Ontario employer achieves gender parity certification in construction industry

CEO shares benefits of hiring women, best practices for employers

Ontario employer achieves gender parity certification in construction industry

One Ontario-based employer recently became the first in the construction industry to achieve parity certification from Women in Governance.

In 2022, Cooper Equipment Rentals achieved the bronze level – barely missing the silver level – in the certification process, Doug Dougherty, CEO at the family-run construction equipment rental business, said in an interview with HRD.

That, however, did not come easy, he said.

It was three years ago when the firm reached out to Women in Governance and learned all about their parity certification process, he said.

“Like a lot of other companies, [we] have had challenges with employees: availability, turnover, attracting employees and so on. So we identified the fact that we were probably not being smart about how we were going about tracking and retaining, and advancing women in the business.”

It was then that Cooper Equipment Rentals applied for parity certification – and they came up short.

“It was a bit of an eye-opener for us to see all of the areas that we were lacking in: attracting, retaining and advancing women in the business. So we decided to pursue it further. We saw a great opportunity. We did a lot of reading around companies who employ women in leadership positions: How they had other cultures evolve in a very diverse and favorable way.

“We have always had a good culture, an inclusive culture, a collaborative culture. But we realized that we were missing an opportunity for a large part of the workforce by not focusing more on attracting women to the business and creating more opportunities for women in the business.” 

Only 19% of women say a lot of progress has been made over the past 10 years in achieving gender equality, with 32% saying no progress has been made, report Randstad Canada and The Brand is Female.

Hiring women in construction

Construction is a traditionally male-dominated field, but Cooper Equipment Rentals found ways to attract more women in their business.

The fast-growing firm – it went from 300 employees in 2013 to now 1,000+ across Canada – in hopes of creating spaces for women, focused on the way they recruit.

“A lot of the job descriptions that we had around the yard worker, rental coordinator, service technician, a lot of those were more or less gender-biased towards men… Some of those paradigms are being broken down now,” said Dougherty.

The company also focused on creating awareness among high school students about the possibility of making a career within construction.

“We identified opportunities to work with high schools, in the various regions locally, to create awareness. [For our] hiring and onboarding process, [we aimed to] make that more inclusive, to make sure that we have a slate of candidates that is representative of the community that we're serving.”

And once the company hires women, it also provides them with valuable ways to help them in their employment.

“We've expanded the availability of our virtual care program into areas of mental health, which helped a lot,” he said.

“And once a person is onboard with the company, [we’re] helping them map out their growth path, the path to promotion, working as mentors and leaders with employees in the company to help them achieve their goals.”

Bringing in women in the construction industry brings diversity for sure, said Dougherty.

“This does not just apply to attracting, retaining and promoting women. It's also attracting, retaining and promoting other groups that are underrepresented in the industry. And what you end up with, or what comes out of that, is a really good exchange of ideas, thoughts, perspectives… a much more robust decision-making process. Because you've got the benefit of all of these different and diverse perspectives and ideas coming into the conversation.”

Earlier this year, the City of Belleville in Ontario created the Workplace Inclusion Charter, which aims to create and promote safe workplaces for marginalized and equity deserving populations, including newcomers, people with disabilities and Indigenous people, among others.

Gender parity tips for employers

For other employers in the construction industry looking to achieve gender equality, Dougherty suggested that they put their energy and focus into DEI, and it must come from the top.

“It's important that it has executive leadership and sponsorship, to really be effective. The message has to be clear, and it has to be understood throughout the organization that it's important.”

He also suggested that employers “get people at an early age”.

“That's why we've identified high schools as a place to really get into the community and let people know that there are careers [here]. It can be a good lifestyle, it can be a good career opportunity to join a construction industry-related field, whether that be equipment rentals or construction itself,” said Dougherty.

“A lot of kids in school are not really thinking of these kinds of jobs or these kinds of industries as a career, because they don't have exposure to it.”

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