Source: Influential Women
When Alicia Woods was a young girl she never questioned the possibility of following her father’s footsteps with a career in the mining sector.
“Growing up I didn’t see myself as having to find a traditional role,” she said. “My father always communicated there is a world of opportunity, and not to limit yourself.”
Women only represented a small fraction of workers in the mining industry then – as they still do today – but Woods was hooked from a young age.
“I used to spend my weekends with my father around the shop,” she said.
Her father, Paul Marcotte, was the co-founder of Marcotte Mining Machinery Services – along with Woods’ grandfather and uncle.
But when Woods was in Grade 8 her father died, and her grandfather passed away only a few years later. The family business was sold to a company in southern Ontario, and Woods had to reconsider her future.
She decided to go into teaching, but got pulled back into the mining industry when Marcotte Mining’s new owners asked if she wanted to come on board in an administrative role.
A part-time job quickly turned into full-time employment, and Woods was back where she had envisioned herself many years earlier.
In an effort to move into the company’s sales division in the early 2000s, she shadowed a colleague while he visited an underground mine.
When she asked about using the washroom, she was told she could find a port-a-potty if she was lucky, but that would mean completely removing her coveralls while inside.
Woods thought there had to be a better way for women to use underground restrooms, but her ideas sat on the back-burner while she focused on her career and starting a family.
In 2011 she returned underground, but this time could not hold in the water she had to drink in the warm mine.
After the uncomfortable experience of using an underground port-a-potty – while wearing a full complement of underground safety equipment – Woods decided to design a coverall made specifically for women.
The result of her efforts was the company Covergalls. Its main product, of the same name, is a coverall fitted for women, and that includes a secret trap door that makes it easier when nature calls in an underground mining environment.
The product became a smash hit, and in October 2014 Woods appeared on the CBC program Dragons’ Den, where she pitched the company to wealthy investors.
Woods left the show with a $75,000 deal from investors Michael Wekerle, Arlene Dickinson and Jim Treliving for a 30 per cent stake in the company.
“The exposure has been enormous,” said Woods, who is now the 2015 Influential Women young entrepreneur of the year.
The company has since expanded to design other work-wear for women, such as specially made shirts and gloves, and thanks to the Dragons’ Den investment, is eyeing other sectors, including forestry, construction, agriculture, and the trades.
Covergalls is even launching a coverall for men, with the same trap door design, it’s calling the Coverguy.
Woods’ products make it easier for women to enter non-traditional industries. Today, women represent only 16 per cent of Canada’s mining workforce.
“I want that next generation to consider non-traditional roles,” Woods said. To achieve that goal she has started a scholarship fund for female high school students who plan to enter the trades or other non-traditional workplaces.
She also speaks to students on a regular basis about the benefits a career in mining can offer, and the opportunities that exist in the sector.
For mining and other male-centric sectors to prosper in the future, Woods said they will need to attract more women, not only to fill a labour shortage, but to bring in new approaches.
“Women bring different things to the table,” she said. IW