The road to opportunity for women in construction is not without a few speed bumps and the organization Canadian Construction Women (CCW) is carving out new roads for them.
In 2010, the Construction Sector Council (now BuildForce Canada) published a paper called The State of Women in Construction in Canada. It listed a number of reasons for women’s low participation in construction trades and management.
One of the barriers to women cited in the report is the lack of female role models and mentors for other women who are interested in a career in the construction industry.
"This is where organizations such as Canadian Construction Women can help," said Marie Venneri. "Through the network of women in the industry, they can help pair women together for mentorship or simple guidance."
Venneri says support organizations such as CCW are a great resource for the local construction industry.
"Canadian Construction Women has become known as a place where women in the industry can come together," said Venneri. "Through connecting with other women, we are helping to build a stronger construction industry."
CCW is a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1981 to attract women in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland to construction as a career, and to retain them once they’ve entered the industry.
"Although the construction industry in B.C. is growing, the participation of women in the sector has increased only slightly over the years," Venneri said.
CCW engages its members through monthly site tours, speakers, socials and workshops.
"We give members opportunities for support, networking, community involvement, learning and development," Venneri said. "We want to show that a career in the building industry offers a world of opportunity."
For instance, CCW is having its next site tour at the North Vancouver Polygon Gallery on June 27, 2017. Located on what used to be an industrial shipbuilding site on the waterfront next to the Lonsdale Quay Public Market, the new 19,000-square-foot home of the Presentation House Gallery has more room for galleries, preparation work area and event and lecture space. It will replace the gallery’s current home, a former school house located up the hill from the North Vancouver waterfront.
CCW has just under 500 members at the moment. Membership fees are $500 for a company, $100 for an individual and free for students. For the first few years of CCW’s existence, the organization held small events that attracted only a few women.
"But the organization has grown in the last five to 10 years," Venneri said. "Now our events attract hundreds of women and our membership has been growing."
Venneri says CCW’s growing membership is due to improved events, organization, site tours and speakers, as well as regularly scheduled summer and winter socials.
"It’s all led to more awareness of the organization," she said. "Some men attend our events, too."
Women made up about three per cent of B.C. construction industry employees in 1981. That percentage held until 2006 and by 2015 it had risen to only 4.4 per cent.
"Despite our best efforts, it’s lower than we’d like it to be, considering women make up one-half of the population," said CCW’s president.
Venneri, a mechanical engineer and project manager at the Vancouver office of AME Consulting Group, says the biggest problem women in construction face is the lack of respect.
"Women who want to work in the construction industry have found that the recruiting posters don’t reflect the reality of the industry," Venneri said. "There needs to be an abandonment of the old stereotypes and more respect of the differences between men and women in the industry."
Seema Lal, a construction lawyer with Vancouver-based SHK Law Corporation, says the reason why there aren’t more women in the industry, especially in the hands-on, front-line areas, is a chicken-and-egg question.
"On the one hand, most women aren’t attracted to physically demanding jobs like construction," Lal said. "But, on the other hand, because they are outnumbered on construction sites, many women construction workers feel uncomfortable and many men aren’t sure how to treat them."
Lal says one female worker out of 10 is a reasonable goal for construction.
"Fortunately, the industry has been making an effort to bring in more ‘pink hard hats’." she said.