Illustration by Andrea Por.
"Because it's 2015” is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s catch phrase and answer to why ethnic and gender diversity matter. The statement made headlines across Canada and beyond. A “mic drop” by Trudeau would have been the icing on the cake for social justice advocates everywhere. After all, the moment symbolized a final word of sorts on the equality debate. Equality is not up for debate in 2015, we were told – it is a goal to be realized, and Trudeau is leading by example.
As a 24 year-old woman, I am particularly interested in these developments. I’m currently working part time in the housing development consulting industry. It is now 2016 and I’m one of very few women in Canada’s development industry. So what can be changed?
My first day on the job I was told to put on a pair of construction boots and a hard hat when we went for a site visit. Once I had all my safety gear on, my boss smiled and said, “20-years ago, I could not have hired you.” I’m grateful that the stigma surrounding a woman in work boots has subsided enough for my boss to comfortably hire a woman. Yet, I’m still bothered by the lack of women in the industry and the fact that my gender is something of note.
Equality is not up for debate in 2015, we were told – it is a goal to be realized, and Trudeau is leading by example."
My experience is not unique. I inquired with the offices of the Niagara Home Builders Association, and out of the registered developers on their list, only six of 49 are women, and all six of those women are the business partners of men.
Digging a little deeper, I met with a local female developer. She and her partner develop senior housing. She attributes their business focus and success to her level of empathy and attention to detail. She views these as female traits that the male architects and engineers don’t bring to the table. We discuss the barriers she faces as a mother and developer. “My fear is, women need to make a choice.” If it’s 2015, why is it still more acceptable for men than women to be developers and have a family?
Discrimination, it seems, is not only gender specific but also particular to parenthood. Sadly, it isn’t the first time I have been cautioned that women need to work harder to make up for the possibility of a pregnancy-related absence. It seems that even when hired, it is in roles that are associated with stereotypical gender traits, which does a disservice to everyone.
While the solutions to these issues are complex and ever evolving, certainly the first step is researching the reasons behind gender inequities. In my graduate research at the University of Waterloo, I’m part of the Generationed City research team led by Markus Moos. I specifically study how gender differences manifest in residential location and housing decisions. The data we are collecting from the Generationed City survey shows that women have a higher propensity to prefer suburban domestic spaces, in particular when they consider starting a family.
This raises important questions about the way intensification and urbanization have neglected the gender and the motherhood dimensions of urban spaces. Stereotypes about suburbs being “best” for mother and child seem to persist. I suspect the shortage – and, in some cases, complete absence – of women in the housing development industry has a role to play in what is “sold” to women as a family-friendly lifestyle.
I hope the influence of our PM’s gender-equal cabinet trickles down into the development industry, and through it into our homes. We owe it to ourselves – and the women and men who have fought for equality in the past.
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