Courage coach, speaker, founder, writer, industry mentor, and emerging leader are a few of the words that are used to describe Hacia Atherton. She is the CEO and Founder of Empowered Women In Trades (EWIT), a national organization that was established in December 2020. EWIT is a movement that is inspiring women to pick up the tools and start careers in skilled trades. They support trade industries such as construction, manufacturing, and automotive industries in attracting and retaining women so they can increase the number of women taking up skilled and semi-skilled roles. Furthermore, EWIT supports women understand the different career opportunities through their Trade Academy programs and supports them along their journey to a successful career within the industry.
Initial Impetus: The Beginning of an Arduous Journey
Being a part of the Atherton family, which has a long history in skilled crafts in Australia going back to before the Federation, Hacia comes from a long line of change-makers. Through her ancestry and employment at her family’s industry-leading manufacturing of sterilization equipment and infection control products for hospital, medical, and scientific sectors, Hacia has a strong affinity for skilled trades. Despite having received formal training as an accountant, Hacia has had the opportunity to see what it is like to work on a factory floor and pick up manufacturing skills. She has been able to observe the detrimental consequences of Australia’s talent shortages in trades like welding and tool making through her job at the Atherton family business. As she shares, “Seeing the effects of the skill shortage issues and the pink recession on the Australian economy, I knew something had to be done. By providing a platform to foster practical solutions, EWIT aims to address these issues in collaboration with other stakeholders.”
This quote by American football player & coach Lou Holtz perfectly sums up Hacia’s journey so far: “Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” Hacia experienced a terrible horseback riding accident in 2017. She was transported to the Alfred Hospital by helicopter and informed by physicians that she might never be able to walk again. She shares her thoughts: “As I lay in my hospital bed, I realized how my once active lifestyle was now replaced with one where I could barely move. As the weeks passed, I began to find the courage to try to move, but the limitations of my physical pain and broken body meant that I felt my old life was certainly gone forever. I realized I didn’t want to sit in a wheelchair forever and that finding the courage to take my first steps would be a gradual process that was uncertain and difficult.”
Positive Psychology: The Driving Force
Hacia had plenty of time to reflect while lying in a hospital bed, and she began to understand the consequences of the absence of women on Australian manufacturing floors, in car shops, and on building sites. She had experienced the agony of losing her ability to walk and could relate to women who felt they had no chance of pursuing lucrative employment in specialized industries. When she later saw a female welder, she learned how challenging it had been for her to follow her passion for welding. She was aware that she needed to do everything in her power to encourage more women to pursue careers in the trades without feeling as though society was preventing them from doing so. She founded Empowered Women In Trades (EWIT) to encourage women to consider trades as viable career options and to assist industry and society in changing their cultural perspectives to create an atmosphere that is supportive of these women’s success.
As Hacia shares, “We combine Positive Psychology principles and theory with hands-on trades experience for our participants to build their courage and competence so they feel prepared to write the next chapter of their lives in trades. For employers, we support them to redesign their culture, building on the Positive Psychology principles that create a psychologically safe working environment for all to thrive in.”
Overcoming Obstacles & Challenges: The Hacia Atherton Way
Strong biases against women in the trades still exist; while the tide is slowly reversing, there is a persistent belief that women don’t belong in the “man’s world” of trades and will be a burden on their employers. There is a mountain of academic literature that refutes these claims, and more and more tradeswomen are displacing these critics. However, changing these biases completely will take time. Hacia shares, “The biggest obstacle was my mindset, I let other people silence me and I bought into the narrative that my voice doesn’t matter here because I am a woman. Once I found the courage to back myself and see my worth, competence, and talent, I was able to smash through any proverbial glass ceiling I hit, and I will continue to do so, creating a pathway for other women.”
Hacia feels the major driving force for her success has been anger! of how tradeswomen are handled as well as how she had been treated personally. She shares, “It breaks my heart to hear some truly disgusting stories of appalling treatment of women. These incredible women feel like their voices have been silenced, so I am incredibly proud to speak up and advocate for change.”
Although Hacia has been leading the paradigm shift for women in trade, it was not a natural choice for her. Early in her career, something changed that propelled her toward her current trajectory. She says, “I was working in industries that didn’t align with my values. Once I understood what my strengths were and my core values, I realized I needed to follow my heart and my passion. From there, I built a career that aligned with who I am.”
Making of a Leader: Lessons to Learn
Being a member of the CPA Emerging Leaders Network Committee, Hacia feels a true leader is “a person who leads with empathy and compassion, that takes the time to truly understand the needs and desires of their team. That can set strong boundaries and expectations and provides productive feedback around these.”
Hacia says that one of the biggest things that have helped her grow professionally is her discovery of Positive Psychology. It allowed her to learn how to motivate herself, and look after her well-being so that she could support and inspire others to achieve their remarkable potential. Even though Hacia is not a political person, she still found inspiration in “Julia Gillard’s Not Now, Not Ever speech, which has been a great source of inspiration for me and continues to be so. Another woman who inspires me is Rosie Batty with her courage, bravery, and warm heart.” Being a leader brings her in contact with other like-minded individuals, and she admires their determination to never give up and to push the status quo and forge a new era of leadership.
Looking Ahead: Prospects and Advice
Looking ahead, one of the most exciting projects that will drive EWIT’s growth in the coming years is the launch of their Tradie Network and Directory platforms, which aim to create a strong community of like-minded tradies and professionals. So that they can innovate the way their industries are, collaborate, and assist one another. By 2030, she wants to see 30% more women employed in skilled occupations in Australia. After that, despite not knowing what would come next, she is excited for the next chapter of her life.
Hacia signs off with this message for other women:“Believe in yourself. Never let someone silence you or make you feel like you need to dull your light to make them feel comfortable. Discover your remarkable self and show up as that woman every day!”