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Supporting Working Mothers

Engaging Children in STEAM

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Taylah and her daughters


Interview from June 2020.

Taylah is currently working as a Trade’s Assistant at Gemco Rail in Central QLD and is also mother to twin 5-year-old girls. Taylah has been working in a STEAM career for 5 years but unfortunately, during this time trying to make her way in male-dominated industry, Taylah has been met with quite a lot of adversity. 

Keep reading to learn more about Taylah's experiences and advice.

It's dirty, it's hot, but I absolutely love it and in my mind I just keep thinking "I am strong enough!"

 

You have been working in STEAM for about 5 years, I would love you to give me a quick overview of your career so far and any events throughout your life that have lead you to a career in STEAM.

When I was younger I was very interested in the mathematics in school and the physics and the chemistry which then lead me to start thinking about what my career plans were going to be. I applied for university when I left high school, I applied for engineering at the Sunshine Coast University which I was accepted into which I decided to defer for a year. Then after earning some money I decided to defer for another year and then life just kind of got in the way. So I never actually went. 

So, what I then did was, I was working in workshops sweeping floors all that sort of stuff, started working through myself in training and all that sort of stuff so that I could start doing very hands on work. I sort of knew very early on that I wanted to do hands on work. 

It sort of start when I was about 10 or 11 and the household computer broke and I remember asking mum if I could pretty please pull it apart so that I could have a look at how it worked. So I was able to because obviously it was broken and they didn't care, they were getting a new one anyway. So I decided I was going to pull it apart and have a look at how it worked and try and fix it and put it back together, which I couldn't, but I really really enjoyed the process. 

Then from there it was working on my mobile phone when it wouldn't work, when it wouldn't charge, fixing things like that and I really enjoyed that. It sort of sparked in me, trying to work out how things worked. I really just wanted to know how things worked and the engineering that goes into all of our technologies that we have today, all of our devices that we have today. So that really sparked it in me. 

Then from there it was trying to find a career that suited my lifestyle as well as my desires. That suited my children's lifestyle; meaning the hours that I worked and the money I was earning. So there was a little bit of give and take with what I would settle for for the fact of an income to then how I would then develop in that role to learn more about what I wanted to learn. 

It's a little bit different to the career that I thought I was going to take. When I was younger I thought that I was going to be designing house plans because when I was younger I used to love doing house plans in my maths grid book. I would do them to scale, I would draw house plans for a variety of different budgets and different family sizes and I remember saying to mum "how can I make money off this? How can I sell these to builders? What can I do" and she said "well you need to write a business plan and we'll go forward and we will do it that way." So I did! I can't remember how old I was, maybe 9 or 10 and I think it was called "Taylah made. Taylah designed" or something cheesy like that. But I knew that I needed to be hands on and I needed to be right there in the firing line. I needed to be right where the action was.

Have you ever thought about going back to uni?

I have thought about going back plenty of times. I kick myself for the situation that I was in and that was that my partner at the time and I were earning some really good money and I just don't think we were prepared to stop that income and then have such an outlay of the study that comes with going to university. So, yes I have thought about it. 

I think that my career is progressing quite well. I'm not going to rule it out, absolutely not! My career is progressing quite well in the sense of what I'm learning and what I'm able to d now. If I find that I'm still not quite as fulfilled as what I would like to be by all means definitely, I'm not going to rule it out! 

If you've done an apprenticeship or relevant work experience, you could always RPL [Recognised Prior Learning] some of your course if you decide to move forward with an engineering degree. 

Yeah, absolutely! I'm very passionate about encouraging anyone who will listen, if you enjoy something and if you like to learn and you enjoy learning about the things that you're doing at work. 
"Don't be held back by the bounds of you're too old or you're already qualified for this career, why don't you just stay there. I am very passionate about, go for what you want!"
It might take some people longer than others, but if it's something you want to do then just go for it. There would be no hesitation at all for me to make that commitment if I decide that I just wasn't fulfilled enough already. 

You're a single mum with twin girls who are now 5 and full of sass, tell me more about your girls and what sort of impact they have had on your career.

Yes, well that's very true what you said about "full of sass"! Like you said, my girls are 5, they're twins, it's their first year of prep and they will be 6 at the end of the year. They're complete chalk and cheese, they really are. The only way that I can really say they have influenced my career is I have realise now why I'm doing this. I realise now why I'm so dedicated and driven to provide a life for them!

