Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BC Centre for Women in the Trades (BCCWITT) has found innovative ways to continue its goal of creating a community for underrepresented groups in the construction workforce.
The group will host its Women Build BC conference on March 8 digitally after the pandemic disrupted plans to hold the event in person last April.
“On one hand it was sad and there was a lot of mourning,” said Lindsay Kearns, an electrician of 10 years and BCCWITT’s outreach co-ordinator. “We know from the work we do that one thing that has a huge impact on women staying in the trades is having a community of peers. That community really happens when you have a chance to socialize together.” Kearns explained knowing things like where to find work gloves that fit, finding properly weighted tools, or finding people to talk about things that happen on a site can be a challenge for new tradeswomen.
She has been helping organize regular Zoom meetups for tradeswomen during the pandemic and found rather than being a barrier it has allowed those in remote parts of the province or with family obligations to be included.
“Suddenly we have people joining from places who would never have been able to go to a meetup and people taking care of kids,” said Kearns. “It has been fantastic. I had no idea it was going to happen.”
Kearns said the benefits have spilled over into the conference, which now can be open to more people and more speakers. She explained having community support could be especially important as BCCWITT has seen an influx of women joining the trades as their careers in hospitality or tourism have been disrupted by COVID-19.
Kearns noted women, even in the trades, have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“We have seen so many women who have lost their jobs in tourism and the service industry who are now coming to our careers program,” said Kearns. “That has been incredible and that’s really exciting to see, especially because these are the workers that are just going to have such great success. They know how to work hard, know how to show up on time and they know how to deal with difficult people. If they bring all those skills to our jobsites, it will just be amazing.”
Kearns explained she believes solidarity will be one of the major themes to come out of the conference. BCCWITT has been working with the Ending Violence Association of BC and the Industry Training Authority to tailor its Be More than a Bystander program for the trades. The conference will feature a session on the program and a discussion on how men, the major demographic on a jobsite, can be allies to women and other underrepresented groups.
“Inclusion is for everybody and everybody benefits,” said Kearns. “A workplace where employees stay, year after year, is more profitable, it is easier on everyone and it is something everyone wants. This is a future for all of us. Being able to interrupt and stop behaviour is a skillset and we can all learn to be better.”
The conference will also feature sessions on recruiting and retaining women and other groups, and normalizing trades as a career option. The group plans to follow the conference up with a series of panels and workshops in April, Construction Month in B.C.
More information and registration details for the conference can be found here: https://whova.com/web/women12_202103/
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