Construction is a booming industry in Toronto, but women make up less than a fifth of the workforce.
Stacia Van Zetten, construction entrepreneur and co-founder of Exact Technology — is working to reduce the gender gap in the industry.
From a young age, Van Zetten knew she wanted to work on buildings, but a career in construction didn’t come to her until later in life.
“My grandpa was an architect, and I grew up thinking that I wanted to be an architect,” she recalled. “I studied architecture for a year and then realized that I liked what went on behind the face of a building, the complexity of math and science and loads to build these massive structures.”
When Van Zetten first entered the construction field, fewer women were studying engineering and working in construction, indicating a gender gap within the industry.
“I found that it was very segregated, and there were difficulties being taken seriously even on sites,” Van Zetten explained. “So, I did have to focus on working on my knowledge and proving myself. I knew what I was talking about when I was going to visit these projects, and ultimately I would tell people how to build properly.”
It is Van Zetten’s drive and determination in the construction industry that has earned her respect within the workplace.
“I still think I work extra hard. And maybe it’s not even because I’m a woman. It’s just because I’m passionate about what I do. And that’s what people see. And that’s why people respect me now.”
Still, there have been struggles. At a job site, Van Zetten felt she was not taken seriously in her position.
“The best example is my first time going to a construction site. I was interning for a company and was brought to the site,” she said. “We sat down in a meeting with the superintendent, and the first thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘Hey, are you bringing your girlfriend to site for a tour today?’ That was the first ‘aha moment,’ that things need to change.”
Only 13 percent of construction workers in North America are women, according to the Canadian Association for Women in Construction
Van Zetten believes exposure to other women in the construction industry will encourage more women to enter the trades.
“I think the education system has to elevate careers in construction, elevate the trades, and elevate women pursuing unique technical skills.” Van Zetten explained.
Skilled trades have long been stigmatized. There are still myths that a skilled trade is just a job, not a career, and that you don’t have to be very smart to succeed. This is far from the truth – many skilled trades require technical skills, math, and hours of training.
Recently, the Ontario government introduced a new science and technology curriculum that includes trade education. Several skilled trade industries have applauded the move.
“I think the pandemic has made this even more clear like the last two years. Industries are slowing down or stopping, but construction is booming like crazy. Governments are putting billions of dollars into large infrastructure projects, which is why there’s a huge labour gap right now,” Van Zetten noted.
She says she is also trying to break stereotypes associated with women working on construction sites.
For other young women hoping to enter the field, she recommends finding a mentor in the field you’re interested in.
“I think that the key thing is being as passionate as you can be, and you will succeed. No matter what your gender is. You need to go for it. If you’re passionate about it, you’re going to shine no matter what.”
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