Amina Dibe / RESCON
There is no question that Ontario construction is still a male-dominated industry. According to Statistics Canada’s 2017 research, only 12.4% of the construction workforce are women. However, the last 10 years has seen more women signing up, whether it’s the residential or ICI sectors – especially among the ranks of construction management.
As March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), we thought it was a vital time to shine the spotlight on three women working for RESCON builder members who are blazing a trail for the whole industry.
They are: Joanne Bin, executive director of Tridel’s BOLT program (Building Opportunities for Life Today); Shari Haltrecht, health and safety manager for all of Tucker Hi-Rise’s projects across the GTA; and Maryam Amin, production coordinator for Great Gulf. Among our questions, we asked them their thoughts and feelings of IWD, whether they are encouraged by the number of women working alongside them and what needs to be improved to make the industry more inclusive for both genders.
Let’s start with Joanne.
JOANNE BIN, TRIDEL / BOLT
International Women's Day is marked around the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Joanne says it’s “an important day to recognize women, what they’ve accomplished and their potential. It’s also a day to identify role models for people like me and other women.”
“I really admire the women in construction.”
She says her female industry role model is Danielle Feidler, senior VP of brand experience for Tridel.
“Danielle is a marketer and she created the whole customer care department at Tridel. She understands the whole company, she understands construction, client needs when they’re buying condominiums, and how to deliver. She was very helpful when I started, and we have developed a wonderful working relationship – we kind of feed off each other.”
Feidler also started BOLT in 2009, coordinating the program before Joanne stepped in as an executive director and an accomplished female leader in her own right, to run it.
Under Joanne's leadership, BOLT has now awarded 240 scholarships to students enrolled in full-time construction-related programs who have demonstrated financial need, helping kickstart careers. Most of them are men.
But there are things that can be improved to get more women in the trades, Joanne says: “The trades are very hard for women. It’s fine if they’re young and if they don’t have families.” But Joanne says she knows a woman with a child at home who is a plumber, “and the same problems present themselves for her as for many other professionals.”
“We need more government intervention and help for single moms who want to get into the trades for transportation and daycare.”
Aside from that, Joanne says that seeing more women taking on senior leadership roles would be a big step in the right direction for the industry as well.
“I think it’s recognizing women and their potential. “Women bring so much value: they are multi-taskers and they can do so much. We don’t have enough women in senior roles but that is starting to change.”
Joanne adds that things are changing at other levels. “When I first started there were no women in project management – now we have seven working on 24 (Tridel) sites. That’s an improvement. We have a lot of women in customer care, many of them have worked their way to management through the design services side and where they provide technical expertise that informs our suite finishes and design experience programs. Similarly, on the construction site there are a number of women who have moved into quality assurance and work directly with construction as PDI inspectors to ensure Tridel’s high performance standards are met.
“For these women, to be trailblazers, they can set goals for other women, be role models and show that they can succeed in the industry.”
SHARI HALTRECHT, TUCKER HIRISE
When asked about International Women’s Day, Shari pokes a hole in the concept.
“Why do we need an International Women’s Day; we don’t have an International Men’s Day? That concept alone illustrates the gender inequality.”
However, on women’s participation levels in construction, she says she has seen a lot of growth as she has moved up the career ladder: “There are definitely more women in it than when I started 19 years ago.”
With her first construction job with Verdiroc, she was the only woman on the construction side while there were a few others in marketing and accounting. Shortly after being hired by Tucker in a project management role, there were only two women on the construction side; then she became finishing site super (there were a few more women at this stage).
“Then I became health and safety manager. And now there are 15-20 women on the sites across the region on our nine-plus (Tucker) sites, including designers, engineers and other consultants.
“I never used to see women in the trades but now you’ll see more women on the tools – drywall, forming companies, carpentry, painting – pretty much everything – one to two on most job sites.
“And if you look around the table at the health and safety committee at RESCON, we’re at almost 50 per cent.
So is this enough?
“It’s never enough. We should be 100 per cent women,” she says jokingly with a laugh. Like Joanne, Shari would like to see more women in the senior executive and supervisor roles, and wants other companies to be more progressive for work-life balance.
“Typically we are still mothers and caregivers, and we require that balance in order to take care of everybody at home. We need the understanding of companies regarding that balance,” says the mother of two young boys.
“I think we need to challenge ourselves more than men do. You need to earn the respect, but the acceptance is there if you know your stuff.
“We have a few female site supers and project managers. I’d like to think that gender doesn’t enter anyone’s mind. It feels relatively seamless at Tucker.
“Women bring a different eye and perspective to the table. There are a lot of female finishing supers because their attention to detail is a bit different than a man’s eye.”
“The sites form their own cultures and cliques; the people within the sites are connected to each other. Women bring a different element to the mix, a different feel to the industry than what it was 20 years ago as a boy’s club. It’s more professional now but it’s still fun.
“I’d say it’s changing for the better. Absolutely.”
MARAYAM AMIN, GREAT GULF
(Maryam is shown on the right in this photo; this story's author, Amina Dibe, is on the left.)
“In Canada, every day is women’s day, not just one day,” says Maryam, a native of Afghanistan and production coordinator at Great Gulf’s head office in Scarborough. “We have the freedom to obtain an education, we have every right. If you’re capable in your skills, you will get a job.”
Maryam says her female inspiration in construction was her first supervisor, Lisa Belo. “She really helped me from Day 1. When I was in school we didn’t have a lot of women; when I entered my first job, the project supervisor at the time was Lisa. That helped me a lot.”
Maryam graduated from the RESCON / George Brown College construction management program in 2015, impressing her instructors and her superiors within Great Gulf as an intern.
She was hired as a site administrative clerk that year, working in King City, Brampton and Bradford, and has moved up to production coordinator last year.
“Now, I’m planning for every site, facilitate all production meetings and looking after their safety meetings; now looking after seven other projects to make sure they’re on time and make sure they’re organized accordingly.
“You have to think on your feet at all times, be extremely organized, and have computer and writing skills.”
Maryam says she is excited to see room for growth at Great Gulf and is encouraged by the number of women in the organization. “One of my tasks is searching for potential employees. We look at their qualifications and skills: we never look at their gender.”
She’s pursuing a business administration degree through Yorkville University in New Brunswick to further her career, and already has her sites set on the next goal.
“I’d like to be a project manager of construction – there is room to grow and I’m definitely willing to put in the effort to grow.”
Since 2015, Maryam says the number of female employees at Great Gulf on construction sites increased by 75 per cent – including finishing supervisors and site administrators.
“They hire based on skills rather than gender. We can see that women are capable of any job.”
Our thanks to Joanne, Shari and Maryam for sharing their stories and to Tridel, Tucker and Great Gulf for being valued association members.
Amina Dibe is the Program and Policy Analyst for RESCON with a focus on training and education, government relations and expanding opportunities for women in the trades. Email her at email@example.com.