According to reports produced in the past few years*, women make up 12 per cent of the workforce in the construction industry in Canada. The vast majority of these women support Canada’s infrastructure in off-site, office-based roles. In fact, women in the trades who are employed on job sites make up just four per cent of the industry’s total workforce. With this picture in mind, we recognize the complexities surrounding women’s entry into and progression through trades careers. Such complexities range from social perceptions of women in trades careers, to questions about inclusion and belonging in the workplace on site, to the gendered nature of job titles.
These complexities, however, do not stop us from recognizing the positive role that women have played in building Canada’s infrastructure. Today, on International Women’s Day, global, national, and local communities are celebrating the achievements of women around the world and rallying for women’s equality in society. We believe that this annual day of both celebration and reflection is the perfect opportunity to introduce five of our dedicated female tradespeople from Modern Niagara, to share their insights into navigating the construction industry, how they have seen the trades environment evolve, and what they hope to see change in the future.
Farren Medynski is a Sheet Metal Worker at Modern Niagara’s Ottawa, who has been with Modern for five years. Her passion for entering the trades began from a young age with her father, who has been in sheet metal for 35 years.
“I grew up doing little projects around the house, so I knew I wanted to be in the trades from a young age,” said Farren. “I wouldn’t go back and do anything else now that I’m in the industry!”
Farren, who has been with Modern for just over five years, reflected positively on her experience and the work environment she is a part of.
“Modern really does feel like a family, everybody knows one another and everyone gets along, regardless of what trade you are in,” Farren mentioned. “I’m really glad that I work for a company that feels like a family and where no one thinks differently of me.”
Rebecca Houle, a Journeyman Plumber at Modern Niagara Vancouver, entered the trades through a discovery program at British Columbia Institute of Technology. Rebecca also reflected positively on her experience working with Modern, which was the first company she joined after completing her program.
“All my coworkers are great and Modern helps you find a spot, everyone has been very kind and helpful to me,” Rebecca said. “Everyone was willing to let me try things before they jumped in to help and no one’s overly helpful.”
When asked about what positive changes she is witnessing in the industry, with regards to women’s inclusion, Rebecca commented on the growing number of women entering the industry as tradespeople.
“I’m seeing way more women on sites and it’s always more comforting when you have other females on site too,” Rebecca mentioned. “I’m also seeing more young people getting into it as well, which is exciting.”
Shannon Kilgar, a Sheet Metal Journeyman who has been with Modern Niagara Toronto for the last six years, previously worked in health care before entering the trades. She also sees the growing number of women in the construction industry as a positive sign for things to come.
“I started the trades in 2004, and at the time I believe less than three women were part of the Toronto sheet metal local,” Shannon said. “I’m happy to see more women, not just in our trade but in all trades, because for the longest time you wouldn’t come across women on job sites so I like the direction that the industry is going.”
We also spoke to Leanne Peddie, who works at Modern Niagara Alberta as a Journeyman Plumber. Leanne moved to Alberta from her hometown of Halifax after entering the trades through a pipe-fitting program. Although she affirms that her overall experience has been positive, she pointed to the assumptions and stigma around female tradespeople as one of the key barriers facing women in the industry.
“Personally, I find it really hard that some people assume that I can’t do things because I am a woman – that’s really frustrating,” said Leanne. “I would like to see that mindset change because the majority of the time you’re just as fit or just as capable as anyone else so I feel like you can get overlooked in that sense.”
Shenyse Melnyk also works at Modern Niagara Alberta as a Sheet Metal Worker, having joined in August of 2020. She believes that it is important for established tradespeople to support women through mentorship.
“Over time, as more women join the trades, being overlooked will gradually go away,” Shenyse mentioned. “I do wish that there were more people in the industry that would advocate for women and take the initiative to help them attain additional skills and knowledge.”
Shenyse continued by affirming that mentorship is important to help address the stigma around women in the industry as well as help guide newcomers to the trades.
“One of the biggest challenges is finding opportunities to learn new skills,” she said. “I would not be where I am today if I had not met certain journeymen over the years that had made it their goal to take me under their wing and teach me new skills.”
In addition to mentorship and guidance, Farren suggests that a greater emphasis should be placed on programs or supports to encourage women to enter the industry. She is currently undertaking an initiative with her sheet metal union to try and provide benefits specifically for women in the trades.
“I’ve seen more attention being paid to women by the unions and they really do try and promote women in the trades, but there aren’t as many incentives to go into this type of work,” Farren affirmed. “I’m trying to work with the sheet metal union right now to cover maternity benefits for women in our trade.”
When asked what advice she would give to any women thinking about entering the trades, Shannon emphasized the importance of dedication.
“For any women in the trades, especially those new to or thinking of entering the industry, just stick with it,” Shannon said. “I feel like the longer you stay and commit to any career the easier and more enjoyable it’s going to get so strive to complete your apprenticeships because we have every right to be there!”
Shenyse also agrees that hard work and initiative go a long way for those who wish to build a trades career.
“Try and present yourself for new opportunities and take advantage of any chance to learn from people in your trade,” Shenyse said. “Work hard, be reliable and hang in there, just try and be the best worker you can be.”
Leanne also believes in the importance of dedication and perseverance, especially in overcoming the skepticism that women might be faced with when entering the trades.
“A lot of people were even skeptical of me going through my apprenticeship,” Leanne mentioned. “There’s always going to be people that doubt you, but you just have to stick to your guns because if you know that you can do it, then you’ll be able to do it!”
To honour the work of Modern Niagara’s women in construction, we recognize that more work must be done to carve the path for other women and to foster a welcoming, equitable, and inclusive work environment. Today – and every day – we’re happy to have the opportunity to celebrate Farren, Rebecca, Shannon, Leanne, Shenyse, and every other woman’s invaluable contributions to building the spaces where Canadians live, work, learn, play, and heal.
* Source: Build Force Canada. https://www.buildforce.ca/en/women