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


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


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:

  • Industry, employers, the government, schools, colleges and universities need to partner and explore options to promote non-traditional careers, including the skilled trades, to young girls and women of diverse backgrounds. This could include widespread awareness campaigns and workshops to change the image of non-traditional careers.
  • The process of attracting women to a sector needs to be approached differently in emphasizing the meaningful social relevance of the non-traditional career. There should also be an emphasis on the economic benefits of non-traditional careers such as high pay and job stability.
  • Industry organizations and the private sector need to provide parents and educational institutions updated and thorough career information to allow girls to make informed decisions around the challenges and rewards of work in non-traditional sectors. Career pathways must be communicated clearly and accessibly.
  • It is necessary to encourage and reward girls’ aptitudes in non-traditional sectors with award programs, bursaries and scholarships.
  • Funding of training institutions should be long-term and flexible in order for  organizations to support women who experience marginalization.
  • Funding is needed for training institutions to be able to offer women-only training with all necessary supports to facilitate successful completion and transition into the workforce.
  • Plans for transition from the educational/training system to the workforce need to include female mentors and employment counselling.
  • In some cases, vulnerable communities need culturally appropriate wrap-around supports during training, such as childcare supports, guidance on financial literacy, and supports for women who have experienced trauma such as alcohol abuse and domestic violence.


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:

  • The private sector and industry need to create an open and inclusive culture that values the participation of women.
  • Multi-stakeholder partnerships are necessary between industry corporations and educational institutions, to ensure that women are prepared for the workplace with the appropriate skills on up-to-date equipment. Corporations can also play a role in curriculum development to ensure that women are educated and prepared according to industry standards.
  • Increased representation of women is necessary on hiring committees. It is not adequate to have just one woman on the hiring committee.
  • Inclusive diversity training is necessary for hiring committees to implement a gender-based analysis through the process. Since both men and women carry these biases, it is necessary for all members of a hiring committee to be trained and able to account for their decisions.
  • Employers must demonstrate that they are flexible, recognizing that different employees have different needs. It is necessary to move beyond the 9-5 routine as the status quo.
  • It is important that businesses seek to understand why women might refuse a job offer or proposal. If businesses can understand the barriers they can better accommodate women in the sector.


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:

  • Gender diversity needs to be a core value of a company. Diversity plans must be integrated into core business plans for them to be successful, and diversity measures should be reported and tracked.
  • CEOs within industries can collaborate and build partnerships to lead the recruitment and retention of women in non-traditional sectors, such as industry diversity networks.
  • Organizations need to apply gender-based analysis to their processes to assess barriers and share the findings in order for industry to develop best practices. This includes ensuring that there is improved safety and appropriate supports for women on work sites.
  • Inclusive gender diversity training needs to be an existing part of the work culture to develop an understanding of the barriers women experience in the workplace and to offer supports.
  • Men, in particular, need to be engaged in the development of policies that support families and creating a welcoming work environment for women.
  • Women need access to additional training and career development to support continued engagement.
  • Flexible work schedules that acknowledge priorities beyond the workplace are necessary for supporting women employees.
  • Employment equity is to be included in executives’ performance reviews, to ensure accountability and feedback on gender diversity.
  • Create supportive safe spaces for women to propose and initiate grassroots networking, support and mentoring projects.


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

  • Organizations need to invest in women by providing leadership development, training and access to mentoring for women who show potential.
  • Upper levels of management need to commit to gender diversity within their own ranks. This means acknowledging the transferability of skills, understanding the business case for women in management and engaging in gender diversity training in the hiring process. Gender diversity in the executive ranks is particularly meaningful in the non-traditional sectors in terms of transforming these workplaces.