Progress has been slow, but women now represent more than three per cent of the active workforce in Quebec's construction industry -- a goal that had been laid out in 2015.

The Commission de la construction du Québec (CCQ) had set the goal of "at least three per cent" of women in its 2015 Equal Access Program.

At that time, it aimed to reach the threshold by 2018; the equivalent of doubling the number of women in the industry.

In the end, the goal was reached in 2021, according to preliminary data from the CCQ, made available to The Canadian Press.

In 2021, there were 6,224 women working on Quebec construction sites, or 3.27 per cent of the active workforce.

In 2020, that number was 4,849, or 2.73 per cent of the active workforce.

This means that 3,898 construction companies (14.7 per cent) hired women in 2021 compared to the year prior, at 3,294 companies.

"I am delighted, optimistic," said Diane Lemieux, president and CEO of the CCQ. "It took time, that's clear. Something really happened."

She admits the phenomenon could be reversed as the number of women hired may have increased due to a lack of manpower in the construction industry because of a decline in the number of graduates in the field.

"You can't deny that the labour shortage has forced the issue," said Lemieux.

However, "beyond the statistics, I think there has been a much greater buy-in. I remember at the beginning when we were talking about this (...) we were still saying 'women don't want to' or 'women are not capable'. We talked in basic clichés," said Lemieux. "Now, I see employers' associations that have developed awards for entrepreneurs who have been particularly exemplary in integrating women."

The five occupations that have the most women are painters, carpenters, labourers, electricians and plasterers.

Now that the goal of at least 3 per cent of women has been achieved, the CCQ is considering a "version 2.0" program to be in place by the end of the year.

Lemieux says she cannot say for sure whether it will include a specific percentage of women workers.

"We're looking at the gains made, where the issues are, why they are less present in certain trades," she said.

Lemieux notes she is also concerned about the retention rate in the construction industry, which is traditionally lower for women than for men.

"Yes, we are getting more women in, but what are we doing to keep them?" she asked.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on March 8, 2022.