“Organizations want quality people, well educated, well skilled and adaptable. They also want people who can juggle several tasks and assignments at one time, who are more interested in making things happen than in what title or office they hold, more concerned with power and influence than status. They want people who value instinct and intuition as well as analysis and rationality, who can be tough but also tender, focused but friendly, people who can come with these necessary contradictions. They want, therefore, as many women as they can get.” – Charles Handy
I’ll admit that as a woman, I have a bias to this quote. But I also have to admit that when I first read it, I immediately thought of the women on our construction sites. These are my own real life “Wonder Women.” And nowhere do I see the need being greater for this “necessary contradiction” of skillsets, than out in the field… where a million and one things can happen simultaneously, where anything can happen at a moments notice without warning, and where these women with intuition, analysis and agility, adapt to what’s needed every second of every day, to “make things happen” that define what all of us recognize as success at the end of each work day. Delivering communities that people get to call “home.”
Growing up, I was the kind of girl that liked to get my hands dirty. My fairytale wasn’t one of a princess in a castle.
My fairytale was more of a tool belt around my waist, and me, sitting in a mound of dirt. (Yes, it’s safe to say I was a “tomboy.”)
My favourite smells were paint and sawdust. My favourite sounds were hammers, drills, and the hum of a dumptruck in reverse. It makes perfect sense though. My father was/is a builder and our past time was visiting construction sites. But it didn’t take long to realize that I was one of a few. And while the world has noticeably changed and construction sites are no longer exclusively a sea of men, it doesn’t seem to have changed quite enough.
The numbers speak loudly.
Some have even called them startling. Stats Canada found that of the approximate 126,000 people employed in the construction trades in Ontario, only 3,200 were women — an increase of only 100 since 2004. It’s on trend though. Canadian women continue to be severely underrepresented (less than 30%) in most non-traditional careers such as agriculture, technology, and yes, construction.
But it’s not like we’re not trying.
Construction is very actively recruiting women. Government, industry and national organizations like the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) are making strong (and critical) efforts to increase women’s representation in construction.
The Construction Sector Council (CSC) – a partnership between labour, business and government – is a national not-for-profit organization committed to the development of a highly skilled workforce that will support the future needs of Canada’s construction industry.
ULI’s (Urban Land Institute) has a local Toronto Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) promoting the advancement of women in real estate and development.
The effort is there… but not necessarily the outcome. Despite successful initiatives to increase the numbers of women in the our industry, the rate of their participation, particularly in the trades and onsite construction management, has not grown significantly over time. The industry wants and needs to understand why?
Both CSC and CAWIC are looking for answers. CSC spent two years researching best practices and CAWIC was given a federal grant from the Government a few years ago to help assess what the barriers and challenges were.
So what did they find? Some of the most commonly reported challenges that you might expect were
- lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (it’s getting better – shout out to moxietrades.com)
- inadequate washroom facilities
- difficulty sourcing mentors (mentoring tends to demystify the trades and provide opportunities for young women to connect with those in the field) and
- substantive issues sustaining a positive work environment with male colleagues.
There was also the perspective that they’re not underrepresented because they “don’t want in”— but because we as a society, still need a bit of an attitude adjustment. Women don’t tend to wake up and dream about working in construction. They tend to gravitate towards things they are familiar with. If no other woman you’ve known has done a certain job, it won’t necessarily feel like an option for you.
Society has to do its part to encourage girls from a young age to pursue the field — and to challenge the stereotypes that accompany careers in construction, including low creativity, poor work environment and inadequate compensation. As for creativity and environment, some would argue that the trades offer more intellectual stimulation than the majority of office or even entrepreneurial jobs out there. Regarding compensation, Women Building Futures (WBF) has cited some women who go through their training program have seen a 169% increase in their salaries.
There are also stereotypes that must be challenged.While the construction site has changed, perceptions persist. Perceptions such as a job site not being a “safe” place for women or that they’re not physically strong enough. These are myths that need to be busted. As one anecdote referenced, “You don’t have to be 6’5 to move steel anymore, because the technology moves it. Now, foremen carry laptops, architects use graphic design programs, and workers use backhoe loaders to carry lumber, drywall or bricks — no one is carrying this material on their backs.”
