Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Bringing on the women

Canadian Contractor

With a projected shortage of skilled construction workers looming in our industry’s future, why are women left on the sidelines?

When asked recently why his new Liberal cabinet was 50 per cent women, Prime Minster Trudeau answered with a terse, “It’s 2015!” Therefore, we can rightly ask; “Why are women only 14 per cent of the Canadian workforce in the construction industry?”

Numbers are similar or lower in the U.S., with some reports claiming female participation in construction as low as 3 per cent* And it’s not all about sawing and hammering: there is good employment potential for women as electricians, plumbers and HVAC specialists to mention just a few, yet women don’t appear compelled to join the trades.

51hT4VoM8+L._SY300_There must be reasons. Lindsay Amundsen, a workplace coordinator with Canada’s Building Trades Union, claims the lack of awareness on apprenticeship programmes for women in one reason. In an article published in, in, Ms., Amundsen said “Students are not taught in school — especially young girls — that a career in the trades is an option for them.” In fact, at many programmes aimed at supplying newly trained tradespersons such as carpenters, 90 per cent of apprenticeship slots are taken by men.

Lack or opportunities and role models
Breaking away from traditional careers in hairstyling and childcare has not been easy for women. High schools rarely offer any opportunity for younger women, despite the occasional call for boys and girls to take a semester to switch between ‘Home Ec’ and ‘Shop.’ A lack of role models plus the ongoing perception that the trades associated with home construction and renovation are too physical for women are other factors.


It’s a North American situation.
Pursuing a trade is a good alternative to the default choice of going to university or college, which is clearly not for everyone and certainly no guarantee to riches. The prospect of earning good money and of being one’s own boss is an appeal that transcends both genders. “There’s a saying — if you have a trade you always have a job, but, if you just have a job, you’ll only have that job as long as they want you,” says Louis King, president of Summit Academy OIC in Minneapolis.

Who is trying to help?
SkillsOntario, a non-profit organisation that promotes skilled trade and technologies, runs events like SkillsWorks!, a career exploration event for women aimed at demystifying the construction workplace. Nicola MacDonald of SkillsOntario believes that connecting prospective female entries to the industry with those women already successful in the trades goes a long way to attracting the newcomers.

Part of the problem might be 50's -era male stereotyping of women and construction

Part of the problem might be 50’s -era male stereotyping of women and construction

CBTU’s Amundsen agrees that says mentorship would be a critical improvement to both recruit and retain women in constriction. “It’s one thing to recruit them there, but you want to keep them there,” she said.

An adjustment in attitude
Attitudes and prejudices that prevail on a heretofore male-dominated work site might also need adjustment, however. There is a distinct machismo associated with construction, from home building and renovation through to larger commercial projects. Integrating women into teams of closely bonded males and their culture could be a daunting task for some, and a negative for women hoping to join the team. Nevertheless, in all other respects there is little reason why a healthy average woman would not be physically capable of the same task as a male counterpart, given the tools, processes and equipment now common on-site that reduce physical loads and fatigue.

Have a moment?
Tell us your thoughts regarding women on the work site

* Source: National Women’s Law Center


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4 Comments » for Bringing on the women
  1. Mark Mitchell says:

    Short answer. Look in the Johnny-on-the spot. Then 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. It grosses everyone out to have to eat lunch after using a particularly nasty crapper, especially is the August heat! Then 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. Just doesn’t appeal to most women, and you don’t need a degree, or a committee to figure that out

  2. Mark Mitchell says:

    Oh, and by the way. Whomever posed for the picture should be told that shorts and tank tops are seriously not recommended when using a skil saw

  3. Marten says:

    Not sure why anyone would want to push for more woman in this industry. Like Mark said and more. It is a tough, physically demanding industry. I don’t see it as a macho thing but guys and gals talk to each other differently. When a female steps into a male conversation she is usually left scratching her head and wondering why we talk the way we do and still get along. Not a lot of luvy dovy stuff here. Of course there will be exception but this is the way I see it. But for me seeing a male nurse is still weird, still think of nursing a female dominated industry and don’t see push for more males there.

  4. John Buitenbos says:

    I agree with Marten, just back from a 2 day hospital stay, not a single male was seen in any of their service divisions, except for the Doctors. 40 years ago, I worked at the University of Alberta Hospital, and there were at least two Registered Nursing Orderlies on each floor. All this was the result of “Equal-Pay for Equal-Work” which saw the Orderlies loose ground in wages, as negotiators equated their work to Nurses Aids’ 15% lower wages, instead of the more realistic comparison to Registered Nurses (who earned just 5% more than the male Orderlies). Now they need 2-3 ladies to tranfer an aging man from the bed to the wheelchair. That was a job done by ONE Orderly, in the past. So where is the money saving? Same in Construction…

    Women in Construction Trades is pretty well a money loser for Contractors and Building Owners. 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. Just give me a couple of Farm kids, any day

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