Hard for women on construction sites | JDM

20/12/2022 By acomputer 278 Views

Hard for women on construction sites | JDM

Women have such a hard time on construction sites in Quebec that despite all the efforts of the industry to make more room for them, their number has only increased by 1% in nearly 20 years.

Since 1997, Quebec and the Commission de la construction du Québec (CCQ) have implemented a program for access to equality for women (PAEF) in order to increase the labor force from 0.3% to 2% -women's work in industry.

However, 18 years later, there are only 2,200 employees on construction sites, which have 165,000 workers in the province as a whole, or a share of 1.33%, according to CCQ data.

“Imagine the level of isolation of a woman arriving at a construction site where she is surrounded only by men. She often has to face bullying and exclusion on her own, and if she doesn't have the support of her foreman and her company, she doesn't stand a chance. They are always tested,” explained Audrey Murray, vice-president of the CCQ, on the sidelines of a symposium on the integration of women on construction sites.

Stock photo
Audrey Murray, VP of the CCQ

The Journal also revealed such a situation last week, when two workers were expelled from a construction site in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu by a foreman because they were women.

Tough for women on construction sites | JDM

"Situations like that happen regularly to our members [...] We want women to work in construction and stay there, but we make sure that everything blocks their way," insisted Karyne Prégent, general secretary of CSN-Construction.

Changing Attitudes

To attract more women in the field, we must therefore fight the prejudices of many employees and employers so that future workers feel more comfortable.

According to CSN statistics, only 7% of construction companies currently hire women.

“It is still taboo, the place of women in construction. But I think that the more we talk about it, the more we will disturb the environment and the more things will improve for women", summarized Stéphane Pépin, CEO of the company Gestion 3 en 1, which employs almost as many women than men.

Some barriers women face

Photo courtesy

Absence of toilets: On many small construction sites, especially in the residential sector, toilets are absent, because the employer is not required to install them. "It's definitely less obvious for the girl who has to pee than for the guy, who can hide almost anywhere. She has to go there in a plaster box, behind containers, etc. It is inconceivable in 2016”, denounces Karyne Prégent, general secretary of the CSN-Construction. Recently, a contractor installed a toilet with running water for women... which did not even have a roof (see photo).

Intimidation and sexism: Women are still regularly victims of intimidation and sexism from their colleagues, and sometimes even from their superiors. "Women regularly get comments like, 'Hey, aren't you sweeping somewhere? or “You don't have an armful of egg whites left to make at home?”. It’s incredibly degrading behavior,” says Manon Bertrand, president of the Association de la construction du Québec (ACQ).

Ill-adapted equipment: Women too rarely have access to equipment and tools adapted to their physique. “The most common cases are safety harnesses. They are adjusted for the physique of men, so they can be very uncomfortable for a woman's chest and cannot be adjusted safely," explains Audrey Murray, vice-president at the Commission de la construction du Québec (CCQ ).

Clothing: It's all too common for women to wear men's clothing at work, including gloves, boots and hard hats. “Imagine how hard it is to do fine chores when your gloves are too big and your boots are too wide? But a lot of manufacturers require a certain volume to create a product, and they can't do it for women,” laments Ms. Bertrand.

Family-work balance: Family-work balance is almost non-existent in several areas of construction, according to Ms. Prégent. The problem is particularly present in the civil engineering sector, where the days often exceed 10 hours and the sites can be very far away. "We say we want to open the door to women, but we don't allow them to adjust their work to their family life. There is also a problem with maternity leave because workers are often hired on contract, so they can come back to work and their position has expired,” explains the CSN-Construction representative.