The female research participants also shared the sentiment that there was the additional challenge of judgement from a male dominated cohort and the pressure to show your worth a little sooner. “Being a women throws an extra challenge into the mix. You have to prove yourself a little more than others.”
On a positive note, the research however, also discovered that an overwhelming proportion of the women involved (94.44%) believe they have the potential to have a successful career in construction and 85.19% would recommend working in construction to other women.
This is good news to spread and at the right time. It presents a great opportunity for women. According to the Canadian Construction Association, construction employs close to one million Canadians and is responsible for about $123 billion in economic activity annually. With the aging workforce, labour shortage and growing population, and as expressed by JudyLynn Archer, President and CEO of Women Building Futures, “There’s never been a better time for women to get into construction in the history of our country.” According to the Construction Sector Council, Canada is going to experience a shortfall of over one million skilled workers by 2020. This shortage of trades means that we are going to desperately need carpenters, civil engineers, project managers and more. Not only does this offer the chance for fast-paced, well-paid and challenging careers. Women are also good at it. Really good at it.
According to Mary Lawson, a teacher of renovation and construction at George Brown College, women are particularly sought after in finishing trades, due to their strong attention to detail. She made reference to Drywall which “is only as good as how well the seams are done” and then followed it with “Ditto for painting, finished carpentry, cabinet making, tile setting, and siding.” Not such a bad trait to have, since most would agree, that when it comes to the largest investment you’ll ever make – your home – God IS in the details. And details to that type of magnitude can’t be delivered by one person. They’re delivered by many.
We all know that it takes a village -a phrase commonly used in reference to raise a child. But it applies just as well to building homes and communities. It takes a team – a diverse team, with different people, different skills, different strengths, different lenses. We’re proud that women are increasingly becoming a significant part of our team. We see what they bring. We see the value that they add. And we, as a company, will continue to open doors, retain, promote and support women within our industry, based on a system of true meritocracy.
Wonder Women, just like fairy tales, come in many shapes and sizes.
It means different things to different people. But we certainly have our share of them across the Tridel Group of Companies. They’re following in the footsteps of those women that have gone before them…. and they have a repsonsibility to commit to paving a path for those that want to follow in theirs. That must be our shared commitment. And while our fairytales may differ to some degree, and while my own may have appeared to just have dirt and dust… the irony is that at the end of the day, we all have our hand in building “castles in the sky.”
And so, to each of you and to all of you, you make all of us proud. You make us stronger, better and brighter. To those in the field, to those in the office, and to those anywhere in between… on International Women’s Day and every day, we celebrate you.
You are our Wonder Women.
Starting tomorrow, follow Tridel on Social Media for a sneak peak to our Women In Construction Video in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Some other interesting facts:
According to 2011 US Census Bureau, Construction remains the most gender imbalanced occupation that exists – mores than engineering and architecture, mores than farming, fishing and forestry, and mores than firefighting.
Research from 1990’s – 2009 showed the following increased representation of women in traditionally male dominated fields:
Dentistry 1.9% to 30.5%
Mail carriers 6.7% to 35%
Female Carpenters .5% to 1.6%
Additional Resources and Research
The Making of a Carpenter – Hammer Head – by Nina MacLaughlin – the story of a young woman who quit her desk job at a Boston Newspaper to become a carpenter
IWPR (institution for Womens Policy Research) “Separate and not equal? Gender segregation i the Lanour Market and the Gender Wage Gap”
The Canadian Association of Women in Construction http://www.cawic.ca/
Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology http://www.ccwestt.org/
Women Working in the Skilled Trades and Technologies: Myths &Realities https://www.apprenticesearch.com/userfiles/file/PDFs/ApprenticeResources/women_working_in_trades_pub.pdf
Women in Skilled Trades and Information Technology Training http://www.grants.gov.on.ca/GrantsPortal/en/OntarioGrants/GrantOpportunities/OSAPQA005168
Women in Skilled Trades http://tradeability.ca/about/women-in-skilled-trades
Ontario Women’s Directorate http://www.women.gov.on.ca/
Women in Skilled Trades http://thecentre.on.ca/skilledtrades/women-in-skilled-trades-wist/
Feature Image Source: geek.com