YWCA Hamilton and Workforce Planning Hamilton partnered to create AdvanceWomenInTrades.com. The website, targeted at employers, was funded by Status of Women Canada and provides resources for recruiting, retaining and advancing women in skilled trades. The project team worked with employers, stakeholders and women in trades to learn about their personal challenges and developed free templates and tools for employers to overcome these challenges. Many employers don’t have policies in place that foster inclusivity and some still have a stereotypical view of women in non-traditional occupations. Much effort is being put into getting women interested in skilled trades, but now the onus is on the employers to retain and advance these women. We sat down with Liz Enriquez, one of the team members to learn a little bit more about the project – and how it could be beneficial to all businesses in the city.
What are some of the key challenges women face in the workplace and what resources or steps are available to overcome them?
People across all industries face challenges in the workplace. This project collected data from over 30 local women in trades and we asked them about their key challenges. The most common issues women face in non-traditional occupations are:
· Lack of respect and confidence from co-workers, management and clients
· Exclusive workplaces (no bathrooms or change rooms for women)
· Sexism and harassment during hiring stages and at work
· Little room for advancement because of high nepotism and favoritism
· Few role models and examples of women in trades
· Fears of going to work because of discrimination, loneliness, and bullying
Through the Building Opportunities: Advancing Women in Non-Traditional Occupations, the team created tools for employers to:
· Understand the struggles and concerns of women in the skilled trades
· Use standard hiring practices
· Outline promotion criteria to make advancement of women and all employees fair
· Download a number of policies that they can implement easily
· Address harassment and assess their workplace culture
Where do you see the greatest opportunity for improvement?
One very important opportunity for improvement is more investment in women’s programs. There is also a need to create inclusive workplaces. Changing the workplace culture to be more welcoming is hard work, which requires the involvement of educational institutions, management and, co-workers. Educational institutions can help to remove the misconceptions youth have where they see skilled trades as low paying, dirty and less academically challenging. There is opportunity for employers to develop hiring practices geared towards improving the representation of women in the skilled trades and to create a more balanced diverse workforce. Employers need to utilize available resources, such as the inclusive policies and practices found in the tool kit, to train their staff to be respectful and accepting of women in the working environment. These steps will help to advance women in the skilled trades.
The website was created for women in skilled trades, but really these issues can arise in any workplace.
Though this website is supporting women in the skilled trades, issues of sexism, nepotism, discrimination and harassment can certainly happen to anyone at any work place. We are focusing on trades because there is a lack of representation of women in skilled trades and we are committed to the advancement of women and to address labour market concerns. As current tradespeople continue to age, workers are needed to replace them; women can fill this gap. YWCA Hamilton and Workforce Planning Hamilton have a long history of supporting women in non-traditional occupations.
How has the project evolved since it started in 2014? What is still left to do?
This project began in 2014 with a grant from Status of Women Canada. The YWCA Hamilton along with Workforce Planning Hamilton hit the ground running. During the early stages, staff worked to find key players for the project. Women were interviewed in focus groups and surveys, stakeholders were approached and research began for the project. In 2015, staff met with employers to ask them about their best practices in hiring and day-to-day operations. The feedback from employers was used to create templates for other work places. The tools were then tested by a new group of employers and reviewed by a group of women in trades as well as stakeholders in various sectors. In 2016, after a few rounds of edits, the resources were uploaded onto the newly created website. The website evolved with input from different parties and currently we are working to attract more employers to use the site and tools.
Can you give an overview of the guest speakers who presented at the launch?
September 13, 2016 was the launch event for the website. We had two excellent speakers who spoke about their experiences as women in the trades. Our first speaker was Amanda Convery, a sheet metal worker and estimator in Hamilton. Amanda has been in the skilled trades for over 13 years. Her father owned an HVAC company in Niagara Falls and she spent time working for him. Amanda taught at Mohawk College to classes of mostly all men and then joined a union as a sheet metal worker. She spoke about her challenges of being in the trades and how all women in the trades need to work extra hard to prove their worth. She encouraged employers to use gender-neutral language to be inclusive and to be accepting of all skilled people.
The second speaker was Karen Neath. Karen is the Director of Canadian Operations for KBC Tools & Machinery. KBC is proud to have their WBE (Women’s Business Enterprise) certification from WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council). Karen reported that KBC Tools & Machinery has never discriminated against sex, race, religion, orientation, tattoos, piercings, or age. They simply look for the best people for the position and hire accordingly. She spoke about their standard hiring practices, and the progressive workplace culture. Karen explained the zero-tolerance policies that KBC abides by and urged other employers to be professional, manage staff properly, welcome change and prepare for resistance.
How do you plan to reach employers in Hamilton and encourage them to use the resources?
Reaching employers in the trades is one of the greatest challenges for this project. We are providing free resources that are tried and tested. The tools are templates that can be downloaded and used at the employer’s discretion. We are tapping into different networks to reach the employers who need assistance to make even small changes. We will visit tradeshows and events where employers will be present and visit work places to introduce these tools. We are also working with partners to get our website link on their websites. Our staff welcomes suggestions and supports to get our tools out there!
Who are some women you look up to personally?
To me, all women are amazing. We are faced with so many systemic challenges and find ways to overcome those barriers. The women I’ve met in this project are all inspirational. They are aware of the blatant challenges and choose to fight the good fight to pave the way for others and to fuel their passion for their trade. Along with these women, my mother is one of the strongest women I know. She paid her way through law school in Mexico and then sacrificed her career to move to Canada and raise 4 children while learning English and adapting to a new country; all for the hopes of a better future. I also admire trailblazers in conservation and sustainability. Some of the women I admire are Wangari Muta Maathai, a Kenyan environmental and political activist, Sylvia Earle, an American marine biologist and explorer, and Elizabeth May, an environmentalist, author, activist, politician and lawyer.
Who has been a big support of the project?
Some of the stakeholders who guided the decisions about the project were representatives from:
SACHA (Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton and Area)
Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, Local 67
Hamilton Industry Education Council
City of Hamilton
Arcelor Mittal Dofasco
CT & G Automotive Specialists
Some of the employers who reviewed the tools and resources were:
City of Hamilton
Arcelor Mittal Dofasco
Threshold School of Building
CT & G Automotive Specialists
During her year and a half working on the project, Liz has has created a Facebook group for women in trades to network and even joined a course at Threshold School of Building to learn the basics of home maintenance.