October marks the annual Women’s History Month celebration in Canada. The theme of this year’s celebration, #BecauseOfYou, focuses on the lasting impact that women have made, and continue to make, on this country. This month of celebration provides the perfect opportunity for us to introduce Miriam Jordi, one of our many dedicated and talented tradespeople at Modern Niagara, who shared with us her story and experiences as a woman in the construction industry. Miriam is a Red Seal Journeyman Sheet Metal Worker from Alberta, who has worked at Modern Niagara’s Calgary office since September of 2019. Her journey into the industry began when she entered a six-month training program for women in the trades.
“I didn’t get into the industry until I was 31 when I was recruited by a ‘Women in Trades’ program, along with 17 other women,” Miriam said. “It helped us understand what we would be up against and it gave us proper communications skills for what we would be facing.”
Although Miriam had a connection to the industry since she was a child, the opportunity to work in the trades had never been something that she was encouraged to pursue.
“My dad owned a construction company and I have been around construction all my life, but I didn’t really know that this was an option, said Miriam. “When I graduated in 1996, it wasn’t really offered or encouraged.”
Following the skills program, Miriam began her apprenticeship in 2012, and eventually became a journeyman in 2017 after five years of work with a construction company in Calgary. Although she spoke positively of her time during her apprenticeship, her experience was not free of challenges or difficulty.
“I had a great apprenticeship, I learned a lot of things and I had a lot of really good help,” Miriam mentioned. “That being said, when I started in the construction industry, you definitely needed to have a thick skin; many of the male journeymen wanted us to be there, but they wanted us to be just like the men.”
Miriam eventually joined Modern in 2019 and has been working mainly on the Calgary Cancer Centre project ever since. Miriam discovered Modern in her search for a company that had more respect built into its corporate culture.
“I gravitated towards Modern because I really liked what they stood for, especially their five core values, and I hadn’t seen anything like that in a construction company,” said Miriam. Miriam has greatly enjoyed her experience with Modern so far and reflected that her initial perception of Modern’s culture has been proven true by her experience working on our projects.
“As soon as I arrived at the Cancer Centre site, my foreman went out of his way to make sure that I had what I needed to be safe, including properly sized gloves and the best fitting safety harness I ever had,” Miriam said. “That is one of the reasons why I looked at this company in the first place because I thought that the work culture would be more inclusive.”
In addition to her work at Modern Niagara, Miriam also created and launched a Facebook group on her own time for both new and experienced women in the trades to share their experiences and advice with one another.
“Last October I launched a Facebook group called ‘Alberta Women in Trades,’ and that group has grown this year to around 1,200 members,” Miriam commented. “This private group is a safe space for women to network and mentor each other, as well as talk about all the things that are unique to this experience.”
Miriam was inspired to create this group after travelling to British Columbia for work and finding that there was already an online group for women in the province’s construction industry. According to Miriam, one of the main successes of the Facebook group is that it has created a space where women in the trades, both newcomers and veterans, can share advice and mentor one another.
“To me that’s the biggest thing that I am focused on, because I have wanted to have a group around me where I could reach out to and get pointers or advice from someone, so this is something that I’m very happy about,” Miriam said. Also, Miriam acknowledges that the industry has made some important changes in recent years, something she believes is largely due to the efforts and the growing presence of women in construction jobs.
“Nowadays, we definitely have come a long way since we started,” Miriam mentioned. “There is way more tolerance and respect now than when I first started, and I think this has a lot to do with the past effort of all these women in the trades to make this environment a better place for us.”
Miriam recognizes that having a strong culture of respect is crucial for a company to support its female workforce, especially for those who are new to the business.
“Women might be coming into the industry a little nervous and intimidated, so it really is helpful when there is respect built into the company that you work for so that if something bad happens you can turn around and call someone or talk to somebody about it so that changes are made.”
Furthermore, the lack of encouragement for women to consider working in the trades is something that Miriam experienced in her younger years and an area that she believes is important to address.
“My philosophy is that if you can see it, you can be it,” Miriam mentioned. “I work a lot with women in trades now and my whole philosophy has been let’s get the message out there that this is a really good job option.”
In addition, Miriam believes the importance of visibility extends beyond encouraging the trades as a possibility for women. She suggests that having more female employees in the field and increasing the interaction with male co-workers is a simple but important factor in improving the experience of women in the construction industry.
“Just like women need to see more of this career path and these jobs to believe that they can be a tradesperson, men also need to see more of the women in the industry,” said Miriam. “The more women they get to work with and have positive experiences with, the less of an issue we have as a whole.”
With the changing of culture and attitudes she has witnessed during her career in the trades, Miriam continues to have a positive outlook on the future of the industry.
“Changes have occurred in the last five years and a lot more effort is being made to ensure that these women have what they need to be successful in this field,” Miriam said. “I think that once the number of women in the trades grows, the changes will happen quicker and more naturally.”