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As with any field thought to be “male-dominated,” the construction industry begs the question: why are there less women than men?
With leaps and bounds being made towards gender equity across all industries and in society as a whole, and myths about what it means to be a woman in trades becoming artifacts of the past—why is it that there are still disproportionately few women in the majority of construction companies?
We spoke to Lindy Monahan and MJ Salmon, mentors for the Women in Trades program at Okanagan College and owners of Proveda Health and Safety to get to the root of why girls and young women are less likely to choose a career in construction than their male peers, and what parents, educators, and mentors can do to ensure the door to construction stays open to women as they choose their career path.
It’s difficult for someone to envision themselves in a career they’ve never really been exposed to. If girls don’t have people in their family working in construction, rarely hear about opportunities from teachers or counsellors at school, and never take a class in a particular area of construction, it’s unlikely that they’ll consider the field as a viable career option.
“Underpromotion to kids by parents, teachers, and the industry at large is a big roadblock,” say Lindy and MJ. “Without inclusive promotion, adults can negatively impact girls’ career paths by placing an informational barrier to equitable careers and opportunity.”
If girls aren’t acquainted with careers in construction, they will certainly be limited by their lack of knowledge of what jobs actually exist in the industry. They may only think of construction as working with tools on job sites when in fact the breadth of specialty career choices in construction is expansive and has room for all kinds of interests and skills.
“We need to teach girls about all of these speciality careers,” say Lindy and MJ. “Let’s show them all the possible entry points into construction including trades, design, project management, health and safety, engineering, architecture, and project coordinator positions, to name a few.”
You can better support the girls in your life by ensuring they are given information about the numerous career paths in construction, including those that are typically out of sight. Encourage them to take a trades elective, don’t skip the trades school brochures when you’re at career fairs or university info fairs, and learn which of their skills are a good fit for the construction industry, so you can point them in the right direction if you think construction might be a good fit for them.
Even if girls are aware of the different construction careers that exist, it’s likely that the only role models they’ve seen in their area of interest are men.
This is not because women in the industry aren’t succeeding.
According to Lindy and MJ, there needs to be more widespread and consistent initiatives that highlight women in the construction industry, how they’re succeeding, and what kind of work they’re doing.
“We want more than a one-off promotion that celebrates women on particular days,” they say. “It is imperative to see a sustained initiative, directed and supported provincially and by sectors including residential, commercial and industrial and by the specialized fields.”
You can help the girls in your life envision a career in construction by giving them opportunities to see other women in the field. Lindy and MJ suggest seeking content on social media that creates positive representation of women in construction.
According to the Enhancing the Retention and Advancement of Women in Trades in British Columbia: Final Report (Feb. 2017), ideas about gender continue to play a role in which careers girls choose and why.
Whether or not it’s done consciously, parents and families may be less likely to include their girls in chores and projects such as household repairs and renovations, and may habitually reinforce the difference between “men’s work” and “women’s work” in their own family dynamics.
“Work has no gender,” MJ and Lindy emphasize. “It’s important to give girls the opportunity to see hands-on projects through to fruition so they can experience the joy of building.”
Teachers and counsellors at schools may also be less likely to suggest construction work and trades schools to girls because they too have internalized ideas about what kinds of work women enjoy and whether or not those kinds of work are associated with construction.
Lindy and MJ agree that gender parity in construction starts with individuals interrogating their biases and working consciously to avoid passing them down to the next generation.
“Take an online trades camp with your daughter or granddaughter, include girls in your household projects, and take them to construction sites in your neighbourhood,” they suggest, adding:
“Bias across the full spectrum of participants in the construction industry has real implications for recruitment and retention, but employers that have changed their organizational stance and embraced women in construction are reaping the benefits.”
Getting more girls interested in construction—put simply—is good for everyone.
If you’re a woman considering a career in the construction industry, or know someone who is, the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) - Central Okanagan would love to answer any questions you have.
Contact the CHBA - Central Okanagan and they’ll happily connect you with resources and opportunities.