who would make for amazing caregivers, but our culture vilifies guys who want to spend time with children – I would say that it’s a taboo. This is not true for women who want to do “male work.”

When it comes to advocating for men working in “women’s spaces,” we have to keep in mind that traditionally feminine work is poorly remunerated, rarely unionized, and often part-time. As a result of these factors, and many others, most men do not want to do that work. For example, childcare is highly devalued and exploitative. Workers are fortunate if they make over minimum wage (in provinces without universal healthcare). This is in contrast to traditionally male-dominated fields, where there is plenty of money to be made. Women want to work in “masculine-work.”

There is less of a demand for advocacy for men in traditionally feminine industries. And the men who do work in “women’s industries” often end up making more than their female colleagues, because they are more likely to go on to managerial or administrative positions.

What are your hopes for the future in 2050? 2100?

When projecting into the future, we are no longer talking about us, we are talking about subsequent generations. “Gender” (if we are still using that term unproblematically) will mean something very different for cultures of the future.

Despite everything that has developed over the last 10+ years, when it comes to gender, my hopes haven’t changed since I started my undergrad in the early aughts:

I hope that we will inhabit a world where our ascribed characteristics (race, gender, ability, sexuality, etc.) don’t determine the choices we make, including what we do for work.

the author

Emily Empel

Emily Empel is Head of Futures at Idea Couture.

the author

Erika Streisfield

Erika Streisfield is an editorial intern at Idea Couture.