The Northern Regional Construction Association (NRCA) in British Columbia has launched a Women in Construction committee that will seek to understand the barriers that prevent females from getting into the construction industry and identify issues that arise during their careers.
The special advisory committee is comprised of four women in the electrical trades, safety management and project management.
Chair of the advisory committee is Karen Williams, project manager at Datoff Bros. Construction. Other members are Taylor Manhas who directs the health and safety department at Westcana Electric; Lisa Scott, a Red Seal electrician who works for School District #28 in Quesnel; and Bev Collins, regional employment placement specialist for the B.C. Construction Association.
NRCA CEO Scott Bone says the committee will advise on the supports and services that should be provided in the northern part of B.C. to help get more women into the trades. The group will also examine what needs to be done to keep them during their training and after they become journeypersons.
“Shortage of skilled labour has become a pressing challenge in most trades industries in Canada, and B.C. is among the jurisdictions most affected,” says Bone. “The increasing participation of women in the labour force would tend to help mitigate these shortages.”
The committee is planning to host a two-week construction camp in August that will provide young women with practical hands-on skills and other training in hopes they will consider a career in construction.
Bone says strong partnerships with multiple stakeholders are key to getting more women into the trades and it is important to engage with current and future generations of tradeswomen and develop leadership among policymakers, industry stakeholders and other trades service providers.
To achieve that, the committee will do outreach and education campaigns to build and maintain relationships with a wide range of communities and external stakeholders to raise awareness, contribute to shifting attitudes and strengthen the next generation of tradeswomen.
The committee will also seek to build government and industry champions that will promote system-wide changes and engage target populations such as First Nations women.
“Women in trades face many pervasive barriers that make it challenging for them to enter and remain in the construction industry, as well as advancement,” says Bone. “Most notably, biased societal attitudes about roles, gender-based organizational policies and practices, discriminatory attitudes and poor behaviour on worksites impact opportunities to access and retention.
“A dominant factor that negatively impacts the participation of women in construction is the widespread gender bias within our industry. This can certainly affect recruiting and hiring decisions and hamper advancement opportunity. We must not overlook the important role of mothers, and given day care and other parental needs, these can impede on a woman working in construction.”
An objective of the NRCA is to clearly define the challenges and barriers to enhancement of retention and advancement of women in construction and advocate for members to adopt equitable hiring practices, implement harassment and bullying policies, and improve the workplace culture.
“As a voice of construction in northern B.C., it’s not only our mandate to improve workplace culture, but it is the right thing to do,” says Bone. “The past practices are no longer acceptable, and the industry is taking on this challenge through adoption of the Builders Code developed by the B.C. Construction Association that focuses industry’s commitment to building a workforce where all employees can perform at their best and reach their full potential.”
Given construction has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, many organizations struggle with implementing policies of inclusion and acceptance on the worksite, says Bone, but
the adoption of the Builders Code in B.C. is breaking those barriers on the jobsite where it matters most.
“Organizations are adapting and endorsing new standards in the industry to ensure quality amongst all groups regardless of gender.”
Bone says NRCA is pleased to have the full support of the B.C. Centre for Women in Trades (BCWITT). Through the BCWITT, funding has been made available for an event in Quesnel that provides women information about the trades.
Current labour force data suggests that 6.2 per cent of the 212,800 construction employees in the B.C. construction sector are female. Although women continue to face unique barriers to entering, advancing and staying in the trades, the number of female apprentices has been rising steadily.
Bone says while women are still a minority in the construction workforce, they offer a unique voice that needs to be heard.
“Diversity drives innovation and having women in construction is how the industry will move forward.”
He says construction needs more workers, in general, and the long-term data indicates there will be many opportunities in the trades as well as associated professional services for women.
“Career options for women are limitless – from project management to design services. The key issue is encouraging organizations to understand and embrace the chance to support the advancement of women in construction regardless of the role.”
According to Bone, it is long overdue for organizations like the NRCA to place high priority on changing attitudes and behaviours to attract the best talent, improve the quality of work and increase productivity.
“Achieving these successes will not only benefit women in construction but the community around us.”