2021’s Women’s History Month has turned a deserved spotlight on leaders, innovators, and rising stars worldwide. That includes the women who occupy roles throughout Canada’s construction industry. And while their numbers have increased in recent years for women in construction, there is a need to go further.
The good news is that the stats are promising. Since 2016, the number of women in the Canadian constructor sector has risen from 162,400 out of 1.385 million to 182,000 out of 1.43 million in 2019. However, it’s estimated that women still make up more than 13% of the total construction workforce, while women tradespeople only represent 4.7% of the entire talent pool.
“There are a lot of women who really want to pursue these careers — just like there are a lot of men that really don’t but may be stuck in them for various reasons. However, women continue to face unique barriers to entering, advancing, and staying in the trades,” said Nina Hansen, Executive Director at the British Columbia Centre for Women in the Trades (BCCWITT) in an interview with Daily Commercial News.
Surely, while there is growing interest among women to enter the trades, there remain some obstacles in raising awareness for the sector and retaining those who join it. Some of these obstacles are culturally-base, such as the lingering perception that trades are a male-dominated sector and are either unwelcoming or lacking in opportunities for women.
Organizations raising profile of construction jobs for women
These issues are not being ignored. Organizations like the Canadian Association of Women in Construction, Conestoga College’s Women in Skilled Trades (WIST), and many provincially-based groups are working hard to raise the profile of construction jobs among women and enhance access to apprenticeships, training, and education specifically for women.
Moreover, the federal government now offers Apprenticeship Incentive Grants (AIGs) to women who apprentice in a Red Seal trade and has invested more than $300 million toward launching new Offices to Advance Women Apprentices (OAWA) in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan, with plans to open more offices around the country.
Attraction and retention
Ultimately, the key to attracting and retaining more women in the field is not only to unite existing industry professionals to promote the field, but connect mentors and role models to those coming up the ranks.
“We need more women leaders because there are gaps in management in all facets of the sector,” says Luana Buratynski, president of CAWIC tells Daily Commercial News. “In groups like ours, we want to help women develop the soft skills they’ll need to move up in construction management.”
The needle is moving, but it may not be fast enough. Buildforce Canada’s research indicates that the country will need to bring in 300,000 new workers over the next ten years to keep up with demand and that recruiting women is a key way of filling the labour gap. The good news is that support and awareness are building; now, it’s time to build on that momentum.