It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World – or is it?

As Originally Seen in The Constructor 2014 Magazine  :

Women have long been the minority in the trades, but a visit to some construction sites will show that there are a number of them who are ready, willing, and able to roll up their sleeves, don the hard hats, and work side-by-side with their male counterparts. These are the female “pioneers,” women who have led the way forward and, in so doing, have cleared a path for others to follow. Having attained their rightful place in the industry, these women are now looking out for those yet to come by focusing on ways to ease the integration process and to make themselves available to offer guidance and insight along the way.

Women Helping Women
In a February 2012 report from the Ottawa-based Construction Sector Council (CSC), entitled The State of Women in Construction in Canada, the rate of participation for women, particularly in the trades and on-site construction management, is described as “has not grown significantly over time.”

The CSC cites Census Canada occupational data to peg the rate of their employment in the construction trades as four per cent or less, with many trades showing a rate of less than two per cent. This latter group includes: plumbing, pipefitting, gasfitting, carpentry, bricklaying, concrete finishing, electrical, construction millwright, air conditioning and refrigeration, and crane operation. 

Those trades where women were more strongly represented are identified as cabinetmaking (7.6 per cent), insulating (seven per cent), and tile-setting (5.3 per cent). Women also accounted for 7.3 per cent of construction labourers and 8.5 per cent of others trades helpers and labourers. 

When it comes to management roles, women have attained a larger presence within the industry. The Census Canada data shows that women accounted for 6.5 per cent overall of contractors/supervisors in trades and transportation, 7.9 per cent of construction managers, 6.4 per cent of residential homebuilders and renovators, 10.5 per cent of estimators, 15.8 per cent of survey technologists and technicians, 33.6 per cent of mapping and related technologists and technicians, 20.3 per cent of engineering inspectors and regulatory officers, 34.6 per cent of health and occupational safety inspectors, and 12.3 per cent of construction inspectors.

The CSC report also advises that there is still a lot to be done to increase the number of women entering the construction trades industry. It identifies an important need to raise awareness of the industry as a career opportunity – a point well-documented by the fact that half of the young women aged 18 to 34 who were surveyed by the CSC in 2008 had never received information about careers in construction trades/management.

Industry Doing its Part
In 2012, the Calgary Construction Association (CCA) officially recognized the need to attract more women to the industry by creating a separate committee to help deal with the issue. The mandate of the Women in Construction Committee is to host/attend various activities throughout the year, to stimulate interest for women in construction and facilitate opportunities, to recruit new women, and to support those already there.

“I think that having women in the construction industry is still intimidating for both men and women,” states Joanne Foster, project manager, Bird Construction, and chair of the CCA’s Women in Construction Committee. “The industry is sort of like the last bastion of male domination.”

The committee has already achieved some notable success in its short life. It had its own booth at the 2013 CCA Construction Career Expo, which provided exposure to thousands of students. Its members are actively involved in many industry events to help raise awareness of their cause. And, the committee is also developing a mentorship program, which is anticipated to be ready by the end of 2013.

“I think mentoring is extremely important,” comments Foster. “Looking back at what I had to go through, if I had had someone to run things by or just to vent to, it would have made things a lot easier.” 

Foster herself went through university and attained a degree in criminology before deciding to accept a job in the industry. 

“I travelled for about a year after university and really needed a job when I got back,” she explains. “So when a friend of mine who was working for a condo developer at the time offered me a position, I jumped at it. I started by doing anything I could in the acquisitions department and eventually worked my way up to be in charge of acquisitions nationally.” 

Foster admits that there were a few awkward moments throughout her career, especially in the beginning, but that things changed dramatically once she became a project manager. 

Experience Matters
Foster’s experience isn’t unique. Kim Connell, vice president Construction Strategy for CANA and a member of the CCA Women in Construction Committee, speaks of a similar story. 

“I find that you do have to prove yourself as a woman,” she says. “Once you’re past that hurdle and gain everyone’s respect, then being a woman isn’t an issue.” 

Connell was lucky in finding her career path. After pursuing a university degree in civil engineering, she was fortunate enough to do her second co-op program with a project management group working on hotel construction. After that, she “was hooked.”

“Being a woman hasn’t been a negative for me,” she states. “I have been fortunate with the companies I have worked for and haven’t faced much adversity when it comes to that.”

Like Foster, Connell believes that mentorship is important and is one way to help other women in the industry. 

“I have done some mentoring within CANA,” she says. “I think it requires the young people to really push themselves and take the initiative. The opportunities aren’t right there in front of you. You have to have an understanding first of what you like and where you want to go.”

In the Know
Jill Drader, another member of CCA’s Women in Construction Committee, is a strong advocate of attracting women to the industry. Prior to and during her Journeyman Apprenticeship as a tile-setter, she found it very difficult to find information about credible career choices within the trades.

After attaining a university degree in the arts, Drader spent a couple years in Asia and fell in love with stone as an architectural tool. When she came back to Calgary to pursue that love, it was a trades instructor who informed her of her career opportunities.

“I was lucky that my instructor really encouraged me to go ahead and learn to work with natural stone,” states Drader.

“I came into the trades with an academic background and strong research skills and I found that there really wasn’t a lot of information out there about the industry and how to get involved.”

Not one to let that stop her, Drader has since founded a website called Women in Work Boots, an online resource designed to help “more women know about creating a career in the skilled trades.” One hundred profiles of “women who work” is a clear indication that if a female wishes to pursue a career in construction, she can. Through sharing the stories of other women working, she hopes others will find what they need to get to work or tell another woman about what they’ve learned. 

Today, Drader continues to act as a consultant, entrepreneur, tile-setter, and contract teacher at SAIT while continuing to advocate on behalf of women in the industry. 

Changing Tomorrow
Although there may be very few women who are presently involved in the trades, it seems that the women who are there have taken the initiative to help broaden the industry’s visibility and widen its appeal among the female population. In taking on that responsibility, they are recognizing the need for more female participation.

And, perhaps more important, they are working hard to change the landscape of tomorrow.

“I still go into meetings of 15 people and will be the only female,” concludes Connell. “Women need to find out about the industry and get a better understanding of what we do and the many opportunities that are available. Yes, it is a male dominated industry. But once you get in, there is little to hold you back.”

It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World – Or Is It? : News & Media : Bird Construction