Canadian Electrical Industry News Week

Mar 18, 2017

HR BraniganBy Michelle Branigan

On March 8 — International Women’s Day — Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC), with the support of Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women, announced EHRC’s newest initiative to support the increased representation of women as skilled workers in the electricity sector (shown in photo, L-R: Michelle Branigan, Maryam Monsef, and EHRC Project Manager Julia Aitken).

The Leadership Accord on Gender Diversity for the Electricity Industry is a public commitment by employers, labour and educational institutions to promote the values of diversity, equality and inclusion, and increase the representation of women in their programs, organizations and the sector — in particular in the skills trades and non-traditional positions.

“Gender equality matters because our economy needs the talents of all Canadians to thrive and grow,” said Minister Monsef and the announcement. “By working together with employers in the electricity industry, [EHRC] will help build a workplace culture that attracts, supports and promotes women at all levels. This is more than just an investment in women — it is an investment in the future of the industry.”

As noted in this column before, women working in electricity represent a much smaller component of the workforce than they should. In many instances they continue to face barriers that limit their advancement, or indeed their desire to remain in the industry.

These barriers may include conscious or unconscious discrimination, a lack of female role models, or a workplace culture and practices that erode an inclusive workplace. Integrating women into workplaces that employ skilled workers requires more than just opening the doors to female employees. Paradigm shifts require repeated focus and attention, as well as metrics that can be used to measure change.


As Minister Monsef said during the announcement, “Gender equality matters because our economy needs the talents of all Canadians to thrive and grow… By working together with employers in the electricity industry, [EHRC] will help build a workplace culture that attracts, supports and promotes women at all levels. This is more than just an investment in women — it is an investment in the future of the industry.”

EHRC has been working diligently to support greater representation of women in the sector, and I believe that to effect systemic change in the electricity sector a bold vision is required by industry leaders. To actually move the dial when it comes to the number of women in the trades (under 5%), and in leadership positions. To not just talk about the need for change but to be courageous enough to lead the way.

I frequently hear that it’s “too hard” to get more women in the industry, that it’s “too hard” to make changes that may at first be met with resistance internally. Yes, change is hard, and cultural change takes a lot of time and a lot of commitment, but if we don’t start somewhere then in another 20 years we’ll be having the same conversation. And the numbers will still be the same.

Whether it's through recruitment, retention or governance practices, signatories to this accord are trailblazers acknowledging that united action is required to ensure the support of women in the industry, along with equality and fairness for the entire workforce. It is our goal to get all industry leaders, from coast to coast to coast, to sign on and demonstrate their commitment to building an electricity workforce that is truly representative of the Canadian population.

Those signing the accord, be they employers, educators or labour, are provided with a number of commitment areas where they can benchmark current practices and measure their progress over time. However, we know that not all organizations will progress at the same rate, nor will results always be immediate. Commitments can be achieved through a range of initiatives over time that organizations will approach or develop based on their individual circumstances and strategic HR plans.

Here are just some of the ways in which change can happen:

• Support education and career awareness through participation at school events, e.g., female staff speak to breadth of careers available within the industry for women and importance of math and science
• Provide development opportunities for female staff, e.g., sponsorship or mentorship programs, attendance at conferences, workshops
• Invest in employee programs that support diversity such as: leadership development programs, implicit bias,
• Create policies to hold people in leadership roles accountable for setting and achieving specific goals on diversity metrics
• Strive to ensure women represent between 10% and 30% of Board of Director and/or Senior Management, positions and promote the business case that diverse leadership teams make good business sense

Several industry leaders have already signed on to the accord as founding partners, including Ontario Power Generation, Alectra Inc., Power Workers’ Union, Algonquin College, Society of Energy Professionals, ENMAX, International Brotherhood Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Hydro Ottawa, and as accord advocates: The Canadian Council of Technicians and Technologists, Electricity Distributors Association (EDA), Canadian Energy Efficiency Alliance (CEEA), Energy Council of Canada and Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE).

To learn more on how you can participate, visit http://electricityhr.ca/our-work/projects-programmes/connected-women/.

Michelle Branigan is CEO Electricity Human Resources Canada.

 

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