By Mike Collins-Williams

Women’s participation in the construction and skilled trades industries has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. However, female representation in male-dominated professions such as trades, construction and STEM industries (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) remains low. According to Statistics Canada, women make up only 13 per cent of the total workforce in construction, and only five per cent of skilled trades workers.

There are several factors that help explain this significant gender gap, including social pressures, unconscious gender bias, career advancement bias, lack of information, lack of training, or a negative perception of women working in traditionally male occupied industries.

Leadership positions

Despite these barriers and troubling statistics, women continue to steadily build their path in the construction and skilled trades industries. Numerous women in leadership positions across various organizations are making efforts to educate and encourage more women to follow the career of their dreams, regardless of the industry they are in.

The West End Home Builders’ Association (WEHBA) Women in Industry Committee is one of these groups, and aims to do exactly that: To support, educate, connect and empower women to grow and succeed in non-traditional roles. The WEHBA’s Women in Industry (WIN) Committee was founded in 2018 and is the first women’s group within a homebuilders association in Canada. Through educational series and events, the committee brings individuals, companies and organizations together to advance gender diversity in STEM, construction, development and the trades industries.

On Oct. 28, 2021, more than 120 women attended the 4th Annual WEHBA Women in Industry Luncheon in Hamilton, under strict health and safety measures. The event’s guest speaker, Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities, talked about the importance of creating better conditions that allow women to succeed and thrive in the workforce, as well as about the need to make the workforce more inclusive for everyone by removing barriers to opportunity and success.

Awareness and encouragement

The committee is planning several virtual and in-person events for 2022, including a full-day, hands-on, educational event that aims to introduce female middle school students to different trades and STEM professions. Through an interactive, one-on-one experience, students from Grades 7 and 8 will be exposed to different, non-traditional career possibilities, and will have the opportunity to learn from established professionals in the various fields.

“In the Women in Industry Committee, we aim to spread awareness and encourage young women to follow a career in the construction industry,” says Kailey Corby, 2022 Women in Industry Chair.

Through the past couple of years, the committee kept an active digital presence through the hosting of educational webinar series and virtual events. This year, the group is looking to invigorate their virtual programming to keep engagement strong, reach bigger crowds, and consequently make a larger impact.

Tremendous opportunity

The skilled trades and construction industries will continue to face major labour shortages. This gap could potentially be a tremendous opportunity for job-seeking women to find employment and establish a successful career, either by entering the homebuilding industry or by transitioning into different roles.

Buildforce Canada estimates that Canada will need to recruit more than 300,000 new workers over the next decade to keep pace with construction demand. It is crucial that we start making steps toward positive, cultural change that will increase inclusion and gender diversity in the industry. During the Second World War, women helped close the labour gap by occupying traditionally male operated jobs; in 2022, it is high time we see women workers as a long-term solution and an equally accepted and capable option.