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About Boys and Girls (and Men and Women): one difference counts

July 10th, 2023
Image Colour Blindness Test

Time was, it took real strength to operate the controls in the cabs of heavy equipment. But with everything computerized these days, anyone with two hands and two feet (and eyes and ears) can do just fine, male or female, big or small.

And as the father of two daughters, we never talked about “this is something for boys” (or “this is something for girls”) in my house when they were growing up. Not when it came to interests, or talents, or toys. And certainly not careers.

Still, consider these comments shared with me by the director of a training program at a Canadian high school:

  • boys think that they know more than they do
  • girls think that they know less than they do

The consequence is the same: boys and girls can struggle “equally” (at the controls of heavy equipment) but for different reasons:

  • boys need to learn to slow down
  • girls need to learn to speed up

(Such slowing down / speeding up is best done at a simulator, but that’s a topic for another blog Category.)

The fact remains, women are few and far between in construction, mining, and forestry, And in my part of the world, just 2% of heavy equipment operators are women. (Over the 25 construction industry trades surveyed, the average is 4%.)

Still, a recent study of construction industry trades people [2] made the following observations about men vs. women:

  • women listen better and pay more attention to details, so they are better at following policies and processes
  • women are more concerned about safety, and so they treat their equipment better (and they’re not competing with each other)

Well, whether or not you believe that’s true, given the choice between training a group of young men or young women, you should always choose women!

And that’s because, even today, there is ONE biological difference that counts: the relative frequency of colour blindness. (If you don’t have this problem, then you ought to see the number 73 in the above image.)

Think about it: for someone (red/green) colour blind, reds and greens all look “brown-ish”. And that makes it hard to distinguish between a green light blinking on the dashboard telling you that something’s good, and a red light blinking on the same dashboard telling you that something’s bad.

And here are the numbers about the relative frequencies of colour blindness [3]:

  • among men, 1 in 8, or 12%
  • among women, 1 in 200, or 0.5%

Something to remember the next time you’re looking to train someone’s daughter (or son).

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Other blog posts about Operator Aptitude


[1] “Men vs. Women: who are the better heavy equipment operators ?”, Aggregates Manager, August 6, 2014. All rights reserved.

[2] “Three Reasons Contractors Should Hire More Women”, Construction Business Owner, July 2023. All rights reserved.

[3] (USA) National Eye Institute: Facts About Color Blindness.