For the past 11 years, Stacey Benedictson has worked as a welder in Alberta. She discovered the trade after getting a job as a labourer in a shop. "I found welding really relaxing," says Benedictson.
She is part of only four per cent of Canada's skilled construction trade workforce comprised of women. That's a number Build Together, a program of Canada's Building Trades Unions, would like to see increase.
"Other industries and sectors, the military, law enforcement, etc., have surpassed 15 per cent female representation. The number of women in construction has remained unchanged for years. The tradeswomen of Build Together, together with industry support, plan to change this," states Build Together's website.
The program started in 2013 and brought tradeswomen together, many of whom were already involved in the recruitment of women to the trades.
"Build Together gave them a unified voice. They created a community of ambassadors and advocates across the country," explains Lindsay Amundsen, who heads up workforce development for Canada's Building Trades Unions.
Since its inception, Build Together has focused much of its attention and resources on building awareness about women in the trades through attending conferences, trade fairs and speaking at schools.
"After a few years of doing that, the tradeswomen of Build Together wanted to address retention issues and barriers that still exist in the trades," says Amundsen.
She explains while progress has been made over the past few years in areas such as respectful workplace culture, there is still much work to be done. Training in respectful workplaces remains a primary issue.
A lack of role models and mentorship for women is another issue, as are accommodations for child care, such as flex work hours, gender-appropriate washrooms, ill-fitting safety equipment, fear on behalf of contractors about hiring women and pregnancy.
Accommodating pregnancy is "a very hot topic" right now, states Amundsen.
"There are discussions going on across the country about accommodations for pregnancy. This is a huge barrier for women in certain construction trade occupations that needs to be addressed," she says.
"The Ironworkers International Union in the United States recently announced new policy for their members to accommodate pregnant women pre- and post-delivery. This is a really big step in the right direction. Unions, employers and governments all have to work together to solve this issue."
When it comes to respectful workplaces, Amundsen says, "We want to see foreman and union stewards have training in this. We want mentorship programs and other educational materials to include diversity and respectful workplace curriculum."
To this end, Build Together is recruiting "champions from across Canada who want to champion respectful workplaces," through the organization's Industry Champion Program.
Over the past couple of years, Build Together has sought to create provincial councils across the country that work in conjunction with the national body.
"We realized there was a huge disconnect between running a national organization and getting 'boots on the ground' locally," Amundsen explains.
Currently, there are provincial Build Together chapters across Western Canada, from British Columbia to Manitoba.
Through these provincial chapters, women have had the opportunity to take training and courses on leadership development, public speaking and media training.
"We see women who have participated in Build Together now on executive boards of their unions. Women are realizing their leadership potential," Amundsen says.
Benedictson, for example, is co-chair of Alberta's chapter of Build Together.
"We offer mentorship, advice, we do a lot of respect-in-the-workplace training, we have a presence at trades conferences and we speak to Girl Guide groups and schools," Benedictson explains.
British Columbia's provincial chapter of Build Together lobbied at a trades-union conference regarding respectful workplaces, the barriers women face and retention issues. The chapter even hosted its own Trade Women Conference in the fall of 2016.
"Our focus for 2017 is to do more presentations, develop a women-in-trades scholarship and work on recruitment as well as host more events including pub nights and a tradeswoman barbecue," says Sandra Brynjolfson, British Columbia's Build Together co-chair.
Manitoba's Build Together chapter was founded in December 2016.
The group has already attended events during which members have spoken with students about the benefits of working in the trades, sat on panels to discuss current initiatives in Manitoba and lobbied in Ottawa.
"I'm so proud of the passion these ladies have in exposing new people to the trades, mentoring other ladies in the trades, plus challenging both government and industry to reduce barriers for women in construction," says Shylyte Bloodworth, chair of the Build Together Manitoba chapter.
In May, Build Together expanded its scope to also include programming for indigenous people, new Canadians and "next-generation" workers.
"The federal government is prioritizing these groups too. We want to expand and grow. It's the right thing to do," Amundsen says.