Non-profits promoting women in trades at Fort McMurray oilsands trade show

·3 min read
Katie Smith-Parent is the executive director of Young Women in Energy. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)
Katie Smith-Parent is the executive director of Young Women in Energy. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC - image credit)

A first-of-its-kind event at the Fort McMurray Oil Sands Conference and Trade Show aims to promote and encourage women in oil and gas.

The networking event is being organized by Young Women in Energy and Women Building Futures.

Katie Smith-Parent, executive director of Young Women in Energy, said the goal is to bring the two organizations together alongside leaders in Fort McMurray to network, build connections and increase the representation of women in trades and energy.

The networking event will have four speakers, including an alumnus from Women Building Futures and industry representatives.

"Hopefully they inspire the audience to just continue pressing for better progress," said Parent-Smith.

YWE wants to spread its message and work, and is planning on doing more events in Fort McMurray and Edmonton this year.

"We really focus on increasing female voice, female presence, female development," said Parent-Smith.

"I hope people are inspired."

A study from PetroLMI found that in 2006, 21 per cent of oil and gas workers were female, with that number rising to 22 per cent in 2016.

Of the 22 per cent, nine per cent of women were in management, 55 per cent were in business, finance and administration, and only four per cent were in trades and operations.

Before the networking event, Parent-Smith will be speaking on a panel about untapped resources in the industry.

Carol Moen, president of Women Building Futures, said the organization works to connect underemployed or unemployed women into the industry.

"Women are an untapped resource," said Moen.

She's hoping to talk to others and find strategies to try and help women be better represented in the industry and what needs to be done to accomplish that.

"This is an opportunity to have a bit better understanding of some of that work that's already being done, but it also gives us an opportunity to engage in some conversations around what could be done if we collaborated and partnered a little bit more," said Moen.

Moen said there are significant resource gaps in the province, not only with existing work, but with new projects starting in the coming years.

She said bringing more women into the oil sector will help the province with economic security and the programs offered by Women Building Futures, which help women break into the industry, will lift women up.

"It's quite a remarkable solution," Moen said.

Women face different barriers when coming into the industry, said Moen. Those barriers include a lack of female representation and financial barriers.

To help with that, Women Building futures can provide assistance with child care, living expenses and funding supports.

In 2021, 60 per cent of the women coming to the organization had dependents, many were single mothers.

"We've spent the last 20-plus years getting women ready for the trades and there needs to be a lot more effort getting the trades ready for women," Moen said.

To help with that, WBF partners with employers to get them assessed on how inclusive and safe their work environments are for women.

Over the last 23 years, the organization graduated 2,700 women. Annually they're graduating about 175 women from the various programs.

"We are hoping to increase that number as we move forward," said Moen.

She says this conference is a step toward making sure more women get the support they need.

The event starts at 4 p.m. Thursday. More than 100 women are expected to participate.