March 5, 2013
Subtle changes in the way women talk about their roles in construction and how they got started in the industry will go a long way in bringing more women to it, says one female construction leader.
“Sometimes the things that count are really subtle like what you do, how you got there or talking about how much money you make,” said Debbie Wadsworth of Kasian Architecture and former president of the Canadian Association of Women in Construction.
As March 8 marks International Women’s Day, it is an opportunity to highlight that the amount of women in the Canadian construction industry has not grown for many years, said various industry stakeholders. Women have made up just 12.6 per cent of the entire construction industry for several years, with a maximum of four per cent in the trades, according to the Construction Sector Council.
“Numbers show that we’re making extremely slow progress but really good progress in the construction management side of things. I think that’s really good news. On the management side we have the power and opportunity to change the culture of the workplace, take advantage of our positions as team leaders and create a welcoming environment,” said Wadsworth.
Employers have identified a lack of supply as one reason why more women are not hired. Some have identified retention as an issue as many women choose between having a family and a potentially time-consuming or dangerous occupation.
“There’s the idea in society that it’s acceptable to do whatever you want and there’s no issue, free choice, self-select. Pick whatever you want, but the next thing is to actually do it. That’s where things break down and the numbers are not moving.”
Grand Valley Construction Association (GVCA) president Martha George, who has worked in the industry since 1989, said there are less barriers to women entering into construction compared to what there used to be. She said having knowledge of the industry is the most important factor.
She said mentorship is an important factor in passing on knowledge to women, or men, entering the industry.
“Construction just seems to be so competitive and nobody wants to share anything. If we’re all better at what we do, then the whole industry is a lot better. Why not try to help somebody.”
She hopes to start a mentorship program within the GVCA.
“There’s a lot of people that will be leaving our industry through retirement and what a great way for them to give back.”
George said there are gaps in succession planning for project managers, estimators and site supervisors, among other roles.
This discussion of women working in male-dominated industries such as construction is not an issue in many European countries, according to one woman.
“Nobody has restrictions to doing it. In my life I never heard of a special women’s occupation,” said Antoinette Dioleva, who worked in stage design in Bulgaria.
“They have lots of women carpenters. Nobody pays attention to them. Nobody is suspicious towards them.”
She said there needs to be a shift in the mindset towards women in the trades in North America.
She said improved technologies can help women gain a presence in the trades.
“Maybe before when you didn’t have the technology, you didn’t have the power tools, it was hard for women. But now if you have the power tools you don’t need so much physical involvement.”
With a looming skilled labour shortage and shortage of successors on the construction management side, Canadian companies will have to harness the power of women, among other non-traditional groups, to take advantage of the expected construction projects over the next decade, recommend various industry experts.
Today at CCA there will be a session called How to Expand the Construction Labour Market through Enhanced Recruitment Strategies at 1:30 p.m.
“If you have the knowledge, you have the confidence. That confidence really can break down pretty much any barrier.”