Initiative aims to make worksites safer, more inclusive

Construction Report: B.C. Builders Code fights workplace harassment, fosters construction industry diversity

2019 Builders Code Champion Award winners, from left: Jesse Unke, vice-president of Canadian operations, Cowi; Freddy Rawji, president, Tours Talent; Donna Grant, president, Vancouver Regional Construction Association; Gabrielle Herle, health and safety co-ordinator, Teck Resources Ltd.; Wendy Gaskill, corporate safety co-ordinator, Chinook Scaffold Systems; Tom Plumb, president and CEO, Kinetic Construction; Allison Greaves, human resources manager, Durwest Construction Management; Devon Kray, vice-president, business development, Durwest Construction Management; Scott Sherba, president, Westcana Electric; Taylor Manhas, safety co-ordinator, Westcana

More businesses, including those in the construction industry, are launching initiatives around equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) to make workplaces more welcoming for all workers.

One initiative in the construction sector is the Builders Code and its awards program. The code, launched in 2019 as part of the provincially funded Construction Workforce Equity Project, sets a code of conduct standards for construction worksites. Led by the British Columbia Construction Association (BCCA), the code was developed in collaboration with the province, Minerva BC and industry partners.

BCCA President Chris Atchison said the code helps address underrepresentation of various groups on construction sites, including women, Indigenous people and newcomers, while responding to labour shortages.

“It was part of a concerted effort to increase the participation and retention of tradeswomen in construction, but it quickly morphed into much more than that,” said Atchison. “It’s now about creating acceptable worksites.”

Companies that adopt EDI initiatives have a competitive advantage because they are seen to be employers of choice and as doing their best to attract and retain skilled workers, according to Atchison, who said changing workplace culture starts with awareness.

“What we mean by an acceptable worksite is one where every worker, regardless of their age, gender, race, ethnicity or religion, can work safely and to the best of their abilities without having to worry about hazing, bullying and harassment.”

Atchison added that it’s not enough for companies to attract and hire a more diverse workforce — they also need to focus on ways to retain workers.

“If the culture isn’t set up to have underrepresented groups succeed, then we’re not doing a service to anyone,” he said.

The Builders Code is an “important tool” for construction companies to include in their toolboxes, according to Atchison, to help maintain safe and productive worksites. The initiative encourages companies to sign a pledge, and training and resources such as policies and posters are available online.

Atchison said the industry needs to expand its definition of safety beyond steel-toed boots and hard hats to include psychological safety to avoid distractions caused by bullying and harassment that can lead to injuries.

Diversity is “crucial” to the survival of the construction industry as it moves forward, according to Atchison.

“Construction has a branding problem and a skilled labour shortage,” he said. “Our industry is seen as outdated and old school, and that has a lot to do with our culture and demographics. Until we can show that construction is a place for the best and brightest talent to thrive and is an industry that’s both challenging and rewarding for anyone, we’ll continue to struggle with the acquisition and retention of talent.”

In more efforts to support women in the industry, LNG Canada and its prime contractor, JGC Fluor, run the Your Place skilled trades training program. The four-week program is part of an initiative to attract, recruit, train, support and employ women in the construction trades on the LNG Canada Project.

The Construction Foundation of British Columbia and Engineers and Geoscientists BC also have programs focused on EDI initiatives for women and other underrepresented groups.

Builders Code Champion Awards

Now in their third year, the annual Builders Code Champion Awards recognize companies working towards eliminating discrimination, hazing, bullying and harassment on worksites. Organizations need to demonstrate their commitment, leadership and action towards increasing the retention of women in skilled trades.

Award categories include recruiting and hiring, loyalty, workplace culture, community and contractor of the year. The BCCA, which won the 2020 Canadian Construction Association’s Workforce Excellence Award for its diversity and inclusion work, Minerva BC and the Builders Code Governance Committee judge the submissions and select the winners.

Winning companies also need to show how they support the provincial goal of raising the proportion of women in B.C.’s construction workforce to 10% by 2028. According to the BCCA, women make up just over 6% of B.C.’s construction workforce, and the Builders Code has been helping increase that number.

Vancouver-based Ram Consulting Ltd. won Builders Code awards two years in a row. Last year, Ram was recognized as a Workplace Culture Champion, and in 2019 it was named Recruiting and Hiring Champion. As Ram’s director of project management at the time, Jesse Unke was instrumental in helping Ram win the awards.

Unke, now Cowi’s vice-president of Canadian operations, recently signed the Builders Code pledge there. Unke said the Denmark-based consulting group will look at how it interacts with staff, partners, consultants and clients to see where improvements can be made. As president and chair of the British Columbia Construction Roundtable, Unke not only encourages companies to sign the pledge, but also to adopt ways to support inclusion.

Minerva BC, a non-profit group focused on advancing the economic and leadership potential of women, helped develop a benchmarking scorecard and the awards program.

“Through the awards we have learned about some really progressive and creative ways that employers are changing their culture to be more inclusive,” said Minerva CEO Tina Strehlke. “It challenges a lot of stereotypes that persist about the sector.”

The awards also help women and other underrepresented workers identify which employers care about a safe and acceptable worksite, and where their skills will be valued, according to Strehlke.

Strehlke said employers who provide a safe and productive worksite and hold staff to a high standard of conduct create an environment where all workers can succeed.

“Making the link between bias and discrimination and safety is so important,” she said. “If an employee experiences sexism or racism on site, that site isn’t safe, nor is it as productive as it can be. Creating a culture of respect and inclusion allows all workers to show up and do their best work.”

Companies can also do more to help women advance into construction management and executive positions by investing early and often in women’s leadership development, connecting potential leaders with mentors and setting clear goals for women, according to Strehlke.

The application deadline for this year’s awards is October 15. For more information, visit builderscode.ca. •