Because it's still uncommon to see many women working in construction in the Northeast, a new advocacy group in Sudbury wants those who do to know they're not alone.
Formed a little more than a year ago, Women in Construction is a committee of the Northeastern Ontario Construction Association (NOCA), which has been around since the late 1940s.
Created by women for women, the committee is composed of 15 volunteer members who bring a range of skills and experience to the table — from human resources professionals to health and safety experts to sales representatives to recruiters, they've all found a place in the sector.
“By uniting our voices, knowledge, resources and passions, we strive to support, educate and mentor women in all aspects of the construction industry and trades,” reads the committee's mission statement.
Joan Strawn, who came on as the committee's chair in December, said women continue to face challenges when entering the industry, and yet training more women for construction jobs could help address the ongoing skilled worker shortage, in the region, across the province, and nationwide.
"Women are really an untapped market, and for a variety of reasons: (it's been known as a) boys’ club, but also PPE (personal protective equipment) and tools are not designed for women,” said Strawn, the health and safety coordinator for Damisona Roofing Ltd., a Sudbury-area contractor specializing in the commercial, industrial and institutional (ICI) sector.
“That's really starting to change. We're starting to see a lot more PPE designed specifically for female bodies, and tools, and there's that awareness now, so it's actually making the trades more accessible for women to get into.”
With that in mind, last year the group launched a bursary for women going into postsecondary programming related to the construction sector, with $4,000 up for grabs for the successful applicants.
To be eligible, candidates had to live and be attending school in northeastern Ontario.
Strawn said the committee received a wide diversity of applicants, but in the end decided to award the bursary to two, both of whom were studying at Cambrian College in Sudbury.
“It was hard to pick one,” she said. “It was so hard, because they all deserved it, so we picked two.”
This year, the committee is hopeful of expanding its bursary program, but it also introduced a new Women in Construction Award during its annual general meeting, which was held on April 27.
The application process closed in late March, and Strawn said the committee was pleased to get seven nominations right out of the gate. They were equally impressed with the quality of the nominees, which ranged from experienced, long-term tradespeople to fresh-to-the-field newbies.
“Some had been in the industry for over 20 years, and some employers were just so impressed with a newer employee's contributions to the company that they felt compelled to nominate them as well, and that they deserved an award,” Strawn said.
“And so it was great to see that we got such a variety; I wasn’t expecting that.”
The committee does other advocacy throughout the year.
During Women in Construction Week, observed in March, women members were profiled in the association’s newsletter, which is sent out to its membership, to highlight the array of work they do.
This fall, representatives will, for the second consecutive year, participate in Jill of All Trades at Cambrian College, an annual day-long event with activities geared toward educating girls and young women about the career opportunities available in the trades.
As the fledgling committee evolves, Strawn said other projects are in the pipeline, and she’d like to see some tradeswomen seated at the table, which would help complement the breadth of administrative experience represented in the group.
“It's such an important thing that we're trying to do, to support other women…,” she said. “Just to know that we're all here, that we exist, and we're contributing.”