Tearing down barriers in the workplace: Nontraditional careers seminar spotlights local trailblazers

Published 5:25 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The forward movement of the many women working in nontraditional careers in Southwest Louisiana will be highlighted at the Women in Nontraditional Careers seminar being hosted by Sowela Technical Community College next month.

The seminar will take place 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 13, at Sowela’s main campus.

Fifty-four percent of Sowela’s student body is composed of women, and many of these female students are enrolled in nontraditional career degrees.

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For a career path to be considered nontraditional for women, the number of women employed in that field has to be less than 25 percent. At Sowela, this includes aviation maintenance, drafting, process technology, truck driving and welding and vehicle maintenance.

Dedria Walton, Sowela assistant director of recruitment and career services and event coordinator, said the seminar was organized to create a nurturing space for potential female students interested in non-traditional careers to connect with faculty, alumni and experts in those fields.

In her experience,  women often ask about potential careers in nontraditional fields, but feel apprehension because it is uncharted territory. This seminar aims to alleviate those fears.

“We wanted to specifically get the word out to women that if this is something that you’ve  been looking for, and that you want to do, come and hear the stories of graduates that have already participated in that.”

She believes that with the seminar, many of these women will not only feel less alone, but inspired by the trailblazers who came before them. “Women who completed their coursework here at Sowela, or are even just in these fields, are so successful at it. They had the opportunity to prove themselves, so people see that they are worthy of the respect that they get in the industry.”

Darlene Hoffpauir, Sowela marketing and communications manager, said the seminar will be prime time for networking rooted in mentorship. “Those that are just exploring their options, the chance to talk to someone who’s walked that road before, that is so encouraging.”

One of the event’s guest speakers, Paricia Stroderd, sees the label “nontraditional career” as a challenge. “Put aside what you think are traditional or preconceived notions about community college,” she said. “To me, saying it’s nontraditional drives me to make it a traditional career path for women — to work harder and show that I can be successful.”

As an instrumentation electrical designer for Recon Management Services and a Sowela drafting and design technology alum, she is proof of that ideology. “Don’t limit yourself. Go for it and make your career path your own.”

Stroderd, who had previously completed coursework at McNeese State University, enrolled in Sowela when her children got older. She was encouraged by a friend to explore Sowela’s catalog, met with professors and never looked back.

She said getting a job in her field wasn’t difficult.

Walton attributes this to the across-the-board increase in employment needs.“It always seems like there aren’t enough women to fill those roles,” she explained. “Companies, corporations, businesses are always looking to make sure that they are meeting the standards that allow for the opportunity for women to have those careers.”

Stroderd agreed that many companies feel the need to diversify, but explained that in her experience, gender is considered as heavily as it was in the past. “I think the misconception is that they are required to,” she said. “It’s not forced diversity, it’s just more of an equal opportunity … I was very pleasantly surprised at the welcome that I got from employers … and people out in the world.”

While getting a job in her field, Stroderd said she has faced some hurdles while in the workplace. She attributes those hurdles to a historical culture of gendered roles. “I have had some people who have been in this profession, or even in this general line of work … that are from that old school way of thinking. That’s hard for a lot of people to get past.”

The greatest of these obstacles, she said, was a fear that her intelligence and expertise wouldn’t be trusted by her peers. “It is a little scary getting out into the world, because you are a minority …  that’s the point there you surpass it being because you are a woman, and you just have to do it on your own merit.”

She superseded these perceptions by not letting her womanhood get in the way of her work. “Don’t put so much emphasis on the fact that you’re a woman … let that not be your hurdle.”

Hoffpauir said Sowela ensures that the school’s potential student outreach is diversified to encourage exploration into careers that are considered non-traditional for their gender.

“There are so many women who have ventured out into non-traditional careers, and Sowela has definitely played a principal part of that in this community,” Walton said.

Additional speakers at the seminar will include:

Sunshine Dickson, Citadel Completions

Denise Dowling, Sowela Vehicle Maintenance and Repair

Chasity Ware-Greve, LyondellBasell

Ma-Hogney Lewis, Brock Industrial Services

Francina Rankins, DS Bus South

Taylor Winfrey, FEMA

The seminar is free and open to the public. To register for the seminar, visit www.sowela.edu/seminar.