Hydro Ottawa Renews its Efforts to Attract More Women to the Trades
The percentage of power line technicians at Hydro Ottawa who are women? Regrettably, less than 1 per cent, says Donna Burnett Vachon, the utility provider’s Director, Change and Organization Development.
Hydro Ottawa’s commitment to changing that situation? “That,” says Donna, “is definitely 100 per cent.”
The challenge to attract more women – and the commitment to meet that challenge – is not unique to Hydro Ottawa, says Guillaume Paradis, the company’s Chief Electricity Distribution Officer. Nor is the problem limited to the trades. “Yes, the need to attract more women to fill trades positions is definitely a priority. And while the situation is better in engineering, management and leadership positions, there is always room for improvement there as well.”
In fact, few companies are doing more to attract women and minorities than Hydro Ottawa. For example, as a founding signatory of the Leadership Accord on Gender Diversity for the Canadian electricity sector, it is committed to opening the doors to more women and implementing practices that will enable women to move up the ladder. And as part of its Diversity and Inclusion Plan, Hydro Ottawa is actively working on more than 70 initiatives to promote employee awareness, training and support, including its Women’s Inclusion Network who passionately promote gender diversity across the company.
We’re delighted with our partnership with Algonquin College and we expect to reap the rewards that come with the increased participation of women in STEM programs well into the future.
The utility has also partnered with Algonquin College on a three-year pilot project called We Saved You a Seat for the jointly delivered Powerline Technician Diploma Program. The goal of the project is to actively recruit women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs and to attract more women to non-traditional careers – like a power line technician. To help make that happen, the college has reserved 30 per cent of its classroom seats in the program for qualified women, is raising awareness of the career opportunities available for women in technology and the trades, and providing program support such as mentoring and financial incentives.
Launched in 2018, We Saved You a Seat is showing promising results. Algonquin College and its participating partners were recognized earlier this year when the project won an award of excellence from Electricity Human Resources Canada.
“We’re delighted with our partnership with Algonquin College,” says Donna. “And we expect to reap the rewards that come with the increased participation of women in STEM programs well into the future.”
At the same time, Hydro Ottawa recognizes that it needs to reach out to women before they start seriously considering career choices. That means promoting the possibility of a career in the trades to girls in the early stages of high school and even elementary classes, says Guillaume. “The fact is, women are not knocking down our door for trades careers at the moment. To change that, we believe we have to reach them at the earliest stages of career development.”
But attracting women to the job is only part of a winning equation, he says. “We also have to make the jobs attractive to women. To do that, we have to emphasize the fact that a career with Hydro Ottawa – or any career in the trades – can be challenging, enjoyable and financially and emotionally rewarding.”
The leadership team at Hydro Ottawa knows that the path forward will likely be difficult at times – the utility sector is still viewed by many as a male-dominated industry. But they recognize that a successful effort to attract women benefits everyone: the woman who finds a rewarding (albeit somewhat unexpected) career; a company that more accurately reflects the customers it serves; and Hydro Ottawa, who can draw on the experience and talent of a truly diverse workplace.
“What better time than International Women’s Day (March 8),” says Donna, “to renew our efforts to attract talented and committed women to an organization that welcomes them, supports them and rewards them for the work they do.”