The BC Centre for Women in the Trades is officially open.
Launched on June 28, the centre will be headquartered at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 213 facility in Port Coquitlam, B.C. and will provide programs and services to women in the construction industry to encourage both retention and advancement.
The project was funded by both the provincial and federal government and was created with the help of the BC Tradeswomen Society, BC Federation of Labour, the BC Building Trades, the Construction Labour Relations Association of BC and BC LNG. The office space is provided by IBEW 213 on an in-kind basis.
“The provincial government realized years ago that something needed to be done to encourage women to enter the trades,” BC Tradeswomen Society president and electrician Lisa Langevin said. “But while B.C. was putting money towards recruiting, they weren’t looking at retention.”
The former Liberal government realized it needed to look further forward, Langevin said, and turned to her organization to identify stumbling blocks for women in the trades.
“We got funding under the Liberals to look at what the barriers were, and under the current NDP government, we received funding for pilot projects, which led to the establishment of the centre,” she said.
“The two things we’re working on is mentoring and networking. Our numbers are so low that we don’t get to meet with other women in trades,” Langevin said.
She pointed to work she’d done on a hospital project in Abbotsford, B.C as an example. Of the 100 electricians on the project, Langevin said, she was the only woman.
“Jobs are obtained by word of mouth, and without a network, you don’t get those jobs,” she said.
The backbone of the mentoring effort, Langevin said, is a database that employees can use to receive mailouts about jobs and upcoming events, and employers can use to find workers for projects.
“If a company wants to hire women, this database will help,” Langevin said.
Other networking efforts, she added, will include a leadership workshop for women, along with a barbecue this month.
Efforts are also being made to change the culture of construction and other industries, she said, through diversity and inclusion training. But with an industry comprised of companies of wildly differing sizes and resources, change can be a challenge.
“The large companies like oil and gas are already a little further ahead. They already have policies in place about discrimination and inclusion, and they also have large HR departments to enact that,” Langevin said.
Smaller companies, she said, don’t have human resources departments and may only have a few employees, “so it’s challenging both for the company and for us to move the needle forward for cultural change.”
“We’ve partnered with the BC Lions, as well as Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA BC),” she said.
EVA BC is an organization dedicated to providing support and training to those working to end violence against women, and the BC Lions perform outreach by speaking to men and boys about bullying.
“We’ve partnered with the Lions to modify that program for construction. So the BC Lions trainers train men in construction and then they themselves become trainers for their employees,” she said.