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Corporate culture key to women’s success in construction: ORBA panel

Don Wall
Corporate culture key to women’s success in construction: ORBA panel

There’s no real secret to creating a work environment where women can thrive, delegates attending the Ontario Road Builders’ Association conference heard during a session billed as Engaging Women in Construction.

Rather, employers must focus on creating a great corporate culture where everyone is able to achieve success, three female panellists said. They must provide continuous opportunities for learning, allow workers to take risks, ensure employees feel included through relation-building, promote personal growth, encourage straight talk and help workers make a difference.

Presenters for the Feb. 6 ORBA event were Melissa Young, CEO and registrar with Skilled Trades Ontario; Allison Hurley, director, design build, with EllisDon Civil; and Camille Wallace, contracts manager with Powell Contracting.

Young has had leadership roles in the private and public sectors mainly in Atlantic Canada for 32 years and now is in her third year steering Skilled Trades Ontario, the provincial regulatory agency for apprentices.

Camille Wallace
Camille Wallace
Powell Contracting

Young wrote apprenticeship legislation for the government of New Brunswick that is considered one of the best of its kind in Canada; she shepherded the harmonization of the skilled trades in Atlantic Canada; and she figured out how to get 500 carpenters and scaffolders trained up to be able to deliver a major resource project in the Maritimes.

Her mantra: be kind, be safe and be humble.

“I wouldn’t do anything else,” said Young. “I love my job. I really do. I love helping others.”

Lessons learned over three decades include the following:

Look for opportunities to get ahead. One time Young found herself counting votes for three days when the establishment of a new health and safety association was at stake. She wondered what she had got herself into.

“As a result of that, I ended up being an inaugural member of the board. I moved on to become the chair of that and I was on the hiring committee for the executive director. I would have never had that opportunity to put that in my portfolio and work towards that if I wasn’t given that opportunity at the time.”

Take risks. “They’re really not risks, it’s really what you make of it. It’s only a risk if you see the negative. I always see the positive — ‘Well, I’ll give that a try.’ And if it doesn’t work out, well I gave it a try. So be honest with yourself and be honest with others.”

Don’t sugarcoat things. “I think that’s why I’ve earned the respect that I have in the industry. It is what it is. I am what I am. I bring great value. I think others think that as well. And I also own it. If I screw up, I will own it. I don’t blame it on my staff.”

Allison Hurley
Allison Hurley
EllisDon Civil

Hurley is a big believer in working with others and accessing and providing mentorship — not necessarily a formal mentorship program, “but just finding the time to provide guidance, information, training to those around you,” she said.

Hurley advises women to jump at the first invitation to become involved with co-workers.

Seek out “everything from just helping someone understand the industry all the way to providing invitations to various industry events, conferences, golf, lunches, dinners, just getting people involved, where maybe you normally wouldn’t get involved.”

Originally a non-golfer, she even took a chance on that relationship-building pastime.

“I’m really grateful for the first person who took the opportunity, who said, ‘Allison, why don’t you come out and golf with us tomorrow,’” Hurley recalled. “I was scared. I didn’t know anything about golf. I went, it was fun and now it’s a really big part of my career.”

Wallace also advocates embracing mentorship opportunities — even if they happen to come with tough lessons. One of her mentors told her not to “run her mouth” at staff meetings.

“You don’t always have to be warm and fuzzy,” she said. “Sometimes being a mentor is really difficult. You have to say the brutal truth.”

Wallace suggested it’s a good idea to be a doer before being a thinker — “never to think that a task is beneath you.

“You need that repetition and that exposure in order to be able to handle the pressure when it is fully your responsibility.”

In addition, Wallace advised, “Don’t be afraid to push your comfort zone and find a path that speaks to you and may come from unexpected areas.”

Follow the author on X/Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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