International Women’s Day is a day to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women while making strides toward equality. This IWD, we acknowledge that gender equality in the workplace is still not a reality. It’s a sad truth that women continue to face barriers to accessing equal opportunities in the working world across a wide swath of professions. This is especially true in male-dominated fields like construction, resource extraction, carpentry, and other skilled trades.
We believe that workers and employers alike benefit from inclusion and diversity at the workplace. Take a few minutes to read about the challenges to gender parity in the skilled trades, and the ways we can overcome them.
Men make up 90-95% of all skilled trade workers (e.g.: carpenters, electricians, cement masons, etc), in Canada. Many of these jobs are accompanied by higher wages than those skilled trades traditionally dominated by women (for example, florists, hairdressers, estheticians, etc.). It’s been assumed that this trend is simply due to differing interests and career choices made by women and men. But research shows that there are other barriers stopping women from enjoying the full benefit of less-traditional career choices, including all of the following:
- Gender stereotypes in childhood. Girls in high school and even younger can be exposed to social pressure to choose traditionally female-dominated career paths. Being steered away from shop, metal working, etc. means that they are less likely to hear about apprenticeships, scholarships, and other opportunities in the skilled trades.
- Discrimination. Evidence suggests that women are more likely to be passed over for hiring, raises, and promotions than men, even when they have the same education and experience. 4
- Responsibilities at home. Women usually have greater domestic responsibilities than men that take them away from work, resulting in slower advancement and less frequent promotions.
- Harassment. 9/10 female construction workers have experienced bullying or sexual harassment on the job, which could explain the high proportion of women in construction who quit or switch career tracks in search of a less hostile work environment. 3
- Poverty. Many women cannot afford to pay for both the education needed for these skilled trades and for food or rent at the same time, especially when also supporting children. Over 1.5 million Canadian women are considered low-income. 2
3 Reasons to Push for Equality
We could all benefit from including more women in the skilled trades, but here are the three most essential reasons to push for gender equality in these industries:
- Women would have increased access to career opportunities that may be beneficial to them, lift them out of poverty, or allow them to support their families.
- Workplaces themselves would benefit from a diversified workforce. Diversity at work fosters respect, exposes workers to different viewpoints, and brings a variety of strengths, talents, and perspectives to the job.
- The economy itself may have the biggest stake in female inclusion in the trades. An ongoing skilled trades labour shortage 1 threatens the long-term health of these industries, most of which are inextricably tied to the health of the Canadian economy. Including more women in these industries will fill in the gaps and help the economy thrive.
Ways to help
- Actively work to change the workplace culture. Many organizations have anti-harassment policies that are non-existent or poorly enforced. Adopt a zero-tolerance harassment policy, and foster a culture of respect toward female workers.
- Break down the stigma against girls and women who express interest in the trades. Encourage interest, and support skilled trades introduction programs that target girls in junior and senior high school.
- Support organizations like Women Building Futures that help women get access to non-traditional occupations.
Click here to find a non-profit in your community that supports women in the trades.
Happy International Women’s Day! Let’s be bold for change together!
1 The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (2015). The competitive advantage: A business case for hiring women in the skilled trades and technical professions. The Government of Canada. Retrieved March 6, 2017 from http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/rc-cr/bc-cb/index-en.html
2 The Canadian Women’s Foundation (2017). Fact sheet: Women and poverty in Canada. Canadian Women’s Foundation. Retrieved March 6, 2017 from http://www.canadianwomen.org/sites/canadianwomen.org/files//Fact%20Sheet%20-%20WOMEN%20%26%20POVERTY%20-%20February%202017.pdf
3 Elmer, V. (2014, June 11). Report: Women still face barriers in construction trades. The Washington Post. Retrieved March 6, 2017 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/06/11/report-women-still-face-barriers-in-construction-trades/?utm_term=.bd565100205a
4 Lebowitz, S. (2015, October 1). Women are less likely to get promoted. Business Insider. Retrieved March 6, 2017 from http://www.businessinsider.com/women-are-less-likely-to-get-promoted-2015-10