• The Low Down

Is this how we treat women in the trades?

Send your kids out of the room because I’m about to tell stories about women in the trades, and I’m so mad, I’m levitating. I’m going to turn the air blue.


First is Jane. She’s smart, motivated, sober, responsible, and hard working. She’s quick to learn and is already competent with carpentry tools because she’s been building stuff for years. Jane joins a crew – in our, apparently, highly educated region where we, apparently, have enlightened builders – and immediately faces verbal abuse from the boss and men on the crew. Guys are staring at her ass and commenting every time she bends over. In her first week, three guys come on to her with sexual innuendo and suggestions. The boss makes it clear she owes him for hiring her. They’re all tripping over each other to ‘help’ her with tasks until it’s so uncomfortable she bails out after a couple of weeks.


Next is Mandy. She’s up on a 20-foot wall setting rafters. I have to stop everything, climb up on the crane truck, look the operator in the eye and tell him to pay attention to his job or f— ing leave because he was being a distracted, drooling idiot.


Next is Sally who drove a tandem-tandem mixer onto a commercial site where I was working in Ottawa. She got out of the truck and started setting her chute to pour curbs and the whole project stops, with every single palooka standing with a stupid grin and their tongues on the ground.


Next is Sam, who gets cat-calls every time she climbs a ladder.


This… this is how we treat our sisters? This is how we deal with a crisis in the construction trades across Canada, and a desperate housing shortage? Your brains migrate to your crotches every time a woman comes near your job sites? This is how we build our homes — with testosterone oozing out of a bunch of stunted juveniles?


I am so tired of hearing and seeing these stories and the profound pathological disrespect. I got news for you guys who think women on job sites are either unwelcome or to ogle. Women are smarter than you and just as tough, and they are absolutely critical resources during this – I repeat – continent-wide housing crisis. And you can grow up and accept this change and show respect or face the flack from higher up because virtually every construction association and union across North America knows damned well we need women in trades. Supply and demand, y’know. They’re coming.


And you bosses – you and I both know damned well how hard it is to find labour right now. Can you afford to scare it away? How’s that working out for your scheduling and your margins?


But to the guys who sympathize with your female colleagues, take some extra time to make sure your crew and sites are safe and not poisonous and then actively recruit diversity on your crew. Watch your productivity and profits soar. If you’re a worker, don’t let moronic behaviour ruin a colleague’s day and her career. Step up and state to the moron that his behaviour is not cool.


To any woman holding back because men can be de-evolving, knuckle-dragging, neanderthal adolescents, I hope you will join together and work together on job sites so that you can enjoy rewarding, lucrative careers that are only getting more lucrative. I know how hard it is to deal with a**holes, but you won’t make change from the sidelines.


Gary Martin has worked in residential construction for years and is now a Wakefield housing researcher and consultant obsessed with sustainability.