Women in Construction

Pursuing DEI summit shares insights on building workforces that reflect the rich tapestry of Canada’s talent


July 5, 2024
By Adam Freill
Presented by:
Electrical Business Magazine

July 2024 – Attracting and retaining more workers from under-represented populations to fill the thousands upon thousands of jobs currently available in Canada’s construction sector, and the even more that will open in the coming years, is a strategy that can only benefit the industry.

To help put a spotlight on the labour needs of the industry and provide some practical advice about attracting and retaining workers from equity deserving groups, Onsite, HPAC, and Electrical Business magazines, hosted the Pursuing DEI virtual summit in April.

Sponsored by Procore Technologies, Jacques Cartier + Champlain Bridges, Electricity Human Resources Canada, and EMCO Corp., the summit opened with a keynote address by Rubiena Duarte, vice-president of global diversity and inclusion at Procore, and was rounded out with a series of panel discussions exploring diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) with the aim of helping construction leaders become an Employer of Choice in an industry that welcomes all.

“Last year, it was reported that Canadian construction companies missed out on $9.6 billion in revenue opportunities because of the labour shortage,” said Duarte.
Given the massive number of job openings, she explained that companies need to think about how to entice the next generation of workers to the industry, including Gen Zs, as well as new Canadians, women, Indigenous communities, and other equity deserving groups that are underrepresented on jobsites.

Becoming self-aware about bias

Rubiena Duarte, Vice-President, Global Diversity and Inclusion, Procore Technologies. CLICK TO WATCH on our YouTube Channel.

Contributing to the low levels of diversity in the industry’s labour pool, where women represent only 5% of the onsite workforce, are unconscious biases. Duarte outlined several kinds of these, explaining that “it really refers to assumptions, stereotypes and reactions about a person, or group of people that are formed by our experiences, our upbringing and societal influences”.

The ability to recognize when unconscious bias is being detrimental opens us up to exploring new ideas and ways of conducting business, she explained. “The main thing with unconscious bias is being self-aware.”

She explained that being self-aware and catching ourselves when a subconscious bias kicks in allows us to assess: “Why am I doing that? And how might I need to shift my thinking?” adding, “When we ignore some of those biases, when they exist, it really becomes detrimental to people and cultures”.

For an industry in need of more workers, these biases can cause talent pools to be ignored, dismissed, or overlooked.

“Studies have shown that applicants with similar resumes and experience are 50% more likely to be contacted if they had a white-sounding name, versus somebody of an ethnicity or with a black-sounding name,” she explained.

Building a culture

Kenny Leon, Vice-President, Canadian Construction Association; Brandi Ferenc, RSE, Founder, Fair-Trades Toolbox; Graeme Aitken, Executive Director, Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario; Luanne Whitecrow, Director, Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) Program, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business; Maraika De Groot, Director of Corporate Services, Maven Consulting Limited. CLICK TO WATCH on our YouTube Channel.

“It’s inclusivity that actually matters, especially in this era where we are actually having a shortage of workers in the industry,” said Kenny Leon, vice-president of the Canadian Construction Association, and moderator of the “Building and maintaining your culture of inclusion” panel discussion.

“We need a set of company expectations to take this forward. We need to communicate those expectations. And we also need to be ready to enforce the rules of our roads if we are going to be viewed as progressive employers who value all workers,” he explained.

That discussion, which featured Brandi Ferenc, founder of Fair-Trades Toolbox, Graeme Aitken, executive director of the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario, Maraika De Groot, director of corporate services with Maven Consulting Limited, and Luanne Whitecrow, director of the Progressive Aboriginal Relations Program with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, outlined some of what inclusive culture is, what it is not, and how it can impact a workforce.

“Inclusive culture doesn’t mean everyone is given a pair of work boots,” said Ferenc. “It means everyone gets a pair of work boots that fit and the ones that they want.”

“It’s all about creating an environment where there’s a safe space for your groups or your employees to participate safely,” added Whitecrow.

There is no single recipe to build that environment but, for De Groot, being self-aware—both individually and as a company—factor into developing policies and practices that lead to a healthy corporate culture that works for everyone in the company.

“It’s allowing each person to not just be in the workplace, but to shine,” she said. “How do you create those shared behaviors together? That’s what building the culture is.”

Policy cannot be a one-and-done effort, and the establishment of a DEI committee is not a guarantee of success. As Aitken put it, “A committee is not enough, unless you simply want to check a box”.

“It is critical—when you’re looking at creating a cultural shift inside an organization—to set that policy commitment, that strategy, along with the work plans, for long-term commitment,” explained Whitecrow. “Is having a committee enough? No. It’s all about getting executive leadership buy-in and reflecting on the intent in developing an inclusive culture for the long term.”

