Breaking down walls and building doors for women in the construction industry

Jacqueline Collier takes the reins at the Kingston Home Builders Association
Jacqueline Collier
Jacqueline Collier is taking on gender barriers in the construction industry as the new head of the Kingston Home Builders Association. Photo by Julien Bernier.

Jacqueline Collier recently became the second woman to head up the Kingston Home Builders Association (KHBA) since the group’s inception in 1954. She already knows what one of her priorities will be.

“With proper safety equipment, I am not afraid to shout from the rooftop that women are welcome, wanted and needed in construction,” said Collier, sales and marketing manager for Tamarack Homes in Kingston. “It’s a message I will be sending loud and clear throughout my tenure as KHBA president.”

Christine Hollywood was the first woman president of the KHBA, holding the position from 2019 to 2020. 

Collier has spent around 20 years in the construction industry.

“The reason it’s so meaningful to me is that it represents that we – the collective we – are heading in the right direction, “ she said. “I want future generations of women to hold these positions normally, equally, and without the need to be the first or second in these important roles.”

Now that she has walked through “this door”, Collier wants to reach as many people as possible with her platform. She said that she, together with other talented and welcoming women in the industry, are opening doors for themselves and their peers.

“They are framing and installing the doors, as well,” Collier said. “Women have gotten in and created change in the culture and spaces – beautiful, respectful and inclusive spaces – for all. Getting this message across is very important.”

The skilled trades industry is currently dominated by men. According to Statistics Canada, males make up about 93 per cent of the workforce in the trades in Canada and Ontario. BuildForce Canada estimates that 116,000 skilled trades workers are needed across the country to keep pace with growth in coming years. 

“We cannot continue this way and expect to meet our country’s growing need for housing,” Collier said. “It is critical we take steps towards diversifying the skilled trades.”

Chris Taggart, president of Tamarack Homes, said Collier has a natural leadership ability that makes her the ideal person for president of the KHBA. 

“She’s very passionate about the house-building business and she understands it very well,” he said, adding, “She didn’t learn from us, we’re learning from her.” 

Debi Champagne, director of sales and marketing at Tamarack, agreed.

“She’s just got a natural talent, by all means. She’s self-educated in many ventures. There’s no training that girl won’t touch and find,” she said.

Even with her skill set, Collier said she has faced many barriers on her journey to get into a position like her president’s role.

“Women experience their gender as a barrier, in and of itself, and particularly motherhood, due to the perceived inability or desirability to be as dedicated or as present as our male colleagues,” Collier explained. “This, of course, is fallacious, but nonetheless I would posit that this is a barrier which faces women in every single industry on earth.” 

Gender barriers are not the only hurdles she has faced. 

“I always feel like, maybe it shouldn’t be me,” she said. “This is something that’s a struggle for most women and it’s a really unfortunate one because we shouldn’t feel this way. But I’m forcing myself to gain extra confidence because I represent, now, the Kingston home builders.”

One of the ways Collier hopes to entice a more diverse crowd into the skilled trades comes through her role on the Skills Advance Ontario construction project advisory committee. SkillsAdvance Ontario is a pilot project intended to support workforce development in key growth sectors. 

Before employees can seek employment, they need basic training. Collier points to the Eastern Ontario Colleges Consortium. “They have created basic starter construction programs. I know they are making one specifically for women in construction.”

Collier also chairs the City of Kingston’s Housing and Homelessness advisory committee, as well as Habitat for Humanity Kingston Limestone Region. She is vice-president of the board with Big Brothers Big Sisters Kingston and with BGC Boys & Girls Club Southeast. She is co-chair of Kingston’s Kids First.

Collier said that representation of women on boards continues to increase but remains low.

“I’ve read that, globally, it is estimated that women hold approximately 12 per cent of seats worldwide, with only four per cent chairing boards,” she said. “Although it is a bit higher in Canada, there is still a critical need to continue paving these roads.”

Collier describes herself as a motivated individual.

“Once I know what I want, I go for it,” she said. “I figure out what it takes to get involved and I work hard to achieve it. I always follow up on those quick ‘passing-by’ comments of opportunities that happen at social and networking events. If there is an opportunity for me to volunteer to use my particular skill set to serve my city and to have an impact, then I am all for it.”