Embracing Pride in Construction

Kyla Smyth shares her insights on LGBTQ+ allyship in construction

LGBTQ+ Pride month celebrates culture, supports rights, and uplifts voices. However, the sentiment behind Pride should extend beyond a specific day or month. In 2023, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face widespread intolerance and discrimination, including within the cisgender, straight, white male dominated construction industry. There is a lack of resources supporting the queer community in the industry, and few statistics that identify queer demographics. Friends and colleagues of mine have shared stories of homophobia in the workplace that astonish me, and it is disheartening to see this behaviour persist.

Supporting the LGBTQ+ community has always been important in my life. My sister, Rachel, is a lesbian working in the construction industry. Growing up in a progressive city in Canada, we were fortunate to be surrounded by acceptance and celebration of the queer community. However, we understand that this is not the case everywhere.

Rachel 2 Rachel and Claire

Rachel faced barriers in her career in construction, considering her intersectional identity as a woman and a queer person. Intersectionality refers to the interconnected nature of social identities and the overlapping or compounding discrimination or disadvantage experienced by individuals and groups. First used in the context of law to show that black women were being discriminated against in ways that were unique to their experiences as black women, rather than just as women or just as black people, intersectionality has grown into a popular way of understanding the complexity of identity. Rachel’s experiences are unique because of the ways that her womanhood and her queerness intersect.

She transitioned to construction from a background in film, initially focusing on various renovation techniques. During her time as an apprentice, she was enamoured with learning a broad range of skills and abilities, capable of doing everything from tiling, drywall, flooring, and finish carpentry. In 2017, she and her partner started their own company, Venus Renovations, specializing in bathroom and kitchen renovations. While finding success with Venus, they desired to pursue different aspects of the industry. Rachel now works as a site supervisor for Building Up, an organization providing training and support to people facing employment barriers in construction.

Rachel and Claire and Kyla

Their success has not been without discrimination. Many queer individuals feel the need to hide aspects of their personal lives in the workplace. Surprisingly, being queer became an advantage for Rachel’s business, attracting women and queer clients who wanted to support them.  However, they also noticed a disconnect between queer people seeking employment opportunities in trades and those willing to hire them. Conscious and unconscious biases still exist, preventing queer people from accessing employment opportunities. While working in the industry, Rachel also often encounters microaggressions, such as having her partner referred to as a “friend” and assumptions that she works for her husband or father when shopping for construction supplies.

During Pride month, I want to reintroduce and reinforce the concept of allyship across our practice. Allyship involves supporting, amplifying, and advocating for people from different social identity groups. At Ryder, 9% of our people identify as LGBTQ+. Initiatives like providing space for colleagues to disclose their gender through pronouns emphasized the importance of supporting underrepresented groups and looking beyond personal experiences. It is crucial that we take time to understand how our power and privilege can create significant change by speaking up, challenging the status quo, and providing opportunities for the employment of queer people and the creation of queer friendly spaces.

As a baseline, we need to validate people’s lived experiences. By signalling support for underrepresented groups, we actively work towards changing systemic issues – reinforcing our ethos to improve the quality of the world around us and, in doing so, improve people’s lives.

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