Are you a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person? If I told you that only 13% of Canadians employed in the construction sector were women, would you say “wow, higher than I thought” or “yikes, that’s some chronic underrepresentation there”?
Either way, you’re right. At 13%, Canada ranks above the US (9% female) and the UK (10% female) for women employed in the industry. Those numbers reflect women in all construction jobs, both office and field.
Unsurprisingly, the number gets even lower when you eliminate office roles, with only 4.7% of tradespeople working in construction being female.
We need more women in construction
Canada’s (slight) edge is due in large part to some incredible government and industry initiatives to attract women to the field (more on that later). And these aren’t just altruistically motivated. The reality is that women make up 50.36% of the population, so to be less than 5% of tradespeople is just bad math. Especially in an industry experiencing a labour shortage: We need another 100,000 or more construction workers in the next decade in Ontario alone to deliver on existing infrastructure and housing plans.
In the interest of expanding the hiring pool, let’s explore:
- Some of the challenges women face in the construction industry
- What attracts women to construction (let’s do more of that)
- How to make the industry more appealing, including resources
Challenges faced by women in construction
Let’s get the hard part out of the way, with a brief(ish) overview of the challenges faced by women in construction. To avoid being an unrelenting downer in this article, rather than going into length about any of the issues we’ll provide some links for supplementary reading.
Women working in construction face a variety of challenges, as it is an industry that has traditionally been male-dominated. Some of the challenges stemming from gender bias and gender realities include:
Some people in the industry may hold stereotypes about women’s abilities and assume that they are not as skilled or competent as men.
Women may be excluded from certain tasks or projects based on assumptions about their physical strength or ability.
Women in construction may be subjected to harassment, such as unwanted comments, gestures, or physical contact. Two-thirds of respondents to an ENR survey reported they’ve experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in their construction job.
Yeah, this one is not limited to construction. The wage gap is real people. Women may be paid less than men for doing the same job or may have fewer opportunities for advancement.
Lack of support
Women may have difficulty finding mentors or sponsors who can offer guidance and support as they navigate the industry. We gravitate toward people like us when we offer our guidance and support, which is completely natural. It’s like helping a younger version of you to succeed.
Lack of recognition
Women’s contributions to construction projects may be overlooked or undervalued compared to their male counterparts.
Lack of representation
Women are still a minority in construction, so it can be challenging to find mentors or female colleagues to connect with and learn from. This is like the lack of support mentioned above, but with a twist. Just like mentors respond to mentees they can see themselves in, female tradespeople would love to see an example of a woman who succeeded in the field to motivate them.
Construction sites can be dangerous, and women may be more vulnerable to injury or harassment on the job. For one thing, it’s harder to find PPE that fits properly. For another, the job site is designed for men who are on average 5 inches taller than women (5’ 9” and 5′ 4” respectively, if you’re interested).
Construction work is often physically demanding, and women may struggle with the same tasks as men due to differences in strength and size. Height disparity mentioned above? It applies to weight too, with a discrepancy of 30 pounds. No weight does not equal strength, but the physics of applied force is real.
Access to facilities
Many construction sites lack proper restrooms and changing facilities for women, which can make it challenging to feel comfortable and respected on the job. Full credit for opening my eyes to this goes to r/BlueCollarWomen, the Reddit page dedicated to women working in construction and other blue collar trades. With 22.4 thousand members it’s an incredible resource for education, solidarity, and practical tips for coping.
What attracts women to construction
Despite these challenges, many women enjoy working in construction and find it to be a rewarding career. Women in construction bring a unique perspective and skill set to the job, and they can make a significant contribution to the industry. As more women enter construction, the industry is becoming more inclusive and diverse, which is ultimately a positive development for everyone involved.
Construction work often involves physically demanding tasks, and it can be a good way to stay active and fit. Who doesn’t want to get paid to work out?
Building something with your own hands can be very satisfying, and construction work can provide this sense of accomplishment. Women who work in trades get to enjoy the feeling of seeing a project through from start to finish. (On a personal note, after building four IKEA bookshelves — with height extensions, not to brag — I felt such a high I googled “how to become a carpenter”.)
Construction work often requires collaboration and teamwork, which can be a positive aspect for some women. Working alongside a group of people to achieve a common goal can be fulfilling. Many of my coworkers are former construction guys, and the pride they take in passing something they helped to build, as well as the bond they have with those they built it with, is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in a job (sorry boss).
Women who work in construction may appreciate the diversity of the work environment. There are many different roles within construction, from project management to carpentry to electrical work, which can provide a variety of experiences. Job sites are often changing, and can even involve traveling to new places.
Construction jobs often pay well, and women who work in construction can earn a good living. And that’s even with the pay gap.
How to get more women into construction: 5 Ways to Make the Trades More Attractive to Women
1. Education and training
There are programs and initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of gender bias and providing training to help people recognize and overcome their biases. Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) has great resources available to educate yourself on diversity solutions.
2. Recruitment and retention
Companies are taking steps to recruit more women into the industry, and to create supportive workplaces that encourage women to stay and advance in their careers. The Office to Advance Women Apprentices (OAWA), launched in 2019 by the CBTU with the goal of bolstering female participation in the trades by 30%. They provide career services, employment supports, and networking opportunities for tradeswomen, as well as offering grants to employers.
3. Mentorship and sponsorship
Women in construction can benefit from mentorship and sponsorship programs that provide guidance, support, and opportunities for networking and career advancement. Check out the Canadian Association of Women in Construction who offer bursaries, mentorship programs, and host networking events.
4. Policy changes
Companies and organizations can implement policies and procedures that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as implementing gender-neutral language in job descriptions, creating inclusive restroom facilities, and providing maternity leave. Check out this incredible Sudbury, ON business that just released a line of maternity workwear to help counter the lack of inclusivity in PPE.
5. Industry advocacy
Groups and organizations are advocating for more women in the industry, such as promoting construction as a career option for women and highlighting the benefits of a diverse workforce. Your local construction association, like the TCA or OCA here in Ontario, is a great place to look for advocacy and networking opportunities. If you’re not sure who your association is, here’s an extensive list of organizations that help women get started in the construction trades to help you on your search.