According to BuildForce Canada, in 2020 there were approximately 67,900 women employed in Ontario’s construction industry, of which 23 per cent worked on-site — directly on construction projects — while the remaining 77 per cent worked off-site, primarily in administrative and management-related occupations.
Of the 409,400 tradespeople employed in the industry, women made up only four per cent.
The first full week in March is known as Women In Construction Week and it’s dedicated to changing the stereotypes that females face when it comes to careers within the construction industry.
Coreena Froude is the community housing construction co-ordinator at Community Builders in Barrie.
Since July of 2019, she’s been working with youth with barriers to employment by teaching them basic life skills, and teaching them how to use hand tools while renovating homes.
"It’s so rewarding to see them grow and develop skills that they didn’t know they had," she says. "To see someone use a drill for the first time or to read a measuring tape and be proud at the end of a day, it’s such a blessing.”
As a 53-year-old woman in the trades, Froude admits that a future in construction had indeed crossed her mind before she started her current role.
“I grew up in a home of seven brothers and three sisters, so I was used to working hard and wanting to be better than my brothers,” she says. “But seriously, construction is where I belong; it just took me a long time to actually get here. I thought I was supposed to be a 'lady' and work in only 'lady-type jobs,' but boy was I misled.”
Before starting at Community Builders, Froude worked as a machine operator and worked her way up to becoming a WHMIS trainer and quality controller. She became a certified lumber grader at a mill in British Columbia, “where I outworked most of the guys,” she says with a laugh.
Around 2014, she started working at Simcoe Building Centre for five years, working outside in all weather conditions.
“I operated a forklift, a front loader, a roller, and a packer. I cleared snow in the winter months and graded the yard in the summer months. I loaded the trucks in the morning so that the guys could be on the road before the traffic got heavy," she says.
She made the switch to her current position when she heard about Community Builders and what their mission was: “I knew I wanted and needed to be a part of it.”
However, there was some nervousness about making a switch into the construction industry.
“I was nervous and still thinking that I needed a 'lady-fit job,' so over the years I had to prove that I could do it. And I did it!!”
Traditionally, women have been discouraged from pursuing careers in the trades, but things have started to change. Yet, even with the push to get more females into construction, they are often still reluctant to step into that new role. Reasons range from fears of bullying or sexual harassment from their male coworkers to certain misconceptions, such as construction jobs requiring great physical strength.
“But ladies, it’s never not the right time to get into construction; now is the time,” advises Froude. “Don’t be afraid to try any job, especially construction. Yes it’s rough and tough, but so are you! There are so many trades to choose from; it’s OK if you try one trade and think it’s the right fit. Then try another trade.
"Having the knowledge and skills is what it takes to be the best that you can be.”
When asked what her biggest challenges were in working in construction as a woman, Froude was honest.
“I did have to prove my worth, my valve, and my skills. And yes, it was because I’m a female," she says. "I’ve actually been told over the years from people ‘I never thought you could do it’, but I've proved them wrong. I’ve outworked and outlifted many guys over the years, just to fit in. But today I’ve gained the respect of many men in the trades, and it’s come to a point that I no longer need to prove my worth. I just do the best I can at any task I take on.”
Her final words of advice?
“As a young girl growing up my dad taught me to do my best at whatever job I did. The myth about some jobs being too tough for ladies is absolutely a big myth. The trades can benefit so much by having women in the trades. We girls can coordinate, multitask, and get the job done in a timely manner and still be a lady at the end of the day.”