There's a lot that goes into creating an inclusive working environment on a jobsite. One thing that probably doesn't come to mind though, is the availability of menstrual products. But construction sites in British Columbia are beginning to take notice and account for the on-the-job needs of everyone in the trades. One contractor leading the way is IBEW signatory Houle Electric.
|Menstrual products are starting to be made available on certain construction sites in British Columbia, including through IBEW signatory Houle Electric, thanks in part to the efforts of Kamloops Local 993’s Mollie Routledge.
"Once we learned about this campaign, it was really easy for us to say yes," said Houle Vice President of People and Culture Amber Roberts. "Our vision is to be an industry leader, and that includes embracing and advancing diversity and inclusion."
The Period Promise campaign is an initiative of the United Way that aims to eliminate what's known as "period poverty." Half of all people who menstruate say that they have struggled to purchase products for themselves at some point in their lives, and more than a quarter have gone through a period without having any products at all. In terms of work issues, research by the United Way found that more than 20% of people who menstruate missed work because of an inability to access menstrual products. And 30% have had to leave work for the same reason. Menstruation is, in fact, one of the top two reasons that women miss work in Canada.
Affordability can even be a concern for tradespeople. Despite being paid a solid living wage, individuals sometimes have to pay CA$18 or CA$20 for a box of tampons in remote and rural areas.
There can be other barriers for construction workers too, said Mollie Routledge, a journeymen electrician responsible for membership development with Kamloops Local 993. Women, non-binary people and trans men represent less than 5% of skilled tradespeople, so their menstrual needs are rarely considered when it comes to stocking the restrooms.
"It's not something that everybody thinks about," Routledge said. "And it's not necessarily an easy conversation to bring up if you do need something."
Routledge, who is also a director of Build TogetHER, the women's committee of the BC Building Trades, took her concerns to Houle last summer and said she's thrilled to have the company sign on and even post about it on social media.
"I'll admit it's a pun, but this is the right thing to do, period, and I'm deeply grateful to Houle for taking this step," Routledge said. "They are an outlier in the sector, but all good leaders are outliers at some point."
Houle signed the pledge on Aug. 30 and is currently providing menstrual products for its roughly 80 members doing electrical work on the multi-year CA$623 million Mills Memorial Hospital project.
"Houle is a positive, forward-thinking company and their employees welcome having easy access to these menstruation products in the same manner as toilet paper," Routledge said.
Adopters of the Period Promise include unions, post-secondary institutions and nonprofit organizations, but only a handful of private companies like Houle. Also of note is BC Infrastructure Benefits, the first crown corporation to sign on. BCIB manages workforce development on certain public infrastructure projects.
"BCIB is working with the province and contractors to open doors for women and people across the gender spectrum," said Irene Kerr, BCIB's president and CEO, in a statement. "But it's not enough to simply open the door. We need to create safe and welcoming jobsites so that everyone is able to do their best work."
Fluor Constructors, which is working on the Canada LNG project, has also signed on. LNG Canada's Kitimat terminal is part of the largest private-sector infrastructure project in Canadian history, a CA$40 billion-plus development that includes new pipelines running from gas fields near the British Columbia-Alberta border to the west coast export terminal. At peak, Routledge says they are expecting to have 3,000 electricians on site.
The Western Joint Electrical Training Society has also signed on with the Period Promise and will have products available at all of its locations. Western JETS is responsible for the training of the electrical specialists employed by all signatory contractors of IBEW unions including Victoria Local 230, Local 993 and Nelson Local 1003, which covers Vancouver Island, Northern British Columbia, the Yukon and the Kootenays region in the southeast.
The United Way and other supporters are optimistic that more companies will eventually come on board.
"We're hoping that the more companies like Houle become adopters, the more it will catch on," said Neal Adolph with the United Way. "Employers will realize that the Period Promise program not only benefits workers, but is feasible, economical, good for business and the right thing to do."
Routledge also noted how programs like the Period Promise can help to address the province's need for more tradespeople.
"We have a skilled trades shortage, so there has been a push for some time to recruit people from underrepresented groups, including women," Routledge said. "The more ways we can demonstrate that construction is welcoming to women, the more inclined they'll be to consider a career in the sector."
The Period Promise is an extension of Local 993's broader inclusion efforts. Last March, the local received a Breaking Barriers award from the province for its work to recruit and retain women, Indigenous people and other historically underrepresented groups.
"This is another way in which we can help to remove stigma, promote dignity and provide healthy work places where everyone can work to their highest potential," Routledge said.