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The Canadian Association of Women in Construction’s five-year plan to bring more women to industry is seeing big results

By Rebecca Henderson

 

According to BuildForce Canada, women make up less than 15 per cent of the construction workforce. However, the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC), a not-for-profit organization that supports and advocates for women in construction, aims to change that – and they have a five-year plan to ensure more women choose this industry to build their career.

“Construction is a bit of a unique beast,” said Acacia Ashick, CAWIC’s vice president and director of marketing. “It’s very demanding, you come home, and it’s still in your mind, so it’s comforting to know there are other women who are experiencing the same feelings that you are.”

Ashick, a project coordinator for URBACON, an interdisciplinary construction firm in Toronto, knows how crucial it is to see other women on a construction site.

“Feeling comfortable and empowered is important, and I believe it’s happening in our industry,” said Ashick. “Obviously, nothing is perfect, but I do feel comfortable walking onto the site and seeing other female faces.”

For Ashick, CAWIC is an essential organization in the construction industry, which started as the Toronto Chapter of the U.S.-based National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) in 1982. The organization became incorporated on Oct. 13, 2005, separating from NAWIC to establish itself as an independent Canadian organization for its members. Although, it still maintains a close relationship with its southern partner in Texas.

“We need to get to that point where I’m not walking on site and thinking about, ‘Is my outfit is too girly? Do I have too much make-up on? What will they say when I arrive on site because I am a girl?’” said Ashick. “We need to get rid of this mindset. So, I think CAWIC is changing that mentality.”

Ashick says CAWIC’s influence is not just on the individual level, but company and industry wide. Part of the organization’s success relies on communicating the message on a multilevel and organizational basis. It’s part of how Ashick became involved with CAWIC.

“I discovered CAWIC through attending one of their networking events,” she said. The CAWIC works closely with other organizations such as the Toronto Construction Association and the Young Construction Leaders of Toronto, which Ashick was already familiar with.

It wasn’t until CAWIC’s Women In Leadership program, a one-day event where attendees receive a certificate, when Ashick realized how much she wanted to become a member.

“I learned about what a great organization CAWIC was and its advocacy for women in construction,” said Ashick. “I reached out to learn more and became a volunteer. The rest is history.”

Ashick joined as a volunteer in 2018. She went onto chair the Special Events and Programming Committee, assisting with events and workshops for CAWIC members and participants, and eventually acted as the organization’s interim director of marketing.

“I saw an opening on the Executive Board for vice president,” said Ashick. “I applied for that position and contributed to CAWIC’s five-year plan for the association.” Ashick has now held the position for two years.

Although CAWIC’s mentorship program had gone silent for some years due to low participation, that’s no longer the case. CAWIC doubled its membership and increased its social media by 200 per cent in just the last year alone, mainly due to the engagement and enthusiasm from its current Board of Directors. “People are definitely aware of us now,” she said.

Ashick says they engaged volunteer mentees and mentors and are super excited to see the mentorship program start. “I feel we should get back to more one-on-one relationship building. It’s good for our professional growth and overall mental health.”

CAWIC is also looking to expand their bursary program this year. CAWIC offers monetary bursaries to female students enrolled in a post-secondary construction-oriented full-time program. Through industry sponsorships and money raised at events, CAWIC assigns bursaries to encourage and empower women to pursue careers in the construction field.

Even though the Covid-19 pandemic put a damper on much of the construction industry, it made growing CAWIC easier as communication went online and members who didn’t populate the Greater Toronto Area had more opportunities to become involved. During the shutdowns, CAWIC hosted yoga nights, mix-your-own-drink nights and themed parties for its members across Canada.

“Everyone was stressed, and there was a lot of tension out there,” said Ashick. “We really were fortunate to leverage our online and virtual events to meet members across Canada and stop shop-talk because other interests are important too.”

Part of the organization’s plans is to strengthen its membership in other parts of the country. While one goal is to expand their reach further into Eastern Canada and the Maritimes, Ashick says they already opened a Western Chapter in Calgary, this year.

“One of our awesome committee chairs – Kristen Hallberg – is from Alberta,” said Ashick. “She helped us open up that arm and plans to do in-person events to continue to open up the market more.”

Acquiring a CAWIC membership is easy. The simplest way to join is online through CAWIC’s website. It’s $150 a year, which can reoccur annually, or a business can sign up as a corporate member and receive three memberships for $625. Students pay only $40 annually. There are also opportunities for companies to become annual corporate sponsors at different levels, including Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze.

Even though non-members can participate in CAWIC events, such as workshops and panels, members enjoy a discount or free entry to events as part of the association. “There’s no cost to joining our email list,” said Ashick. “You can also sign up as a volunteer to see if CAWIC is right for you.”

For the future of CAWIC, Ashick sees the organization expanding its professional designation supports and continue building relationships with neighbouring associations, citing their recent partnership with Build A Dream, a national non-profit organization dedicated to advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“They target youth in high school in STEM disciplines like science and technology construction,” said Ashick. “We partnered with them to do workshops, conferences and speaking events.”

Ashick says it’s essential to reach out to high school students, in addition to university and college students because that’s when young girls start to think about their career paths.

“Associations like CAWIC are great in that sense,” said Ashick. “We don’t just reach out to people currently in the industry, but also to young girls who are looking to get into the construction industry. We’re creating the future we want to see.” 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.