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Gender parity in the trades is still under construction in B.C.

Only four per cent of trades workers in B.C. are women

By Lakshmi Sadhu and Razaz Ainousah , in City , on October 25, 2017

Many industries in Canada have made strides towards increasing the number of women in their workforce.

But the construction industry in B.C. is still far behind. Only four per cent of trades workers are women.

Experts say one reason is because construction, unlike some other sectors, is so dispersed that a quota system can’t work.

Another is that gender stereotypes in the media further discourage young women from considering the trades as a viable career.

“Advertisements that any companies are doing, it’s all so heavily geared towards the outdoorsy guy. You have to be gruff, and have a big gruff exterior,” said Sarina Hanschke, who works for the B.C. Construction Safety Alliance.

Finally, programs that have been started to encourage more women to enter the construction industry have been more successful in recruiting women than retaining them.

Military, law, engineering have boosted women

Many other sectors and industries, military and law enforcement, for instance, have surpassed 15-per-cent female representation. More than 50 per cent of lawyers are now women. Women account for 12.8 per cent of practicing professional engineers in Canada.

For some of those sectors, it’s been easier to push up the number of women because of their structure

Brynn Bourke, director of campaigns and policy for the BC Building Trades, said that other industries have implemented quotas to ensure more women are hired, like the RCMP and the army.

However, the construction trades can’t enforce a single policy across all companies.

“In construction, there are thousands of employers, and so it’s harder to carry a policy across thousands of employers or try to get everyone on the same page. And that’s one of the reasons why Build Together was formed,” said Bourke.

A symbolic sign for women in the construction trades. (Photo: Rehmatullah Sheikh)

Program aims to provide support to women

Build Together is a national program from the union that supports women in the skilled construction trades. The vision of Build Together is to serve as a women’s caucus, a space where women in the construction trades can get together.

One of the founders and executives of Build Together is Lisa Langevin, 49, an electrician who first started in the construction trades in 2002.

Every new job she ever took up necessitated that she worked hard to prove herself first — something that her male counterparts never dealt with — and was held to higher standards simply by virtue of being female.

“For the most part, a lot of the guys do hold us to a different standard, and look at us under a magnifying glass. So any mistakes that we make are noticed and are put on all women. One woman’s actions do impact all the women who come after her unfortunately,” said Langevin.

When she was on the job, Langevin felt worn down by the misogynistic language and workplace culture she was often exposed to.

“On one job that I worked on, one of the guys I worked with, he only ever referred to his girlfriend, his, you know, partner, he only ever referred to her as a c***. ‘The c*** made a great roast beef dinner last night. The c*** and I went to Roosters last night,’” said Langevin.

Retention needs to be the focus

There are some programs now available in B.C. to prepare women for work in construction trades, like BCIT’s Trades Discovery for Women program and the B.C. Industry Training Authority’s Women in Trades Training program. But according to Langevin, there needs to be a focus on improving the retention of tradeswomen.

Irene Lanzinger, head of the B.C. Federation of Labour, talks about the challenges faced by women in construction.

Build Together is currently working on a mentorship initiative for the retention of women in construction. Bourke says the program is expected to be in the pilot stage soon. It is designed to assist women with job placements, provide support and counselling, and connect them with resources to help them stay on the job.

Irene Lanzinger, head of the B.C. Federation of Labour, is hopeful about the future.”We are definitely making progress, but we are not there yet.”