Message to Contractors: Hiring Women = Success

27 Jul, 2018

You’re too weak, too big, too small and too female.

A young relative of mine is entering the electrical trade and these were just a few of the things she and the other four women in her class have been told by those in her pre-apprenticeship program at a B.C. University. The discourse is so discouraging that one of them eventually dropped out.

She shared this with us at a family reunion in July. I watched her parents, her sisters and her brother listen to these horrifying stories of exclusion and discrimination. The looks on their faces — shock, sadness, empathy. Then, profound anger.

This is one of the reasons women make up only about four per cent of the industry, despite the fact that jobs in construction are some of the most well-paid and rewarding ways to make a living. According to Enhancing the Retention and Advancement of Women in Trades in British Columbia, the women building our province face a number of pervasive, systemic barriers that make it difficult for them to enter and remain in the trades, as well as advance in the sector.

They are persistently harassed, bullied, excluded, discriminated against and exposed to other uncategorized “incivilities” that the rest of us could probably only imagine in our wildest nightmares. Page 39 of the report states:

“In addition to the daily exposure to sexist behaviour and sexually explicit language, many women said they experienced unwanted physical contact by colleagues. In one group, almost half of the women reported being sexually assaulted by a colleague, with one commenting that this is ‘probably one of the reasons a lot of women leave (the trades).'”

Does this sound like a job anyone would want? No? The culture in the industry needs to change, and I’m thrilled to share the news that it’s about to. First, the new BC Centre for Women in the Trades launched in June with a mandate to support the retention and advancement of women in the trades in B.C. And second, the BC Government has just announced a new construction framework that prioritizes the hiring of tradeswomen, apprentices and other underrepresented groups on public infrastructure projects, starting with the new Pattullo Bridge replacement project and the Highway 1 expansion from Kamloops to the Alberta border.

This is great news for women! But it’s also great news for all those construction companies who still haven’t realized that women are good for business.

According to BuildForce Canada, 254,800 people, or 21 per cent of the current construction workforce, is expected to retire by 2027. That’s 14,000 more people retiring than are expected to enter the construction industry over the same period.

The outlook for British Columbia is especially grim. BuildForce data indicates that 40,800 construction workers will retire by 2027, and only 32,800 people will enter the industry. BuildForce notes, “The growing rate of retirements and the less than adequate supply of locally available replacement workers will mean the industry will, with increasing regularity, be required to recruit workers from outside the province’s construction sector or outside the industry.”

The evidence is clear: We’ve got a skilled trades shortage in B.C. and the rest of Canada; hiring and retaining women are among the ways we can manage this shortage and ensure our province & country remain prosperous.

These aren’t the only benefits to hiring women. The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum developed a business case for hiring women on the job site. According to the study, women give organizations a competitive advantage through increased productivity, enhanced reputation and employer loyalty. Women-dominated teams have an eye for detail, and they bring a perspective that supports successful business strategies.

While not unique to the construction industry, another study by the California-based Anita Borg Institute found that organizations committed to improving the balance of women in the workforce benefit from improved operational and financial performance, increased innovation, better problem-solving skills, and more effective teamwork.

If you don’t like reading research papers and studies, I’ll boil down the results: Hire women and you’ll do better.