Breaking Stereotypes And Building The Future

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Three women role models at Waterloo-Oxford DSS broke into industries dominated by men, and now they’re helping the next generation to follow their own paths

Women in tech at W-O. From left: Deanna Wheeler, Jodi Jackson and Andrea Brodhagen. (Photo by former W-O student teacher Julia Maier)

Women in tech at W-O. From left: Deanna Wheeler, Jodi Jackson and Andrea Brodhagen. (Photo by former W-O student teacher Julia Maier)

At Waterloo-Oxford D.S.S, the Technical Studies Department is led by Jodi Jackson, the only tech department head on the Waterloo Region District School Board who's a woman. On her staff are Andrea Bradhagen, who specializes in Architectural Design and teaches manufacturing and computer technology, and Deanna Wheeler, a Red Seal Certified carpenter who has experience in the film industry and teaches construction classes.

After breaking stereotypes within industries dominated by men, they’re now role models in the classroom.

How old were you when you chose these careers?

Deanna Wheeler (DW): I started my trade in carpentry when I was 21, and it was a decision I made after taking two years off after high school ended. I’ve been doing it ever since.

Jodi Jackson (JJ): My industry is radio, television, film, broadcasting, and I did television arts as early as high school. In the industry, I started probably early 20s, and then I started teaching at 37.

Andrea Brodhagen (AB): When I took Architectural Technology, I was 20. I did a year at Western in a totally different program, and then decided I wanted to go into designing.

What did you find most fulfilling about the industries you worked in?

JJ: It would probably be taking an idea, sharing it, and then watching something from the creation right to the finished product. I love taking all the raw footage and putting it together.

AB: When I work for a custom home builder, I love being able to design people’s ideas of what they wanted for their dream home. Me putting it together and them seeing it built, that’s probably the best.

DW: I really enjoyed the creative aspect to carpentry. It’s fun to be able to make things with my hands, and then see it come together at the end when a customer receives it, or seeing it on TV. The creative side of it was what I really liked the most.

Have educational opportunities for girls improved since you were students?

AB: Absolutely. Now, everybody wants girls in trades, or they want girls in engineering. There are so many programs. We have Women in Trades Day, or different events where girls can be exposed to it more.

DW: When I did my carpentry apprenticeship, there were incentives created by the government. There’s a $1,000 grant for doing an apprenticeship, that women get for completing it. Then there’s one at Conestoga (College), the “Jill of All Trades”, where they have women go out and try different things, which I hadn’t experienced.

JJ: On top of the programs that Andrea and Dee spoke of, there’s post-secondary institutions and employers that are actually looking for women for certain jobs in tech. We hope it’s not surprising to see girls in tech classes. You see more and more, and we love it.

Is there a better gender balance now?

JJ: I think seeing three women in strong positions in tech isn’t abnormal. We do have an amazing tech department, which is five guys, us three girls, and we work as a cohesive unit. The two schools I’ve taught at were both led by strong, dedicated women. These women are also strong role models to both staff and students. Our principal, Carolyn Salonen, and the staff at W-O work hard to make sure students understand there are no barriers based on their gender identity.

Are you seeing more women in leadership roles in your industries?

AW: I would say yes. When I was going through teachers’ college, I was working at Jamesway Chick Master Incubator, where I designed HVAC systems and Hatchery layouts for chicken hatcheries all over the world. My manager, who’s an engineer, was female. So yeah, it’s definitely happening in that industry, for sure.

DW: I know of a handful of companies that are run by women, but in terms of them taking over leadership roles, I haven’t. I’ve never had a female boss, and I typically don’t see them as foremen or company owners on job sites. I have in film. For example, in carpentry, there’s lots of women there, because it appeals more to the creative side. In the construction world, it’s still very rough and tumble and intimidating.

JJ: I worked with many amazing and talented women in the television and film industry, (but not) many within leadership roles. You see that changing, but for my personal experience, it was few and far between. The few female producers I had the pleasure of working with were definitely role models for me. Watching how they directed daily live shows while staying composed under pressure was inspiring to be a part of, and I learned a lot from those women.

Any words of encouragement for the next generation of female students?

DW: I always remind myself that every new adventure is going to be nerve wracking, but that’s not a reason not to do it. Every time I do it, I look back and think, “That wasn’t so bad”. When I go on a new job site, I know it’s going to be all guys, and they’re going to be staring at me, the only girl there. I remind myself, once a week passes and they see my abilities, it’ll be fine.

AW: Just go for it. If you’re interested in something, just sign up for the class. Don’t be nervous. I had some students messaging me at the end of semester who were coming into my manufacturing class, and they’re freaking out. “Am I the only girl? I don’t know anything!” Nobody knows anything going into the early classes, especially Grade 10. Get over that fear.

JJ: Trying new things is definitely something that we encourage every student to do. If there’s something you’re passionate about, don’t let the fact that it may have previously been a gender-based role keep you from trying it or doing it. Don’t let anyone or anything hold you back. If it’s something you’re passionate about, do it.