Canadian construction has come a long way to welcome women in past decades. Women make up just over 17% of the construction workforce across the country, up 4.4% since 2006. Yet even as the number of women in the industry climbs, women are still largely in administrative roles. In 2019, over 41% of offsite construction employees were women, compared with only 4.7% of on-site workers.
As part of the How We Build Now series, and in honour of International Women’s Month, Procore’s Ghazal Rahmani sat down with construction professionals to discuss how to inspire women to a career in construction, and how best to support the women on jobsites.
Guests Maria Andonovsky, Director of Operational Excellence at Bentall Green Oak and Kayla Gervais, Secretary for the Manitoba Women in Construction Steering Committee and Project Coordinator at Bockstael, shared their entry into the world of construction, the impact mentorship had on their careers, and what industry leaders can do to support diversity within their companies.
Showing the Way
Andonovsky and Gervais came into construction at a very early age. Both their parents worked in the industry. They attribute their careers in construction partly to the knowledge that they could do the work.
“My dad had a side hustle in construction. The company did small jobs like painting and landscaping. I got a taste for it back then,” Andonovsky recalled.
While Gervais didn’t initially plan for a career in construction, she always understood that construction was an option because she helped her parents flip houses. That’s why in her role with the Manitoba Women in Construction (MWIC) steering committee, she strives to give school girls the opportunity to try the trades at a young age.
“Statistics say that if you don’t open up the trades for these girls before they get to a certain age, they’ve already said, ‘this isn’t an option for me.’ We’re letting them try things and teaching them that these are fantastic careers,” Gervais said.
Just because a woman begins a job in the construction field, though, doesn’t mean she’ll stay there. The panelists agreed they’ve been to jobsites where they were the only females, a bit of a daunting experience at first. Andonovsky found preparation and hard work was key to finding confidence.
“If you know what you’re talking about, you’ll have a seat at the table,” explained Andonovsky.
It’s important for women to know they’re accepted. That’s why when Gervais graduated she sought work with Bockstael, a company that demonstrates acceptance with a notable representation of female leaders. Now that she works on site much of the time, Gervais feels welcomed by both men and women.
“Something I’ve noticed is that male coworkers appreciate the balance as well. It’s not just women looking for women it’s everyone looking for balance,” Gervais said.
Of course, not all work happens on the jobsite. Accessing informal networks of colleagues can be crucial to career progression, and much of it happens at the golf course or over working lunches. While these may have traditionally had an ‘old boys’ club’ feel, including women in the planning of less formal work events is a must so they can attend the ones they enjoy.
“I hope to see more women in leadership so that there isn’t such a divide when it comes to the social and networking aspect,” Andonovsky said. “But more women are getting invited to the golfing or social events that are happening. It might be smart to try new events that appeal to both men and women.”
Finding mentors that can relate to similar experiences is extremely important for a number of reasons. They get to see females in those roles and in turn see themselves in those positions in the future. Also, for both young men and women seeking mentors, navigating career decisions and getting feedback from construction professionals is invaluable.
The industry could also do better at setting up formal mentoring opportunities for young women and men interested in pursuing a construction career to save them from the ‘sink or swim’ feeling so prevalent for newbies to the field. That’s why Gervais sought out the opportunity with the MWIC.
“Those women have been my best mentors. I was fortunate enough to connect with them while I was in school,” she said. Now she works with the group to help other young women benefit from relationships in the industry.”
Andonovsky advocates young women find both male and female mentors they trust to give honest feedback and get both perspectives. She worked hard to foster relationships with people she highly respected.
“I’ve sought out people that didn’t initially believe in me but I respected them so I kept at it and kept asking the questions until I became endeared to them,” she said. “It makes them happy to see where I am in my career, because they planted the seeds.”
Aside from seeking formal mentors, new entrants to construction can find people to look up to through panel discussions and other industry events.
Pave the Path
Flexibility can go a long way to attract women to an industry known for its long hours, since pressures within the family can be different for women than for men.
“We’re going to have to be more flexible – for both men and women – for daycare pickups or to have a backup if someone has to leave to pick up a sick child,” Gervais said. “If one of your workers is expecting, have a plan for that. Let her know she’s supported.”
Support extends to equal pay. Hiring should be done on a level playing field, regardless of gender.
“The pay isn’t the same for male and female so I’d like to see that,” Andonovsky said. “There are a lot of jobs out there, so if you want it get ready and prepare yourself for them.”