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Masculinity and the Making of Trans-Canada Air Lines, 1937-1940: A Feminist Poststructuralist Account

Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, Mar 2006 by Mills, Albert J, Mills, Jean Helms

What is immediately evident in the study of Air Canada is that in the first few years there were virtually no female employees. It was essentially a male organization. This initial juncture provided the focus of our study: the relationship between masculinities, the development of the airline's culture, and subsequent workplace practices. Here we take as our starting point the work of Collinson and Hearn (1994, 1996) who argue that studies of workplace discrimination have tended to ignore the role of men. They contend that different ways of thinking about manhood and womanhood, especially where this is translated into a number of workplace behaviours and expectations, can have a powerful influence on hiring and promotion practices. In other words, different forms of masculinity can have differential effects on the hiring of women and some men.

In the process of the research, we undertook extensive archival research at the Air Canada collection, housed at the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa. On several visits to the archive between 1999 and 2004 we "interrogated" (Prasad, 2005) hundreds of corporate documents, including in-house newsletters (i.e., TCA News, Transcanews, Between Ourselves), annual reports, corporate brochures, memoranda, advertising copy, newspaper and magazine articles, and transcripts. We also analyzed several histories of Air Canada and its predecessor Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), including Ashley (1963), Brunei (1981), Collins (1978), McGregor (1970) Pigott (1997, 2001), Shalla (1997), and Smith (1986). A limited number of (open-ended) interviews were conducted with former Air Canada employees to gain a feel for people's experiences of airline life.

The paper begins with a look inside the airline in 1937 and then explores some of the factors that contributed to the exclusion of women from the airline in its first fifteen months.

At this Juncture: TCA 1937-1941

An Act of Parliament created Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA) on April 10th 1937 as a wholly owned affiliate of Canadian National Railways (CNR). Men dominated all levels of the new company, from the board to the operational managers and down to the air and ground crews. By the end of December 1937, the company employed seventy-one employees all of whom were men. It was not until July 1 1938 that TCA hired its first female employees: flight attendants Lucille Garner and Pat Ecclestone (Lothian, 1979). Over the next eighteen months TCA increased its employee numbers to around five hundred, of whom the great majority were men. This increase was concentrated in maintenance and overhaul (233 employees), station, clerical and other staff (89), communication and dispatch (81), piloting (54), and administration (12). A little over six percent of employees were female at the beginning of 1940, with the largest group consisting of stewardesses (28 employees). The only other women to be hired over this period were in limited traditional female jobs, including a housekeeper, a stenographer, and a clerk-stenographer. Only after June 1940, and the onset of World War II, did TCA begin to hire female clerical and secretarial staff in any numbers but even then there were only eighteen female employees in the non-stewardess ranks of the airline by December 31st of that year.


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