In a Toronto condo under construction near Richmond Street and Spadina Avenue, Natasha Ferguson can be found hard at work, covered in dust — her focus, on sanding.
She isn’t afraid to get her hands or her hair dirty. It’s kind of like a metaphor, she says, for what she has had to go through to prove she has every right to be in a male-dominated industry.
“I was going for jobs and I wasn’t being hired,” Ferguson told Global News one afternoon. “It was more of me being a woman, they just didn’t believe that I could actually do the work and also just, you know, a woman managing a bunch of men on site.”
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So, instead of trying to knock down doors, Ferguson opened up her own, launching Ethelfox Construct Group, a construction company with an aim of breaking down barriers and gender biases for women who want to work in the trades.
“I want to see more women in the trades,” said Ferguson. “When I started to try to hire and find women, it was extremely difficult … a lot of women think that they can’t do this and so I’m showing them that they can.”
The company specializes in custom interior/exterior home renovations including drywall installation, tiling and flooring, light carpentry, kitchen and bathroom remodeling and cabinet refinishing and painting.
Ferguson also started her own non-profit called A Women’s Work, offering support and training for women in the industry through self-esteem programs.
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“We need more women plumbers, we need more women electricians, we need women who can do drywall and tiling and all of these different trades,” said Ferguson. “I think through these programs, it’s just going to create jobs, it’s going to create education around the industry and what can actually be done in this industry.”
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Ferguson’s construction team is made up of 70 per cent women who saw and believed that they could do it too, like 25-year-old Otisha Joseph.
“Having [Natasha] by your side and motivating and pushing you to do different things — like I would have never seen myself on a roof,” Joseph said, incredulously. “But now I’m up there and I’m walking around and it’s amazing.”
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Ferguson said, even armed with the power to call the shots, she still has to counter an industry culture that is misogynistic and discriminatory.
“I’ve gone on my own job sites,” said Ferguson, “and I’ll get there and the guy will be like, ‘oh is your boss going to come’ and I’ll be like ‘oh no, no, I’m the boss’.”
Ferguson also recounts instances where she was passed up for managerial positions, over an aversion “to the thought of having a Black woman managing older, [white] guys on a [construction] site.”
However, she says her late mother, Ethel and youngest daughter, Fox — the company’s namesakes — are the driving force behind her plans to change the industry.
“My mother was a go-getter,” said Ferguson. “She came into this country when she was 21 years old, and she faced racial discrimination her entire life, so in a way, this is for her as well.
“My two daughters … it’s important for me to let them understand … they can do anything they want, whether that’s construction, or being a lawyer or plumber or whatever. That’s why I’m doing this.”
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