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Diversifying Canada's Skilled Trades

Diverse and Inclusive Workforces in Canada’s Skilled Trades Are a Win-Win

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Karen Dearlove

Executive Director, BC Centre for Women in the Trades

The BC Centre for Women in the Trades is leading the cultural shift needed to increase diversity in the skilled trades.


Some cultural trends and stereotypes are difficult to shift. One of these is that the skilled trades don’t present suitable career opportunities for women. In British Columbia, the number of women in the skilled trades lies at about four per cent. The national average isn’t much better, at around five per cent. This unfortunate trend is hurting us all.

Exploring the issue at hand 

“Skilled trades are one of the last bastions of very male-dominated industries in Canada,” says Karen Dearlove, Executive Director of the BC Centre for Women in the Trades (BCCWITT), a partnership led by diverse tradespeople, along with industry and labour representatives, that’s committed to increasing the proportion of women and equity-seeking people, in the skilled trades. “There’s very little diversity or representation.”

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A 2017 report funded through the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Development Agreement highlights some of the pervasive, systemic barriers that keep women from entering, remaining in, and advancing in the skilled trades. “One of the main reasons is that skilled trades are still not really viewed as a career option for young women growing up,” says Dearlove. “They don’t have the same exposure to the trades as young men do.” 

There are also employers who don’t view trades jobs as work that women can do, Dearlove notes, leading to negligible recruitment efforts. Health and safety concerns, fewer mentorship opportunities, and inflexible workplace policies and practices are contributing factors. Toxic work environments where women face gender-based harassment and discrimination seal the deal, keeping women out of the trades.

This is a major concern for a few reasons, one being the looming labour shortage in the skilled trades sector that Canada is currently facing. It’s also an issue because the lack of women and other equity-seeking groups prevents the sector from building a strong workforce for the future.

Diversity enables much more creative and often much more successful workplaces, period.

The benefits of diversity

Research has long shown that creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforces lead to increased productivity, better employee engagement, more creativity and innovation, faster problem-solving, easier recruitment, and less employee turnover. Every industry could benefit from these gains, including the trades industry. 

“Diversity enables much more creative and often much more successful workplaces, period,” says Dearlove. 

BCCWITT is committed to helping the industry create these more diverse and inclusive workforces. It focuses on three key areas — recruitment, retention, and advancement — to achieve its mission. The organization’s programs address these three core topics: its Trades Training and Employment Program tackles recruitment issues, Be More Than a Bystander Program is aimed at creating diverse and inclusive workplaces, and the RRP Leadership Training Program supports equity-seeking tradespeople with advancing their careers and moving into leadership positions. 

“This work isn’t a checkmark, and it’s not something that happens overnight,” says Dearlove. “It has to be deliberate and strategic. But it’s an investment for the future.”

For organizations and tradespeople seeking support on the path to building a strong workforce, BCCWITT is an excellent place to start.

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