Entrepreneur looking to close gender gap for women in the construction industry

A construction entrepreneur hopes to close the gender gap for women wanting to enter the construction industry.

Stacia Van Zetten is the Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of Exact Technology — a company that helps make the construction process more efficient.

“From my experience working in the field, I saw a lot of inefficiencies within processes of materials and collecting information. So what we do now is we provide work we’re consulting. Still, we also provide hardware and software to monitor different aspects of construction and materials and bring information online,” Van Zetten told CityNews.

Van Zetten said she knew from a young age that she wanted to work on buildings, but it wasn’t until later in life that she turned to construction.

“My grandpa was an architect, and I grew up thinking that I wanted to be an architect,” she said. “I studied architecture for a year and then realized that I liked what went on behind the face of a building the complexity of math and science and loads to build these massive structures.”

When Van Zetten started, she noticed fewer females studying engineering and working in construction, a noticeable gender gap.

“I found that it was very segregated, and there were difficulties being taken seriously even on sites,” explains Van Zetten. “So, I did have to focus on working my knowledge and providing myself. I knew what I was talking about when I was going to visit these projects, and ultimately [I would] tell people how to build properly.”

Because of her determination, Van Zetten believes she has gained respect in the workforce. “I still think I work extra hard. And maybe it’s not even because I’m a woman. It’s just because I’m passionate about what I do. And that’s what people see. And that’s why people respect me now.”

But it wasn’t always easy. Van Zetten shared an instance of when she felt she was n’t taken seriously in her position at a job site.

“The best example is my first time going to a construction site. I was interning for a company and was brought by the current intern to the site,” she explained.

“He was a male, and we sat down in a meeting with the superintendent, and the first thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘Hey, are you bringing your girlfriend to site for a tour today?’… That was the first ‘Aha [moment],’ [that] things need to change.”

According to the Canadian Association for Women in Construction, only 13 per cent of the personnel who work in construction in North America are women. The association’s president, Luana Buratynski, believes a large part of that is perceived gender norms.

“When I grew up, I had no idea I could have pursued a career in construction. All I knew was you go to university or college, and then you pick a typical job in the office or as a doctor or lawyer,” Buratynski said. “I think the education system has to elevate careers in construction, elevate the trades, elevate women pursuing unique technical skills.”

“I think it’s just how we were raised. And I hate to say it, and I don’t want to be offensive … but I grew up playing with Barbies,” Van Zetten said. “And I think that boys play in the sandbox. We know that’s changing. And hopefully, that will close the gap in the future, but there is still some work to be done.”

Stacia Van Zetten with construction crew at a site
Stacia Van Zetten at a construction site. Photo credit: Stacia Van Zetten

Van Zetten says exposure to other females in the construction field might contribute to more women entering the trades.

“I was not exposed to the construction industry engineering. I think that we were taught to go to university and fit in one of the boxes of a profession. Not to say engineering isn’t a profession, but a trade. It’s definitely not exposed at a younger age.”

The Ontario government recently introduced a new science and technology curriculum that includes learning about skilled trades. Other skillful trade industries have praised the move, adding there has been nervousness at the lack of young people choosing to learn a trade despite the booming industry.

“I think the pandemic has made this even more clear like last two years. Industries are slowing down or stopping, but construction is booming like crazy. Governments are putting billions of dollars into large infrastructure projects, which is why there’s a huge labor gap right now,” said Van Zetten.

“So I think there’s just so much opportunity for women, obviously to fill this gap and then also just opportunities for anyone to change your career, start a new passion, get your hands dirty, in this industry that’s changing the city.”

Van Zetten adds there are also stereotypes about working on construction sites that she is trying to break.

“These projects, they’re so complex, they’re massive, you walk by them, and you don’t even know what’s going on. If you look at them as this amazing canvas, full of opportunities, there’s a lot of intellectual creativity that needs to happen,” said Van Zetten. “A lot of challenges that need to be solved and just collaboration between brilliant minds. I think that’s the way we need to look at it and not just this dirty, dusty project that we’re walking by and not understanding.”

Her advice for other young women wanting to enter the field is to find a mentor who is doing something you would be interested in pursuing.

“I think that the key thing is being as passionate as you can be, and you will succeed. It doesn’t matter what your gender is. You need to go for it. If you’re passionate about it, you’re going to shine no matter what.”

Leave a Comment