Slowly perhaps, but ever so surely, more women are starting to move into careers in the construction trades in British Columbia.
While the numbers are still low, hovering around five per cent, according to the latest figures, they are on the upswing, says Leslie Myers, a professional interior designer and chair of the Victoria, B.C., Women in Construction (WiC) network of the Vancouver Island Construction Association.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I have a couple of construction projects where every major player on site is a woman – the engineers, architects, foremen, and it’s really great. It’s so interesting to sit at a table where women are not the minority and that’s happening every day. I’m not at a table of all men.”
Myers, an associate at Number TEN Architectural Group in Victoria, said more women are entering the trades, as well as boardrooms of companies in the construction industry, because society’s view of having women in the industry is changing and, quite simply, there is a need for the workers.
“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” she said. “They need skilled workers which means there are only so many people they can tap. The other thing is there’s definitely been a shift in culture both from society and within the industry. The shift in culture is not just about being more acceptable for women on site, it’s for everyone. The shift against things like bullying, you see that everywhere, right, and all that kind of stuff. We’re going to see that trickle down into the industry.”
Myers said when she started in the industry it was a much more male-dominated field, but attitudes are changing.
“I have definitely seen that shift over the last 10 to 15 years I’ve been doing this. I think women in the industry is a huge benefit to it.
“We’re seeing a culture shift on site, we’re seeing a culture shift in the office where having women as part of the industry is becoming much more acceptable and they’re much more wanted.”
Figures from a province-wide survey released recently by the British Columbia Construction Association show there are now 8,474 tradeswomen in B.C., or 4.7 per cent of the construction workforce. Ninety-seven per cent of the tradeswomen surveyed are working towards their Red Seal designation.
With the construction workforce growing, availability of skilled labour is a concern, and by year 2028 as many as 7,900 construction jobs are expected to be unfilled in B.C. due to the labour shortages.
Myers said that represents a huge opportunity for women to get into the trades and fill the skills gap.
“Construction is one of the largest-growing fields and it’s also something where there’s a huge lack of skilled workers available,” she said, “and truthfully, the only group sort of left to tap is women.”
Myers credits WiC for helping to make a difference in the numbers. The organization, which was formed in May 2013 and is in its sixth year, encourages women to consider a career in construction.
There are now two chapters – one in Victoria, the other in Nanaimo, B.C. They schedule networking events that educate women about opportunities in the construction industry and allow women from across the province to mingle, share ideas and work out solutions to issues they face.
The group in Victoria has a mailing list of more than 300 members – a far cry from the 20 or so that originally formed the group.
WiC has hosted site tours, powerhouse panels and social mixers for women, ranging from students and engineers to project managers and tradespersons. The events are open to anyone who considers herself a “woman in construction,” as well as those who support women working in the industry.
Myers said the organization was started because others had been initiated across the country and the founders in B.C. wanted to provide an opportunity for women within the industry to meet up with other women in the field “to let them know that they’re not alone and provide other networking opportunities and give them a chance to pick each other’s brain about what’s going on.”
Presently, the organization’s membership is made up of about a third who are in the field and two-thirds in office-type jobs, but at a social event a couple of months ago three-quarters of the women who attended were those who worked on construction sites, so it depends what’s on offer.
WiC is now planning an event in September that will feature a professional networker who will talk about social media and how to establish connections.
“It will help everyone start to see how they network and engage to be better.”
Myers herself originally learned about the group through word of mouth from a friend who was told about the organization during a job interview.
She said the organization is making a difference, as it enables women in the industry to connect with their peers as well as mentors.
“I think we’re making a great difference. We’ve had a lot of job opportunities that come out of this so people who wouldn’t normally meet any other way are now making business connections and making sales.”
For Myers, working in the construction field has been a dream come true.
“I remember being 10 years old and finding out what being an architect meant and doing that was what I wanted to do,” she said. “This was always what I was meant to do. I realized my passion was renovation work and not new build and that’s why I became a professional interior designer.”
Myers has never regretted her decision.
“It’s always interesting and there’s always something new. It’s a constant learning experience. I think that’s why I love it. Every day is different and you’re constantly learning, meeting new people.”