Canadian Contractor

Gender bias on the work site is out of touch with reality

If you believe woman don’t belong on job sites, you’re fast becoming extinct.


January 25, 2016
By John Bleasby
John Bleasby

Several weeks ago, John Bleasby wrote about women working on construction sites. Last week, Steve Payne posted some comments to that article, which in turn stirred up even more reaction. John revisits the subject.

The hot-button issue: Is there a place for female co-workers on a construction site?
Given that construction has historically been male-dominated, its’ no surprise some out there have very negative reactions to change. But I’m here to tell you the news, brothers: You’re a fading relic of the past.  Women are not only gaining increased respect as hard-working, skilled, and dedicated tradespeople, but they’re putting you to shame.

It’s your problem, not their problem.
Don’t take my word for it. Judge for yourselves:

...And what self-respecting man....?

…And what self-respecting man….?

“The Johnny-on-the spot: Ask yourself what self-respecting woman would want to sit in there, and then go back to work crawling with germs, urine, and fecal matter on the back of her coveralls and hands”

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“There is the aspect of working in the cold, the heat, heavy lifting, heights, dirty and broken fingernails, cracked skin, messy hardhat hair, I could go on.”

“Shorts and tank tops are seriously not recommended when using a Skil saw.”

“Guys and gals talk to each other differently. Not a lot of luvy-dovy stuff here.”

“They tend to not be able to “suck-it-up” when there are minor scratches, always need help lifting and manipulate others on-site to help, taking them away from their duties.”

It’s 2016. Are these the attitudes and prejudices with which the industry wants to be associated?

Kate Campbell is a member of the 3 percent.

Women can hold their own on any site he's seen, says Damon Bennett

Women can hold their own on any site he’s seen, says Damon Bennett

A few years ago,  97 per cent of students enrolled in Toronto’s Centennial College’s traditional trades programs were men; only 3 percent were women. Times are slowly changing. Kate Campbell was a member of that 3 percent. With a determination to make a career in the trades, she received her basic skills training in a Ontario government-funded Women In Skilled Trades (WIST) program, a pre-apprenticeship programme that introduced her to carpentry, electrical work, and plumbing, and educated her on building codes and safety. Campbell caught the attention her instructor, and from there Damon Bennett, Mike Holmes’ right hand man on HGTV for many years.

“Her teacher called and said ‘Damon, you may not be looking for anyone right now, but Kate Campbell is the top of her class, and I think you guys should hire her’” Damon recalled. He did, and her 400 hours of apprenticeship with Holmes on Homes suddenly elevated Kate to that of role model for thousands of young women wanting to crack into the Boys’ Club of construction.

Kate and Damon have spoken since to hundreds of girls taking skills training at the high school level. “They ask some serious questions” says Damon. “ They don’t ask about broken nails. They ask about

Damon Bennett minces few words when it comes to old-school work site attitudes concerning women

Damon Bennett minces few words when it comes to old-school work site attitudes concerning women

the money and how would their bodies deal with 30 years of construction, really important questions. I ask them if they are ready to be in a male-dominated industry, and they tell me they are ready. Girls are a lot tougher now than when I was a kid.”

So where the negativity come from?
Damon speaks very directly to the issue. “Those guys are cavemen. They’re not forward thinkers. We’ve advanced so far in the construction industry in terms of labour. I know how strong and tough women are. They can do anything we can do. Almost every job site I go to now, I see a woman on site. And they’re not just holding up the road signs; they’re on the site and working hard.”

There are few legitimate excuses left. “We’ve advanced so far in the construction industry in terms of labour” explains Damon. “Back when I was a brick layer, I put every brick up on a scaffold. Now there are forklifts. And it’s a team sport. If a woman is struggling with something, you go and help her, just like you would help a guy.”

Kate Campbell(l), is just 'one of the crew' on Paul Lafrance's HGTV shows.

Kate Campbell(l), is just ‘one of the crew’ on Paul Lafrance’s HGTV shows.

Kate Campbell, like Damon Bennett, has moved on from the Holmes years. She’s taken her share of chauvinistic remarks along the way, but remains undaunted. She now appears on Paul Lafrance’s HGTV shows Decked Out and Disaster Decks. Lafrance admires for her ‘jump-in’ attitude. “If you push hard and you’re a guy, it’s ambitious; but if you’re a girl, you’re trying to prove a point or have some ulterior motive. And I think that’s nonsense. Don’t let the culture decide what you can and cannot do.”

Campbell is confident that the future will see more women in construction. “I think the more that people express that they love the trades, and that it’s lucrative and challenging, and that they’re passionate about it, the more there will be a paradigm shift.”

(with files from The Globe & Mail)

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