While there have been various efforts to attract women into the skilled trades, BuildForce Canada is trying to tackle the task of retaining them once they make the decision to join.
Rosemary Sparks, BuildForce executive director, gave a presentation titled The Changing Face of Construction: Retention of Women in the Skilled Trades during the Canadian Construction Association's (CCA) spring board meeting in St. John's, N.L., outlining some of her group's strategies.
"Women account for half the population but there are very few participating in the industry," said Sparks, putting female participation in construction trades at around four per cent. "It really has remained unchanged and I am curious as to why."
She noted that as retirements and an increase in labour demand ramp up in the next few years, the need to connect women with careers in the trades will become more intense.
"Over the past 15 years our construction workforce grew by about 90 per cent and women's participation as a proportion of that has not changed," she said.
In total, women in the industry make up about 12 per cent of the workforce with the majority working off site. Of those working onsite in the trades, the top trade is insulation, with 10 per cent participation.
After conducting focus groups and talking to women about their experiences working in the industry, BuildForce began to assess what women want on the job.
"They told us that most respectful workplaces had clear statements of commitment about respectful workplaces and that was supported by clearly outlined goals, as well as procedures for reporting and mitigating harassment," said Sparks.
"And it's important that those polices are rigorously and consistently applied."
Their data also showed that women want well trained site supervisory staff as many forepersons don't have the training needed to handle harassment situations. Employers must also be aware of stereotypes and how they impact the progression of someone's career.
"If you want to be an employer where workers want to work, these are things you need to take into consideration," Sparks said.
BuildForce has embarked on a three year project funded by Status of Women Canada to help employers retain women workers.
One of the features will be an online assessment tool to gauge if your company is inclusive or respectful. Another tool could also be able to see how the company ranks against others who have taken the assessment.
"I think sometimes we all think we might be doing a little better than we actually are," said Sparks.
The project also will include three to four hours of online training designed for workers, forepersons and supervisors.
"It's going to be about trying to let everyone know what a respectful workforce looks like," said Sparks. "We are going to look at it from a very practical point of view."
There will also be materials to assist smaller companies who may not have robust human resources departments with developing effective policies.
Sparks said a 25-member advisory panel, including some CCA members, is assisting with the project. The course will be ready in roughly 10 months.