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Women bring passion and new ideas to the heavy construction world

March 8, 2024
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Survey data shows that gender equality isn't just a moral imperative but also strengthens companies. SMS Equipment has a long history of workplace diversity, and the women in our workforce have proven they can be top performers even in a male-dominated field like heavy equipment.

When Corissa Feenstra's daughter had to construct a vehicle from a cardboard box for a school project, she chose to build a dozer. Clearly, she had inherited her mother's passion for heavy equipment. Then, when the project was finished, she announced that she wanted to become a heavy equipment mechanic.

Her mother was pleased but not surprised. "She passes me tools and is always following and listening," says Corissa. "If she wants to do it, she will!"

Corissa, now a Product Support Representative at SMS Equipment Inc. Fort St. John, B.C., had also acquired a passion for large machines at a young age. She had no illusions, however, that breaking into this male-dominated field would be easy.

"I knew what to expect going into a traditionally male-dominated trade and that I had to prepare myself mentally," says Corissa. That mental preparation paid off when Corissa began her training in heavy equipment. "My instructors challenged me more as my confidence grew and my knowledge got better," she says.

Corissa started her career as a field mechanic in the heavy construction workforce and loved the work. However, with three children at home, she took the opportunity to move to her current role in product support.

"If my kids are sick, I can be here," she says. "It's still taking some getting used not to being out in the field, but I'm getting there!" However, Corissa is keeping her eye on the future. "I love what I do, but I can see myself transitioning into organizing the service side," she says. "I'm passionate about lining everything up to ensure customers get the best service possible."

Changing attitudes

Fortunately for Corissa's daughter, traditional gender barriers are gradually disappearing. "We are on a very positive path," says Karyn Tremblay, Parts Supervisor at SMS Equipment in Val-d'Or, Quebec. "More and more women can integrate into heavy construction industries naturally, especially at SMS Equipment - don't think we need to catalogue people. We have passed that stage."

Things, however, weren't always easy. Tremblay recalls some of the attitudes she had to deal with when she joined the company in the early 2000s.

"In the beginning, I often heard that parts and warehouse attendees should be men," says Karyn. "Customers were used to being served by men and often felt more confident working with other men. So, I had to work twice as hard and felt I couldn't make any mistakes. If I did, I knew the response would be 'a woman in that job; of course, she doesn't know what she is doing!'"

Fortunately, Karyn's leaders at SMS Equipment were extremely supportive "I'm grateful for senior employees like Gaétan Ouellet and Pierre Larouche, who believed in me and helped every step of the way," says Tremblay. "They never made me feel that heavy equipment was too complicated or that it was a man's job!"

Attitudes have since changed. "Times have changed, and the work environment has evolved,” explains Karyn. “Plus, all my customers know me now!"

The passion for heavy equipment seems to be contagious. Natalie Ladd, who joined SMS Equipment as an accounts payable clerk, moved after five years into a product coordinator role supporting construction sales.

"I loved that job," says Natalie. "I was always learning - about different product lines, new machines, industries we catered to, and our customers' unique applications for this impressive equipment."

Recently promoted to Supply Chain Manager for SMS Equipment's Western Canada sales team, Natalie now has the opportunity to inspire others to follow in her footsteps. "I am exactly where I am meant to be," she said.

The power of gender diversity

Removing barriers for women doesn't just prove that women can do what was previously categorized as a man's job – it also proves that women bring unique capabilities into these roles that make the workforce stronger and more resilient. In 2021, Entrepreneur Magazine cited survey findings revealing that companies that 73 percent of companies that practiced gender equality were more productive and profitable than their peers.

Karyn feels her attention to detail helped her succeed. "If someone asked me for a water pump, I would open my parts book, locate the part, validate the model, and check every detail." This skill helped her build credibility as a trusted partner to her customers.

Also, women who had to go the extra mile to overcome barriers are now great role models for women and anybody entering the heavy equipment trade. "I strive to lead and coach my team so that these individuals can advance in the company, like I had the opportunity to do," says Karyn. "I encourage them to become more self-sufficient and research solutions on their own."

Corissa has a message for women considering a career in heavy equipment. "Don't give up," she says. "You can do whatever you set your mind to, and other women like me are always here to help."

Women of SMS Equipment

Inspiring stories that showcase the power of diversity

Corissa Feenstra
Product Support Sales Representative


Natalie Ladd
Inventory Supervisor


Heather Comeau
Product Support Sales Representative


Courtney Wheeler
Journey Red Seal Heavy Equipment Technician


Kimi Johnson
Journeyperson Heavy Equipment Technician

This article is part of the March 2024 edition of our Expert's Corner Monthly Newsletter. Stay in the know with the latest insights, trends, and exclusive features directly delivered to your inbox. Subscribe now to receive our upcoming newsletters and stay connected with industry expertise and innovations.

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