Women in Construction

Women made small gains on job sites in 2019, but remain heavily outnumbered throughout construction

March 6, 2020
By David Kennedy Avatar photo
Presented by:
On-Site Magazine

Though well represented in administrative roles, women remain heavily outnumbered on jobs sites. PHOTO: Getty Images/Stocknroll

Women in construction made significant strides in 2019, particularly in one of the areas they have been most underrepresented traditionally — job sites themselves — but still accounted for little more than 13 per cent of the industry’s total workforce last year.

191,700 women were working in construction in Canada in 2019, up about 5,400 from a year earlier, according to the latest labour figures released by BuildForce Canada. The number of men on the construction payroll, meanwhile, topped 1.25 million, the research organization said last month.

The long-running disparity continues to cause a range of problems for the industry, but has been gradually improving in recent years. In 2017, the representation of women in construction broke through a long-standing 12 per cent ceiling and a year later cracked 13 per cent. In 2019, the figure sits at 13.3 per cent of the overall construction workforce.

After 30 years of stagnation, the trend is heading in the right direction.

Some of the biggest gains have been on work sites — locations where female workers have traditionally been in particularly short supply. In 2019, the number of women working directly on construction projects increased to 4.7 per cent, up considerably from 3.8 per cent a year earlier.

Regional divisions remain pronounced, however. Tradeswomen make up more than six per cent of on-site staff in Alberta and B.C., but that figure drops considerably moving east. Quebec and New Brunswick trailed in 2019 at around three per cent.

When it comes to administrative positions and other off-site roles, female workers are much better represented, BuildForce’s data shows. Women were employed in 139,900, or 41 per cent, of the total 340,000 off-site Canadian construction jobs 2019.

Though women remain heavily outnumbered across the industry, the momentum toward higher representation is expected to continue. Governments, industry and trades groups and companies themselves continue to place growing emphasis on recruitment and retention. The intensifying labour crunch — the industry is expected to need to attract 307,000 new recruits over the next decade — also presents an opportunity for women entering the workforce.

“By redefining gender roles and connecting young women to inspiring female skilled professionals, we work towards debunking misconceptions about the skilled professions being unsuitable to women,” Ian Howcroft, CEO of Skills Ontario, said in a release ahead of this year’s International Women’s Day.

Skills Ontario and its counterparts in other provinces are among the long list of groups focused on making more young women strongly consider a career in construction or other skilled trades.