Part of the long-term plan can, and likely should, include affinity groups, as well as allies.

“20 years ago, we didn’t have social media and my affinity group was one other woman that was working in the trades,” said Ferenc. “And without that, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

Ferenc added it is absolutely critical to have affinity groups “to help get people past barriers, to help support them through those little bumps in the road, because they are going to happen”.

The willingness to develop and support these groups falls to management. “I don’t always think we spend enough time focused on what great management looks like,” said De Groot. “I often hear from newcomers to Canada that it’s patience in the workplace while you’re learning new skills that’s really important.”

Attracting new audiences

Martin Luymes, Vice-President, Government & Stakeholder Relations, Heating, Refrigeration & Air-Conditioning Institute of Canada; Bill Ferreira, Executive Director, BuildForce Canada; Kim Rutherford, Director, Vendor Relations, Emco Corporation; Viktoriya Syromyatova, Director, Procurement (North America), Boralex Inc.; Craig Swanberg, RSE, Workforce Manager, PCL Construction. CLICK TO WATCH on our YouTube Channel.

A focus on building an inclusive industry and inclusive companies is critical to recruiting new talent for all sectors of the construction and trades related industry, explained Martin Luymes of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada. Luymes moderated a panel discussing recruitment and how DEI factors into attracting the best talent from underrepresented groups to the trades.

That session featured Bill Ferreira of BuildForce Canada, Kim Rutherford from Emco Corporation, Viktoriya Syromyatova of Boralex, and Craig Swanberg from PCL Construction.

“Employment demand is growing dramatically,” explained Ferreira. “We estimate that we’re going to need about 88,000 additional workers over the next 10 years just to keep pace… When we factor in the retirement of 263,000 individuals during that period, the industry is going to need to hire about 350,000 individuals.”

And Ferreira said that figure is likely on the low side as net-zero retrofits, increases in homebuilding targets, and government funding of infrastructure and ICI projects are not fully factored in. “Unless we can increase recruitment dramatically, we’re still going to be short about 85,000 individuals by 2033,” he said.

To fill this need, human resources teams and hiring organizations will need to broaden their search parameters.

“When partnering with a recruiting organization, I like to look at what their commitment is to diversity and inclusion,” said Rutherford. “What are they doing to be an accessible and equitable organization, casting a wide enough net that we’re getting the best possible candidate—not just for my industry—but broadly throughout the community, so that we represent the community we serve?”

“I don’t think that there’s a lot of people that are scrolling through pages and pages of job ads just waiting to see that we’re an inclusive employer,” added Swanberg. “It’s about getting in front of people and messaging to them that this is an industry that’s for you. This is a place that that you belong, and you can be your authentic self.”

While DEI efforts in hiring have generated some gains within certain groups, including attracting more women to the construction sector, much more needs to be done.

“Where we haven’t been seeing significant progress has really been in newcomers,” said Ferreira. “We’ve actually been seeing that number slightly declining when we look at the overall number of newcomers involved in the trades. That’s an area that, in part, needs to be corrected through policy changes.”

Becoming an employer of choice

Michelle Branigan, CEO, Electricity Human Resources Canada; Lindsay Janca, Global Director, Public Relations, Hatch; Meg Mathes, RSE, Senior Manager, Diversity Equity & Inclusion, Modern Niagara; Elaine Carelse, Senior Manager, People and Culture, Orion Construction. CLICK TO WATCH on our YouTube Channel.

The final panel of the event, moderated by Michelle Branigan of Electricity Human Resources Canada, focused on becoming an employer of choice through the application of DEI-driven policies and principles. Panel members Meg Mathes of Modern Niagara, Elaine Carelse of Orion Construction, and Lindsay Janca from Hatch, shared insights about what jobseekers want from their employers.

The panelists emphasized the need for organizations to take ownership of creating inclusive workplaces, avoiding labelling and stereotyping underrepresented groups, and using practical actions (e.g. using correct pronouns) to promote diversity and inclusion.

DEI should be a process-oriented approach, emphasizing the importance of open communication, measurable metrics, and regular check-ins to ensure everyone feels heard and valued in the workplace.

“[Jobseekers are] looking at employers’ annual reports, your senior leadership team, and if they don’t see themselves represented there, that’s going to make a difference to your ability to attract and retain,” stated Branigan. “Organizations that can build truly inclusive workplaces are going to have the edge when it comes to both the recruitment and retention of that workforce, and really position themselves as employers of choice.”


Adam Freill is the editor of Onsite Magazine, a member of Annex Business Media’s Construction Group, which includes Electrical Business and HPAC magazines.