Like I said, they're completely different, one would prefer to wear dresses and would prefer to stay clean and would prefer to sit down and brush her hair and brush my hair and would prefer to do makeup, would prefer to pick an Elsa dress for dress-up day rather than construction gear, which is what the other one would pick! The other one, she is very hands on! She would rather be wearing her boots out in the garden with her bug catcher! She's the complete opposite. She constantly wants to know what's going on and what we're doing. If we're tinkering in the shed or anything like that, my partner's a diesel fitter, then she is straight out there wanting to know what's happening. 

Which is also something that I'm really passionate about; demonstrating to them that the world has so many amazing things in it. We have so many amazing ideas and inventions and creations that have come from peoples minds. Their [the twins] minds are just as spectacular. They could do just that. You don't have to just sit in an office, you don't have to confirm to this idea that maybe your teachers or family members have told you that you need to do, the world is theirs to grab. 
"That's what I try to teach them; they can do whatever they want to do; whatever they're passionate about and I will support them."

I love the way you say they influenced your career rather than they impacted it, framing it in a positive way. That small change of words just really changes the whole idea of having kids and a career at the same time.

Well, you know, as a mother your whole mindset changes as soon as you become a mother. You all of a sudden have this purpose and this drive and I know for myself, I just saw the world completely differently! It may have been an age thing, it may have been a breakdown in the relationship with the girls' father, it could have been a number of things. But I found that the first year they were here completely changed the way I see things. They have definitely helped me grow as a person. As a woman with what I'm doing in my life a lot of it stems from what they've taught me as well.

You are passionate about breaking stereotypes about what women are capable of. With two young girls, I could imagine this is something very close to your heart. Tell me more about how you are breaking these stereotypes and how you’re encouraging your girls to do so as well?

What I'm doing to break these stereotypes is I'm going for my dreams. I'm doing what I want to do! I'm working with my hands, I'm getting dirty, I'm learning SO much about various different engines, power trains and locomotives and everything! I'm learning about so many different things that make me feel empowered. So what I'm doing with my children is encouraging them to chase what empowers them. 

Also, for me, breaking stereotypes is proving that I'm just as strong and I am just as capable and I don't want to be treated any differently, I don't want to be looked at differently. If they need a job done I want them to consider me to be able to do that job. Not because I'm a female they want to give me that job or they don't want to give me that job just because I'm a female. 

In the line of work that I do, we're lifting very heavy bearings, I think they're 35kg each. For anyone that doesn't really understand the scale of weight, that's about 2.5-3 cartons of beer that we are lifting every time and we're doing 80 bearings a day so it's very very heavy work, and I absolutely love it!

I go out there and I put my head down and I prove that it's not just for me, it's for everyone. It's for all of the women who want to be in this industry. It's for the younger generation coming through. Not only that, I play rugby league and I do that as well to break stereotypes, to prove that we're just as tough and so that . It's great for fitness and it's great for friendships but it's really great for proving that we are just as strong and that we're not just going to sit here and not be a part of this fantastic life, we're going to be a part of it. We're going to do it, and we're going to do it good!

You've mentioned that you don't want to be chosen for a job or denied a job just because you're a woman. I know in your previous work experience, you've face some adversity in being told that they wouldn't hire a woman to do an apprenticeship. Could you tell me more about this adversity that you faced and about how you're going to overcome it?

Yeah, sure. It was really, really difficult for me to hear. This particular company, I was there for two-and-a-half years. I was working 50 hours a week with two young children. My daughters were two-and-a-half when I started. They were very young, I was putting in a lot of hours, I was very dedicated, I went above and beyond to prove to this company that I am capable of the things that I know I am capable of. 

It got to the end of the year when they advertise for their apprenticeships and I remember sitting there in a meeting discussing with them the desire for the company, how beneficial it would be for them to employ two apprentices that year because the income was there, the work was going to be there for the next three years guaranteed and then we could build on more contracts after that. For me, I really so the capabilities for the company to have the two apprentices and they approved that. They said they would put on two apprentices. The reason I did that was because it was quite clear that one of the trades assistants was going to be put through an apprenticeship. So I encouraged the company to look at their options about getting a second apprentice. 

When it was finally approved I said "great! I'm interested. Let me show you what I can do. Let me resubmit my resume. Let me reapply for this position. I'll do up a cover letter, I'll send it to whoever needs to read it." And I was told at that point by one of the male supervisors "who won't get selected. We don't employ females in trade based roles here." 

