Building a Better Future
Women are entering the construction industry in growing numbers and forging fantastic careers for themselves.
And there’s a golden opportunity at this particular point in time. Buildforce Canada estimates that Canada will need to recruit more than 300,000 new workers over the next decade to keep pace with demand.
But while the number of women in the industry is on the rise, as of 2019 women made up just over 13% of the total construction workforce and only 4.7% of tradespeople working in construction were females.
An examination of cultural expectations and workplace culture goes some way towards explaining that.
While some of the traditional barriers to women in construction are now relics of the past, workplace culture is a bit slower to come around.
A report entitled Enhancing the Retention and Advancement of Women in Trades in British Columbia says “Some women report casual sexism and an ‘old boys’ attitude. Discriminatory recruitment or hiring processes, as well as coworkers’ negative behaviours, can make getting and staying in a job difficult for women.’
But there is room for optimism, and the in-the-field experience of two career women can attest to that.
Bianca Cooper is general manager of Impact Drywall and a member of two prominent provincial construction boards. She has played an integral part in turning Impact Drywall into the hugely successful, multi-million dollar company it is today.
But she acknowledges that being a woman in the construction industry “is hard. The industry is still male-dominated so you need to be strong and stand up for yourself.”
"The Industry is still male-dominated so you need to be strong and stand up for yourself."
Bianca Cooper, General Manager at Impact Drywall
Cooper offers some helpful tips for women considering the field. “You need to stick to your guns and persevere. Get as much training as you can and never lose site of who you are as a person. And always be proud of what you have accomplished.”
Impact Drywall insulation supervisor Autumn Scheer says she was attracted to the challenges the construction industry possessed. Being a ‘hands-on’ type of person and a Sea Cadet for seven years, Autumn jumped in with both feet and faced the challenges head on.
She believes that working for Impact Drywall has helped her realize her potential, and acknowledges that “women possess skills that are great assets to the construction industry”, such as “being meticulous, doing things by the book, being quality-oriented and being smaller in size.”
A 2016 survey by The Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) found 92% of women in the industry report harassment, such as being treated differently from men, sexist comments and jokes, and having their competency challenged. Three-quarters said their technical skills weren’t recognized, and they didn’t have opportunities to advance.
Despite that, the overwhelming majority were optimistic about their jobs, and about 85% said they would recommend construction jobs to other women.
Scheer certainly would.
“Men are usually very respectful of women on sites, and I get a lot of compliments about me being a woman in the trades,” she says.
"Men are usually very respectful of women on sites, and I get a lot of compliments about me being a woman in the trades."
Autumn Scheer, Insulation Supervisor at Impact Drywall
She does, however, have some sage advice for women considering the construction industry. “Ask questions and be confident. Learn everything there is to learn. Communication is key. And be aware of your weaknesses and strengths.” Given an aging workforce, a national labour shortage and a booming construction industry, a great opportunity certainly exists for women looking for a satisfying career. Numbers from Statistics Canada indicate that one in five women who enroll in apprenticeship programs choose traditionally male-dominated trades like carpentry, welding and electrician, and that most find themselves employed in their field of study after graduation. So while there may be a long way to go to reach gender parity in Canadian construction, women every day are choosing to build a brighter future. As a well-known quote from Jeremy Renner intimates, ‘Building is about getting around the obstacles that are presented to you.” This holds true whether it is a building complex on a job site you are helping construct – or your own future.