Reflections on Recruiting and Retaining More Women in “Non-Traditional” Occupations

On Tuesday, March 25, 2014, CFUW participated in a forum on Best Practices for Supporting Women in Non-Traditional Sectors, which involved an array of speakers and organizations sharing their programs and initiatives to engage women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and trades (STET). The forum was held by Status of Women Canada and the Labour Program of Employment and Social Development Canada.

Speakers included:

  • Zoe Yujnovich, the first female Chair of the Mining Association of Canada
  • Chanel Grenaway, Director of Economic Development Programs at the Canadian Women’s Foundation
  • Marie Dumontier, Forestry Products Association of Canada
  • Jane Wilson, Director of Women Services and Resource Development at Microskills Development Centre
  • Sheelagh Lawrance, Manager of Community Investment at Hydro One
  • Dr. Catherine Mavriplis, NSERC/Pratt & Whitney Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering
  • Dr. Maragret-Ann Armour, President of the Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology
  • Lally Rementilla, Information Technology Association of Canada
  • Vanessa Anastasopoulos and Nimita Wadhwa, Canadian Space Agency
  • Heather Ednie, Women in Mining Canada
  • Kelly Lamontagne, Temiskaming Native Women’s Support Group, Aboriginal Women in Mining Program
  • Tracy O’Hearn, Executive Director of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada
  • Sarah Roach-Lewis, Executive Director of Women’s Network PEI
  • Brenda Gilmore, Program Manager for the School of Trades and Apprenticeships at Conestoga College

Some speakers lamented the slow progress that has been made in recruiting and retaining more women in STET fields over the last few decades; women still represent less than 25% of professionals on average, and even fewer women hold leadership positions, particularly at the board level. In some industries, such as mining and forestry, women’s participation is as low as 16% and 15% percent.

Many remarked that bringing more women into these fields would be a “competitive advantage” for companies, and help address current skilled labour shortages particularly in fast growing industries. A few speakers commented on the need for companies to set measurable targets and integrate diversity initiatives, including gender, into their strategic plans. Buy-in from leadership at the highest levels they said, is very important to success.

Some speakers also spoke about the fact that even though girls are doing well in sciences and math at the high school level, many are not choosing to continue their education in those fields. According to one speaker, the transition between high school and post-secondary education needs to be a focal point, and some of the panelists spoke about the need to change the “image” of industries in general, by demonstrating the social value/usefulness of STET careers to girls and women.

Others commented on how developing programs specifically for women, particularly living on low-incomes, can have a positive impact on their economic security, the caveat being, that support is required for 3-5 years to help women transition, and long term funding is hard to come by.

There was some, but little discussion about the subtle and overt biases that women experience in some of these industries, including negative career and gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, and lack of flexible work options that can lead to workplace cultures that are not inclusive of women and hamper their participation in these fields.

In 2012, CFUW’s membership supported a policy resolution urging the Government of Canada to take a leadership role to remedy women’s underrepresentation in “non-traditional” occupations by working in partnership with provincial and territorial governments, along with business, labour, and industry stakeholders to develop and implement a national strategy that seeks to create workplace cultures that are inclusive of women and addresses the barriers to their successful entry and advancement in the skilled trades and other non-traditional occupations. We believe that a national strategy should include, but not be limited to:

  • Identifying and providing the necessary supports to encourage women to enter and remain in non-traditional fields throughout their education, training and careers;
  • Encouraging behavioural/cultural change within workplaces, driven by industry leaders including trade and business associations;
  • Encouraging all employers to review their HR policies to identify and address any systemic barriers to the employment and retention of women, including altering workplace policies, if necessary, to create more inclusive, welcoming environments (e.g. ensuring “family friendly” and pay equity policies are in place);
  • Encouraging educational institutions and related stakeholders to identify and address barriers for girls and women in non-traditional fields of study;
  • Developing mechanisms to support the implementation of these policies; and
  • Providing sustainable funding to ensure implementation.

The lack of affordable child care across most of the country is also a barrier to women’s participation in all industries, but particularly many of these “non-traditional” sectors and fields, where work schedules can deviate from the norm. CFUW has long supported the need for a nationally regulated, affordable, child care program, which we believe would also help support women’s participation in non-traditional sectors.

What can you do? CFUW has resources on our website to help you get in touch with elected representatives at the federal and provincial level to urge them to enact a national strategy to recruit and retain more women in skilled trades and non-traditional occupations.

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