Confronting Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment in the Skilled Trades

This article presents an analysis of a significant report by YWCA Halifax, detailing the prevalence and impact of sexual and gender-based harassment in the skilled trades sector of Nova Scotia. The complete report can be found here.

Conducted from July to October 2023, the report’s findings illuminate the systemic barriers that deter women and gender-diverse individuals from entering and remaining in these traditionally male-dominated professions. By employing both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, including surveys and interviews, the report offers a comprehensive overview of the issue and proposes targeted recommendations aimed at fostering a more inclusive and harassment-free workplace environment.

The skilled trades sector is critical to Nova Scotia’s economic and infrastructural development. However, its potential is significantly hindered by persistent sexual and gender-based harassment, affecting women and gender-diverse individuals’ participation and retention. According to the YWCA Halifax report, a mere 7.8% of skilled tradespeople are women, with even lower representation in certain sectors, like construction, where women constitute only 4% of the workforce.


The study involved a survey of 101 women and gender-diverse individuals in the skilled trades, supplemented by eight follow-up interviews. This approach provided a dual perspective, combining broad statistical data with personal narratives to illustrate the depth of the issue.







A staggering 90% of respondents reported experiencing some form of sexual and gender-based harassment, with 84% occurring at the jobsite or workplace. Importantly, over 95% of the perpetrators were identified as men, often in positions of power, underlining the gendered power imbalances prevalent within these sectors.





Impact of Harassment

The report underscores the significant impact of harassment on the mental and emotional well-being of victims, leading to high turnover rates and a reluctance to report incidents due to fear of retaliation or disbelief. “Over 65% of respondents indicated their main harasser was someone in a position of power, exacerbating the difficulty in reporting and addressing these incidents,” the report notes, pointing to a systemic issue within workplace hierarchies.




The YWCA Halifax report offers several key recommendations, categorized for the Nova Scotia Government and for employers and unions:

  1. For the Nova Scotia Government:
    • Amendment to Legislation: Propose changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to explicitly include sexual harassment, drawing on the Human Rights Act for definitions.
    • Creation of a Response Team: Establish a sector-specific, third-party sexualized violence response team to offer timely and intersectional support.
    • Incentives for Training: Introduce training incentives for psychological safety, diversity, equity, inclusion, and sexualized violence awareness.
  2. For Employers and Unions:
    • Continuous Training: Mandate ongoing training in diversity, equity, inclusion, and psychological safety, emphasizing leadership roles.
    • Sexualized Violence Training: Enhance staff knowledge on responding to harassment incidents through specialized training.
    • Policy Development: Develop standalone sexualized violence policies in collaboration with subject matter experts to ensure best practices are followed.
    • Support Services: Advocate for sector associations to create shared services supporting small and medium-sized businesses in addressing harassment.

The YWCA Halifax report provides a critical examination of the pervasive culture of sexual and gender-based harassment within Nova Scotia’s skilled trades sector. Its recommendations offer a strategic framework for addressing the root causes of harassment, emphasizing the need for systemic change across legislative, organizational, and cultural dimensions.

Addressing sexual and gender-based harassment in the skilled trades is imperative for creating an inclusive, safe, and productive work environment. The YWCA Halifax report’s findings and recommendations serve as a crucial blueprint for stakeholders at all levels to initiate meaningful reforms. As the sector looks towards future growth, the implementation of these recommendations could mark a significant step towards equality and safety for all skilled trades professionals in Nova Scotia.


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