Building Canada’s Innovation Economy: Best Practices for Supporting Women in Non-Traditional Sectors

Knowledge Exchange Event Overview
March 25, 2014 at the Canada Space and Aviation Museum

Background

On March 25, 2014 Status of Women Canada, in partnership with the Labour Program, Hydro Ottawa and the Status of Women Office of Saskatchewan hosted an information sharing event entitled, Building Canada’s Innovation Economy: Best Practices for Supporting Women in  Non-Traditional Sectors. Held at the Space and Aviation Museum in Ottawa, the event included representation from a wide range of stakeholders, including federal and provincial governments, academic and training institutions, industry associations, non-profit organizations and private sector employers. 

Over 270 participants heard from 15 experts from across Canada working to increase the participation of women in sectors like mining, engineering, forestry, electricity and the skilled trades.

The event included keynote presenter, Zoe Yujnovich, Chair, Mining Association of Canada, sector-specificpanel discussions, a Knowledge Showcase highlighting innovative strategies in hiring, engaging and retaining women in non-traditional sectors and an Information Fair for networking opportunities.

This Executive Report summarizes the key findings and conclusions of Building Canada’s Innovation Economy: Best Practices for Supporting Women in Non-Traditional Sectors Summary Report.

Key Theme Summary: Barriers and Best Practices

Barriers

In addressing the challenges that women face in accessing careers in non-traditional sectors, it is important to recognize the strides that women have made to date. Women represent 59% of all graduates aged 25 to 34 in science and technology programs in Canada. Their representation in engineering has also grown, with women of that same age group representing 23% of engineering grads. Yet change is slow and nowhere is this more evident than in the skilled trades, where women represent just 14% of registered apprentices. 

The barriers to participation for women in non-traditional occupations are complex and found throughout the path to employment: from curriculum development in elementary and secondary school to college and university recruitment, to hiring, retaining and advancing women in the sectors.  

Young women are still not being promoted at a young age to consider the STEM fields as promising careers, while women in these occupations continue to report challenging work-life balance, inflexible schedules, few role models, an unwelcoming workplace atmosphere, harassment, and few advancement opportunities as barriers to their participation in non-traditional sectors.

There was also recognition that different groups of women have different access to opportunities. This intersectional lens should be applied to considerations of barriers and the necessary social supports.

Best Practices

Attraction and Training

Across sectors it was clear that attraction to employment in all non-traditional sectors for women was a process that began in early socialization and education. In addition, speakers concluded that:

Recruiting

In recruiting women, challenges are found in both attracting women to apply for positions and in the management of hiring committees’ inherent biases. Presenters concluded that:

Retention

Many non-traditional sectors show a drop in the participation of women between the five and ten-year mark following graduation. This issue is attributed to barriers such as challenging workplace climates, inflexible schedules and work-life balance. Presenters concluded that:

Advancement

A "glass ceiling" continues to prevent the progression of women into more senior roles within non-traditional sectors. Presenters concluded that:

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