Rock to Road

Uncategorized Columns In-Depth
Women in Construction: Creating a better environment


March 5, 2020
By Laura Hutt

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Laura has been in site management for building construction for the last five years.

It’s no secret that skilled tradespeople are in high demand. Within the next five to 10 years, we will see a major overhaul in what our workforce looks like; it’s already started for a lot of companies. The baby boomer generation is readying themselves to retire, and the people coming in to replace them will be a new and more diverse workforce. This workforce has different needs and wants than the generations before them.

So, what does this mean exactly? That golf and beer are off the table? No. That’s not what it means at all; however, it does mean integrating new technology and extra-curricular activities into your company.

This generation is big on work-life balance, open dialect, respect for one another, and meaningful work. But, let’s talk about open dialect. That’s a tough one. How can we create an environment in which everyone feels they can talk about things that happen, be open about their career growth, and show what they can do for the company? How do we reach a level within our companies where people feel comfortable bringing forward new ideas, discussing new technological innovations, and having difficult conversations?

Being a woman on the jobsite, and one out of five women in a 200-plus person job site, has given me a good perspective on things that we can simply do better at. Having an atmosphere where people can be open about what is, and isn’t OK, without everyone pointing fingers at each other, can help make for a more cohesive job site. Here are four things that we can do together to help create a welcoming atmosphere:

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We’re Tough – We appreciate the effort you go to be “nicer” to us, but it’s not necessary. There’s no need to walk on eggshells around us. Believe it or not, we’re pretty tough.

This seems like a no brainer, but there’s a lot of instances where people will change their topic of conversation, and feel like they need to change their day-to-day dialect when a woman is around. You don’t need to apologize for swearing. You don’t need to tone it down for us. If something is offside and makes us uncomfortable, we will let you know. Treat us like you would any guy walking on to the jobsite. When you don’t, it can lead to us feeling singled out, or left out, which makes for a tough working environment.

Ladies Speak Up – Ladies, this one’s for you! If something makes you uncomfortable, you have to say something.

If you don’t, nobody will know, and the behaviour that makes you uncomfortable will continue. If you’re not comfortable talking with the person directly, speak to your direct supervisor or a co-worker you trust. It’s not OK to feel uncomfortable at work, and you should know that there’s always someone to talk to.

Employers Please Listen – Take it seriously if an employee tells you something happened that made them uncomfortable. Address the issue head on.

I’ve heard of and experienced situations that were brushed off and never talked about again. I can tell you, it makes an employee feel like they’re on the bottom of the barrel. Whether you think it’s rubbish or not, take the time to listen, and then talk to the people involved. It may stir up some things, but it’s better than having an employee leave with a bad taste in their mouth because you brushed them off and didn’t do anything. Addressing the situation head on can show the employee that you’re serious, and lets everyone know the level of professionalism you’re expecting of your company. Company culture starts from the top.

Don’t Take it Personal – Don’t take it personally if someone tells you something you’ve said makes them uncomfortable.

If they’re telling you directly, chances are they trust and respect you. They’re not going after you; they just don’t want to talk about that, or like that, with you.

Pretty basic, eh! I know I’ve talked a lot about the “uncomfortable” feeling, but as time goes on, like working with anyone new, that feeling will go away. Being open about it can help cut down that uncomfortable feeling, and help create a team. These steps can help create an open environment where people feel comfortable talking about growth and their job. Creating this kind of atmosphere can lead to the expression of new ideas, growth within the company, and employee retention.

In a competitive job market, you can’t afford to lose good people just because you’re not able to talk about the hard stuff.

Laura is based in Ontario and has been in site management for building construction for the last five years. Her role allows her to gain knowledge in a variety of trades and have a true appreciation for the dedication and pride put into all aspects of construction. She manages the Instagram account Women In Steel Toes and can be reached at womeninsteeltoes@gmail.com or @womeninsteeltoes on Instagram.