Gaps in understanding for 2S/LGBTQ+ populations in skilled trades: reportCanadian Contractor
Skilled trades in Canada employ over 3 million Canadians, or one in six of the labour force. According to the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), 93 per cent of tradespeople identify as heterosexual men, 0.3 per cent identify as heterosexual women, 0.5 per cent as gay men, 0.6 per cent as lesbian women and 0.2 per cent as bisexual men and women.
A new report, titled “2S/LGBTQ+ populations in the trades in Canada: Exploratory insight,” released through the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation, aims to analyzes and address the gaps in understanding the context of 2S/LGBTQ+ individuals in the trades in Canada.
Authors, Audrey Appiah, Chloe Halpenny and Basia Pakula, interviewed key construction trades stakeholders across the country positioned as leaders in the sector, particularly regarding advancing equity and inclusion for equity-deserving communities within the trades. The report heard from 11 individuals including union leaders, employers, training instructors, non-profit representatives, and individual tradespeople who self-identified as leaders in the sector.
These interviews were used to explore the journeys of 2s/LGBTQ+ individuals from considering trades careers through their training and obtaining jobs through to outcomes and effects.
The absence of data about 2S/LGBTQ+ tradespeople was widely attributed to “a lack of effort to collect gender and sexuality data within the sector, as well as an unwillingness to share what limited information was collected.” Themes of visibility and representation, and the lack thereof prevail throughout interviews.
The report found that factors that discourage gender and sexuality diverse individuals’ interest in the trades include perception of construction as unsafe or unwelcoming, stereotypes about who “fits” in the trades and toxic masculinity.
Interviewees discussed systems perpetuating disadvantages – noting that some minorities fare worse. Discussions have shifted to recognize more often heterosexual/gay/lesbian identities within the trades but less trans, non-binary and gender-diverse tradespeople.
Interviewees noted that “relative privilege afforded to certain 2S/LGBTQ+ people in the trades may be read optimistically as a sign of forward progress. However, interviews highlight the importance of acknowledging why some sexual or gender minority individuals experience greater acceptance than others.” Masculine-presenting 2S/LGBTQ+ tradespeople are treated as “one of the guys”, which “speaks less to shifts in regressive attitudes than it does to the persistent devaluation of femininity.”
Women in the trades initiatives and programming were identified as supporting queen and trans tradespeople. They are considered by some a vehicle forward towards greater inclusion for a variety of equity-deserving groups. At the same time, interviewees cautioned that while some queer women may benefit, they are often not aimed at 2S/LGBTQ+ communities. For example, some welcome trans women, but the experience of transwomen in this programming is unknown.
The sector’s contract-based nature can make it more challenging to establish a sense of trust or comfortability among workers, with 2S/LGBTQ+ workers needing to “prove” themselves and navigate disclosure on an ongoing basis.
The industry consists of mainly white, cisgender, heterosexual men. Throughout conversations with key informants, an emphasis on the importance of “out” tradespeople to provide visibility and advocacy from within the industry. This level of representation is thought to help combat the anticipation of discrimination.
Those advocating for provisions of support specifically targeted to 2S/LGBTQ+ tradespeople felt they are required to compete for resources and rights in a sector that has already been identified as exclusionary for other equity-deserving groups, including women, Indigenous and racialized people.
Key informants acknowledge the efforts of sector-based programs dedicated to addressing the barriers face by equity-deserving apprentices but noted these could exclude 2S/LGBTQ+ individuals through language used.
Examples of initiatives and supports promoting EDI: government incentives and mandates, employee benefit packages that are more inclusive and expansive, union-specific EDI programs (IBEW’s Connections to Success program), education and training programs specific to and focused on 2S/LGBTQ+ inclusion and understanding, company code of conduct and statement of values.
The report analyzed employment characteristics by sexual orientation (heterosexual men, women and sexual minority men, women). Findings included 16.1 per cent of sexual minority women reported being in fair or poor health compared to 8 per cent of heterosexual woman. Seven per cent of sexual minority men reported fair or poor health compared to 6.5 per cent of heterosexual men.
Further findings notes that 6.8 per cent of sexual minority women found work to be extremely stressful, compared to 5.3 per cent of heterosexual women and sexual minority men and 3.7 per cent of heterosexual men.
All sexual minority groups were found to have a lower median income than heterosexual men, with sexual minority women making $8,600 less than heterosexual women and sexual minority men making almost $20,000 less than heterosexual men.
Training and education
Training and education were consistently highlighted as critical tools to building 2S/LGBTQ+ competency and fostering a more inclusive culture.
Government incentives and mandates include federal government financial incentives to hire first-year apprentices. These types of incentives were identified as indirectly supporting queer and trans tradespeople through greater attention to diversity and inclusion in the industry.
At an overarching level, all interviewees identified a need for a culture shift within the sector to promote inclusive environments for 2S/LGBTQ+ individuals.
With alarming employment levels, diversifying recruitment is crucial. BuildForce Canada projects that, by 2027, approximately 13 per cent of the construction sector will reach retirement age.
According to the report, “construction trades are not actively promoted to 2S/LGBTQ+ youth.” The report also disclosed interviewees noted “a lack of supportive networks and uncertainty around finding safe and fulfilling apprenticeship opportunities prevented them from pursuing the trades.”
Key informants interviewed in this report brought forward some key insights and recommendations for the construction sector, including:
- Promoting strong leaders and managers who are committed to advancing 2S/LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion,
- Build sustainable, meaningful, and accountable processes for safety and inclusion to better equip decision makers with the knowledge and tools to effect change.
- Address barriers to entry to shift trades culture by seeking out and collaborating with working partners in EDI.
- Foster inclusive trades environments by offering appropriate washroom facilities, PPE, participation in 2S/LGBTQ+ community events, promote inclusivity actively.
- Code of conduct and statement of values,
- Anonymous reporting systems,
- Employee resource groups and EDI committees.
- Formalizing and codifying things like pay scales, promotion criteria and reporting mechanisms were seen as key to supporting 2S/LGBTQ+ inclusion and equity.
Read the full report here.