I was speechless, I didn't even know what to say. I just went "oh, OK" and moved onto the next topic because I didn't know how to respond. I wasn't sure if he was joking. In my mind I've gone "OK, I'll prove you wrong! You're just a supervisor, what would you know?" 

It got to the point where I had submitted my application and sent the appropriate emails. I applied through all the correct channels. I was pulled into a meeting and suggested "If you don't want to be in your current position, perhaps you need to look elsewhere for other work." I said "no, no, I don't want to look for other work. I want to work for your company and I want to be an apprentice. I want to do a diesel fitting apprenticeship at your company. I want to be here." and it was then from a female manager "no, we won't emply a female to be a diesel mechanic. They're just not as physically strong and it's a dirty job and it's a hot job and you won't want it." 

And I left that meeting in tears. It made me question what I wanted to do and if that was right for me. It made me question "am I stepping over the line?" "am I really capable of working in such hot and dirty conditions every single day?" "Is it going to be too hard?" "Is it going to be outside of my capabilities?" I left really, really upset because it was something that I had chased and something that I had sat back for two-and-a-half years watching other people do and I enjoyed it so much. I enjoyed learning so much while I was there and I just really wanted to be there doing the hands on work. 

So, what I did was I went out and I was given another opportunity with Gemco rail to work on the wheel sets and the bearings and the wagons and, hopefully soon, the locomotives of the entire train. With that, I keep in mind that this woman told me that women just aren't as physically strong. Like I said before, these bearings we're lifting are 35kg each and we're doing 80/day and it's a lot of work and it's physically demanding and it's dirty. These bearings are packed with grease that we're pulling apart. It's dirty, it's hot but I absolutely love it and in my mind I just keep thinking "I am strong enough!"

That's right, you are strong enough. I remember you first telling me this story and it just made me so mad! The fact that even a woman wasn't willing to give you a go. It's not that I expected her to hire you just because you're a woman but for her to dead set tell you that you won't enjoy this work. It wouldn't hurt for her to just give you a go. And saying that you're not physically strong. Well, even if you weren't, there's a lot of men out there that also aren't that physically strong and that's what mechanical aids are for! You don't have to be physically strong and with workplace health and safety, you're not meant to be lifting more than what you're capable of.

That's an argument that I had. That's the points that I wanted to put across while I was in that meeting was, well hang on a sec, you've got your overhead crane, you've got your jacks, you've got your trolleys, you've got your stands, torque wrenches, all this different tooling! Every single person there has completely different strengths. Different levels of how strong they are but also completely different strengths and weaknesses. 

I saw an opportunity where I knew I would be beneficial for them because I know that I am a very clean worker and I try to be a very fast worker in areas that I am comfortable in and I know about but I am a very clean worker, I'm a very particular type, I'm a bit of a perfectionist, I like things done a certain way. Honestly, if I had someone working on my equipment, my machinery, I would want someone with similar traits. Someone who's a perfectionist, someone who's clean, who's going to finish the job properly rather than someone who's just going to go and leave tools and magnetic torches underneath and all these things that just keep reoccurring that I just I knew there was a place there for me that they just weren't willing to accept.

Yeah, if you look at the traits that females have naturally as well as traits that men have naturally, attention to detail and care for your work, empathy, that's all something that women are just naturally stronger at and it's something that needs to be in workshops and places like that and that's why diversity in all of these industries is so important. I love the fact that now you're working for Gemco Rail, you're proving that lady and male supervisor wrong! 

You're a single mum of five-year-old twins. You're working some pretty long hours. How have you been able to find balance between your work and your busy household? Are there any strategies or exercises that you have found that work for you that might help someone else out?

It's all about routine. So, I know exactly what time we're going to be where and what we're doing and what time we're going to have dinner and even down to what I'm going to cook for dinner. It just gives me that extra time in the afternoon to talk to the girls and interact with them and find out how their day was and be there as a mother and support them however I need to as well as getting all the chores done.

I've found, a lot of the time in the bigger hours when you come home and you are physically drained, I've just come to terms with sometimes it's OK for the house to be a mess. The washing can wait, the dishes can wait. If I'm not up for cooking, lets just get takeaway. I've really come to terms with the fact that it's about me and the girls. And I've been seeing someone for 6 months now, so it's about me and the girls and this new relationship. A lot of the household stuff can wait to the weekend and I don't need to stress about it. 


STAY TUNED! MORE TO COME...

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