An “intensive” three-day course puts its male participants in uncomfortable situations at times to teach them how to stand up for women facing male bullying and sexual harassment on the job.
Organized by the BC Centre for Women in the Trades (BCCWiTT) — a group committed to increasing the numbers of women in the industry — the course identifies harassment intervention and prevention strategies that every male worker should know.
Called Be More than a Bystander, the program might be the only one of its kind in Canada. The goal is to “shift the culture,” changing male behaviours that keep many women from considering careers in the building trades, explains Karen Dearlove, executive director, BCCWiTT.
Dearlove, who gave a presentation on the program recently at the Canadian national Sisters in the Brotherhood conference, says the course is modelled on a train-the-trainer format, where leaders are given the teaching tools to pass down what they learn to workers in the field.
Since its inception, the once-monthly course has been offered to about 150 men, many of whom are passing down the message to their workers.
“It is meant to have a ripple effect,” Dearlove points out, noting that course participants have an obligation to show others what they learn. She thinks “thousands” of workers have been exposed to the message.
Ken McCormack, president and CEO, Construction Labour Relations Association of B.C. (CLRA B.C.), took the course earlier this fall and has encouraged other men in his office to do the same.
The CLRA B.C. represents about 300 employer members who work in unionized construction.
McCormack is also a director on the governance committee of the BCCWiTT. He says sexual harassment is often seen as a woman’s issue but it is problem created by men.
“Men create and perpetuate it so it is men that have to solve it.”
He says most men don’t do enough to stop bullying and harassment on the job, even when they know it is wrong.
The course includes videos of women facing harassment and discrimination, ranging from derogatory bathroom graffiti to physical assault. Participants discuss appropriate responses that lead to solutions, Dearlove says.
McCormack understands why some situations leave male workers awkward and uncomfortable about taking action to help their female colleagues. “The whole point of this (workshop) is to provide them with tools and skills that will de-escalate the situation and not put the men who intervene in harm’s way.”
“This isn’t a superhero approach. They are not looking for men to stand up, puff out their chests and flex their muscles. Every (harassment) situation is different.”
He adds that often the first step in a difficult situation is to assist a woman to a safe place before moving on to deal with the offender.
Changing male behaviours on jobsites will go a long way to welcoming women into an industry facing pressing trades shortages, he says.
“If we can demonstrate that our construction worksites are safe and accommodating . . . we stand a good chance of getting a good percentage of that labor and filling our ranks.”
Currently, women represent about four to five per cent of all workers in the Canadian construction industry.
The CLRA president says the group encourages all of its member employers to take the course and it wants those employers to develop a preventive strategy to gender-based violence that includes risk assessment, education and a policy and procedure framework.
Dearlove says men in the course range from business managers and union stewards to college instructors and union trades trainers. Participants are from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners as well as such unions as insulators and heavy equipment.
She adds its clients include employees from the Site C hydroelectric project in northeastern B.C. Others are from Ontario and want to see the program set up in their province.
The day must come when the course material is “a normalized part of all trades training,” she says, pointing out that it was modelled on a program with the same name organized by the B.C. Lions football team and the Ending Violence Association of B.C.
Funding for the course is by the Industry Training Authority, a B.C. Crown corporation.
Dearlove says the centre is developing “a companion workshop” for women who have experienced workplace harassment. More information is available on the centre’s website at bccwitt.ca.