Historically, the construction industry is known for its male-dominated presence. Statistics published by the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) reveal that women in construction make up 14 per cent of the overall workforce, and 5 per cent in the skilled trades. The existing gender disparities have brought to the forefront inequities as well as barriers facing women. One prevailing barrier is the negative perception of women in construction. This is why we are determined to share the stories of women who have had an impact on the trades and on the construction industry in general.
Each year, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias and it focuses on raising awareness about the inequities facing women, challenging the existing bias, and celebrating women’s achievements. At Modern Niagara, we proudly recognize the role and accomplishments of the women on our team. For this year’s International Women’s Day, we hope to highlight some of the incredibly talented women who contribute to building Canada’s infrastructure. Regardless of their skillset and areas of expertise, we have taken the opportunity to learn about their experiences and gain insights about their outlook for the future.
Kelly-Sun Maisonneuve is an Estimator that joined Modern Niagara in 2012. Her love for the trades developed at an early age with influence from family members who worked in construction. “My family – my father, brothers, grandfather, uncles and cousins – always talked, reminisced on their time in the field every family dinner. I wanted a career that I could be proud of and share with my family, just like they did,” said Kelly-Sun.
Attributing her personal growth and development to construction, Kelly-Sun acknowledged that while she finds a career in construction rewarding, there are challenges associated. “Construction is a wonderful and challenging career, which will bring you growth, independence, knowledge, strength, and so much more. It forged me into the woman that I am today,” Kelly-Sun affirmed.
Jennifer Parrott began working with Modern Niagara in 2021 as a Project Coordinator. “In the year that I’ve been with Modern, I find it refreshing to see women in leadership roles, mentorship programs for women in the field, and fellow women coworkers that are an inspiration to me.” Jennifer said.
Witnessing both her parents having successful careers in construction, Jennifer felt motivated to choose a similar path for her future. “I grew up with both my parents working in construction and seeing my mom work in framing has been an inspiration for me; she showed me that women have their place in the construction world,” Jennifer further explained.
Despite the challenges, Jennifer remains optimistic about the future of women in construction. “My hope for the future is that we can let go of stereotypes that come with being a woman in construction and any double standards that we hold with these roles. I hope that one day women don’t have to second guess choosing a career in construction or worry about how they will be treated; that you don’t have to be “thick-skinned” or “one of the guys” to be able to be accepted,” Jennifer affirmed.
Jessica Burkley, a Sheet Metal Apprentice who joined Modern Niagara in 2021 felt empowered to join the trades due to her fearless mindset. “What motivated me to take a job in the trades was the need to be different. I’m the kind of woman that likes to make a statement and I wanted to show everyone that anyone can do anything they set their mind to,” Jessica explained.
When it comes to the barriers facing women in construction, Jessica strongly believes that these obstacles are not insurmountable. “Women are a small minority in a mostly male-dominated industry, and I’d love to see that number increase greatly in the years to come,” Jessica said. “I hope to set an example for all women and show them that we can make it in this industry, be successful at it, and be accepted. We can do it and we deserve to be there just as much as the next person.”
Raneem Shammas is a Sustainability Specialist with a background in mechanical engineering. She discovered her passion for construction during her early childhood years. “I’ve always been a fan of putting things together and tearing systems apart to understand how they work. Once I learned more about construction and the creation of systems to improve ways of life, I was sold and soon set myself on the path towards a career in construction,” explained Raneem.
Raneem’s hope is that the idea of women in construction is not met with skepticism or shock but rather a sense of normalcy. “The construction industry is moving in a great direction where there is more inclusion and diversity than in previous years,” Raneem said. “Understanding that just because “this is how we’ve always done things” doesn’t mean this is how we should always do things. The industry needs to keep aiming to better itself and continually be on the lookout for opportunities for improvement to create a more diverse and inclusive atmosphere.”
Construction Manager Neda Safaeian joined Modern Niagara in 2017. Neda was intrinsically motivated to pursue a career in construction by her passion for taking on challenges and the ability to constantly evolve. “I have seen a tremendous change in the industry since I have joined 5 years ago,” Neda mentioned.
As more and more women consider entering the field, Neda’s advice is for them to follow their passion. “Regardless of your gender do what you’re interested in and what you have passion for,” Neda asserted. “When you’re facing a problem, focus on possibilities and not the problems and issues.”
For Third Year Welder Alysha Mclean, she aspired for more than what her minimum wage job at the time could offer and saw construction as a viable path. “I started out working at dead end jobs, not really happy with what I was doing,” said Alysha. “My motivation was being able to provide for my family and give them the best life I can give them.”
Through her dedication and hard work, Alysha hopes to inspire other women as well as be an example to her children. “The thing I’m most proud of is paving a way for women to be more comfortable in trades. Also showing my children that with hard work and dedication they can be anything they want in this world.”
Meet Julie MacMillan, a Sheet Metal Apprentice that has been working with Modern Niagara since 2015. After completing her studies to become a medical office administrator and working in a doctor’s office, Julie soon came to the realization that she desired a more challenging career. “I wanted to work with my hands, so I was encouraged to give it a go by my brother who is also in the trades,” revealed Julie.
Faced with the challenges of being a woman in construction, Julie has never doubted her abilities and demonstrates her competencies in the trades. “There are many disadvantages of being a woman in construction, but it hasn’t stopped me,” Julie affirmed. “I am most proud of the fact that I am very capable of conquering most challenges thrown my way.”
Laura Milsom, Director of People and Culture, first joined Modern Niagara in 2017 in a part-time capacity and was able to quickly transition to a full-time role. “I didn’t actually pick a career in construction, but rather I picked a career at Modern. I was introduced to strong, unflinching leadership, bold decision-making, and a culture of both action and caring,” affirmed Laura.
Her advice for new professionals entering the industry is to never shy away from asking questions. “Stay curious. Ask questions. Bring your perspective, your learning, and your own life experiences and contribute those to the conversation,” said Laura.
Recognizing that while the construction industry has achieved significant milestones, Laura acknowledged that there’s still more work needed. “My hope is that we can continue our work to be an industry welcoming of all types of employees. That every talented skilled person brimming with potential can look at construction and see examples of themselves in positions of success.”
Whether based in the field or in the office, women continue to make invaluable contributions to the construction industry and play a critical role in helping to drive change. At Modern Niagara, we recognize the barriers facing women and are committed to fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment as we continue to build the spaces where our communities live, learn, work, and heal.