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Inspired leadership is the focus of the Buildex Calgary Construction Keynote panel discussion

Kathleen Renne
Inspired leadership is the focus of the Buildex Calgary Construction Keynote panel discussion

Be prepared for a sense of déjà-vu when reading about this year’s construction keynote panel discussion at Buildex Calgary. The women are back.

The women of the Women in Construction Committee are back that is.

Their round-table discussion last year at Buildex Calgary about women and leadership was such a hit that this year they’re heading up a similar discussion called Inspired Leadership.

"Last year, we sold out …People want to know what we’re talking about, what we believe in," said Jill Drader, the panel moderator and founder of Women in Work Boots, an organization that provides online resources, support and networking opportunities for women in the construction industry.

This year’s panelists include: Kim Connell, vice president of Construction Strategies for CANA Construction; Julie Pithers, director of business development for DIRTT; Stephanie Roll, vice-president of Executive Millwork and incoming chair of the Calgary Construction Association, and Jo-Anne Teed, co-owner and manager for Universal Flooring Systems Ltd.

The good news first: More women are involved in the construction industry today than in decades past, and their roles have evolved.

"In the years since I’ve been involved, since 1980, I’ve seen a change in women’s roles from being secretarial and administrative to being more involved in the day-to-day of the actual hands-on in the construction industry," said Teed.

"I have seen an increase, albeit a small one, in the number of women in management roles."

And, Teed speculated, there will be a huge change in the industry over the next five to 10 years when it comes to women, something Teed attributes, in part, to the changing social climate.

"It’s not taboo anymore to have a career, period, let alone a career in your chosen field," she said.

Another panelist agreed.

"More women are challenging other women to consider careers that had previously been dominated by men," Roll said.

And because of groups, such as the roughly two-year-old Women in Construction Committee, there is more peer support available than in years past.

The committee – which operates under the broader umbrella of the Calgary Construction Association (CCA) – holds several events each year.

These include a golf tournament, hosting guest speakers, luncheons and round-tables in order to bring women in the industry together to collaborate.

There is also some not-so-good news.

The number of women in construction,  particularly in leadership positions, is still low.

"Women leaders don’t exist in this industry. You have to go digital to find them. We’re spread out," said Drader, who worked as a journeyman tile setter, but was asked to leave her job when she became pregnant.

She pointed to factors such as lack of access to opportunity, ineffective marketing strategies and personal limitations women place upon themselves as some of the reasons why the number of women in the trades isn’t higher.

She said the solution is through entrepreneurship.

"We will change the number of women in the skilled trades when we have more women business owners," said Drader, who also acts as a business coach.

Teed said her own shift from working in a secretarial capacity to management came when she and her husband opened their own flooring company.

Drader said it’s important to create new models to increase the female demographic of the construction industry, models such as the pre-employment programs now available at some post-secondary institutions.

These programs help prepare people to enter the trades as apprentices.

Roll pointed out, however, that the challenges women face in construction to ascend to leadership positions are not that much different from the ones women face in other industries, such as the corporate boardroom or the law office.

"There aren’t enough women in leadership roles, period," she said, adding that women need both supportive home and work environments to enable their success in these positions.

Drader said she hopes the Inspiring Leadership Construction Keynote Panel Discussion will generate more dialogue about this issue, about career pathways, about career options outside of university, and that more women will decide they want to be business owners.

"We want to let them know how we lead our own organizations and what strategies have been successful for us … I’m hoping people who attend can get some key points they can take away to pursue their own careers and leadership opportunities," Roll said.

Inspired Leadership: Construction Keynote Panel Discussion is taking place at Buildex Calgary on Nov. 5 starting at 1 p.m.

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