Interior designer Kendall Ansell and her team are on a mission to give opportunities for B.C. tradeswomen to shine.
On International Women’s Day last month Ansell launched Belle Construction, B.C.’s first female-led construction company.
Ansell explained that Belle is currently accepting resumes for tradespeople and encouraged any women with experience or interest in the industry to apply.
“My dad was a contractor my whole life, so this business was a natural progression for me personally,” said Ansell. “Back when I started design school years ago and took all my schooling, becoming a construction worker wasn’t even something that was discussed. Now that we can make that choice, I really want to make a commitment to bring more light to the fact that women aren’t even noticing these careers.”
Ansell’s father built custom homes, often with the help of Ansell and her siblings.
“My brother and I were the cheap labour onsite,” joked Ansell. “I Installed flooring baseboards, did basic electrical work. I’ve been doing DIY projects forever and having the interior design business was a good way to stay in the industry.”
Ansell has worked as an interior designer for nine years where she averages 200 projects a year, mostly on the homes of clients who are single or have families who grow to know Ansell during the projects and become her friends.
“A lot of that has to do with the fact that as a team we are transparent and caring,” said Ansell.
But this dynamic has often been disrupted in the past by contractors she’s hired. And rarely did she see women working on any of the projects – something she believes could go a long way to improve relationships with customers.
“The experiences have not been great,” she said. “I’ve had clients who have fired people because of how they made them feel in their own home. I’ve had clients have to move out. I feel if we had more women and more of that nurturing presence on jobsites we would have more success in these projects.”
Last month Ansell decided to take the matter into her own hands by starting Belle. The company is female-led and currently employs several female supervisors that Ansell plans to advance along in the company. She is also hoping the company attracts the attention of female tradeswomen, although anyone is welcome to apply.
“The response has been incredible,” said Ansell. “We’ve been getting emails that have been so great to read. It’s been really touching. It’s a new environment for us and we will learn as we go.”
However, Ansell said finding women in an industry that is more than 95 per cent male has been a challenge. She said this is partially because many young women are not aware that it is a career option and the one’s who do often face harassment on jobsites. According to the B.C. Construction Association, less than 50 per cent of women continue apprenticeships after the first year. The retention rate for men in the first year is estimated at 70 per cent.
And while she praised the province’s goal of reaching 10 per cent female participation by 2028, she believes it can set its sights higher.
“It’s great to start at a government level, but I think the schools need to be making an effort with the government,” Ansell said. “The goal is not good enough. It needs to be higher, and hopefully we can help increase it. I think women are capable of ding amazing things, but you need to be working with schools.”
Currently Belle specializes in projects under the $200,000, including kitchens, bathrooms, and small renovations in the Lower Mainland and Tri Cities area.
Ansell is also planning to launch a self-funded scholarship to support the education and professional development of tradeswomen, so they have the means to graduate and break into the industry.