Q&A: Build a Dream founder and president Nour Hachem

Hachem talks about her inspiring mother, starting Build a Dream and how builders can recruit and retain more women.

Heike Delmore Photography

Build a Dream is a national non-profit organization founded by workforce advisor, mentor, and influencer Nour Hachem. It advances diversity and inclusion initiatives for skilled trades and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers.

Since getting its start in 2014 in Windsor, Ont., Build a Dream has delivered programs to inspire young women to pursue work in historically male-dominated fields. We spoke with Hachem about how the industry can attract more women and what barriers they face in the construction sector.

SiteNews: Tell me about the work Build a Dream does and what motivated you to start it.

Nour Hachem: Build a Dream is committed to empowering women and underrepresented groups to explore diverse career paths, particularly in skilled trades, Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM), Entrepreneurship, and Emergency Response fields. Through comprehensive mentorship programs, immersive career expos, and hands-on workshops, we strive to dismantle barriers and provide youth with the confidence and skills necessary for successful futures in these industries.

My journey into the skilled trades industry was deeply influenced by my mother’s determination to excel in a male-dominated field. Witnessing her perseverance ignited my passion for challenging societal norms and advocating for gender equality. Through my extensive career in workforce development and as a woman from a racialized community, I realized the urgent need to address the barriers preventing women from pursuing rewarding careers in skilled trades, STEAM, Entrepreneurship, and Emergency Response fields. This realization fueled my commitment to founding Build a Dream and we are thrilled to be celebrating our 10th anniversary on April 27th at Caesars Windsor. It’ll be a time to highlight the meaningful work we have accomplished over the last ten years with our community, partners, and supporters. Tickets are still available for purchase on our website

SiteNews: What do you think are some of the root causes of women not choosing skilled trades, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers?

Hachem: There are several factors, including limited access to training programs, deeply ingrained societal stereotypes, and pervasive biases within educational and workplace environments. To effectively address these challenges, it’s essential to advocate for comprehensive STEAM education from an early age, promote hands-on learning experiences that spark interest and confidence in young women, and establish robust support networks offering mentorship and guidance tailored to their unique needs. 

We were thrilled to see an investment in our young people in Ontario’s 2024 budget. We welcome these measures that support skills development and apprenticeships for Ontario’s youth, such as expanding access to skilled trades training centers and investing in programs like the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. By prioritizing access to mentorship and skills training programs for equity-deserving groups, including women, we can take significant strides towards building a workforce that reflects Canada’s rich diversity.

SiteNews: Why don’t we see more women in leadership roles in these fields?

Hachem: The underrepresentation of women in leadership roles is rooted in systemic barriers such as pervasive gender biases, limited accessible pathways for advancement, and a lack of representation at decision-making levels. To address this disparity, proactive measures such as implementing robust diversity and inclusion policies, fostering more mentorship opportunities for aspiring female leaders, and amplifying the success stories of women in these fields are crucial. We need to dismantle these barriers so that we can pave the way for more equitable representation. 

Heike Delmore Photography

Our Union Training and Innovation Program (UTIP), funded by a grant from ESDC (Employment and Social Development Canada), aims to boost women’s leadership through initiatives like the Apprenticeship Incubator, which uses virtual reality simulators for skills development, and the #PowerUP Skills program, which provides hands-on experiences. Additionally, our You’re Hired Road Show will facilitate connections between jobseekers and employers, particularly benefiting those without preexisting connections in the industry. 

SiteNews: What sort of impact did your mother have on your attitudes/thinking towards women in the workplace?

Hachem: My mother’s resilience and achievements in a male-dominated field deeply influenced my attitudes towards gender equality in the workplace. Witnessing her determination to succeed played a pivotal role in shaping my commitment to empowering women and creating opportunities for their representation in traditionally male-dominated industries, culminating in the establishment of Build a Dream—a platform dedicated to fostering gender diversity and equity.

SiteNews: As a working mom, tell me about some of the challenges female leaders face when they are starting a family. 

Hachem: Female leaders encounter numerous challenges when starting a family, primarily centered around balancing work and family responsibilities. Juggling demanding professional roles with childcare duties can often lead to feelings of guilt and stress. Supportive policies such as flexible work arrangements, comprehensive childcare assistance, and extended parental leave are crucial in easing this burden. That’s why, Build a Dream is urging both the provincial and federal governments to provide subsidies and incentives for businesses to establish on-site childcare facilities, recognizing the vital role affordable childcare plays in supporting women’s participation in the workforce. This aligns with the recently launched provincial budget’s focus on building, expanding, and renewing schools and childcare spaces, demonstrating a commitment to supporting working parents. Additionally, the federal government also recently announced measures from the upcoming Budget 2024 to build more affordable childcare spaces. This is another significant step toward addressing the childcare needs of tradespeople and supporting their continued participation in the industry.

SiteNews: What has your experiences as a workforce advisor, mentor and influencer taught you about motivating women to choose trades and STEM careers?

Hachem: I’ve learned that motivating women to pursue careers in trades and STEAM fields requires more than just encouragement—it demands tangible support, hands-on learning opportunities, and targeted mentorship programs. Our WAGE program addresses this need by offering a comprehensive mentorship program where participants are matched with experienced mentors who provide valuable insights tailored to their goals and challenges. Through networking opportunities and skill-building workshops, mentees gain the confidence and connections needed to feel empowered to explore their interests. Additionally, highlighting the real-world impact and opportunities for growth within these industries can inspire women to pursue rewarding careers in trades and STEAM. 

SiteNews: What things are companies and leaders doing right when it comes to recruiting and retaining female workers in trades/STEM careers?

Hachem: Companies are making great strides in recruiting and retaining female workers in trades and STEAM careers by recognizing the importance of early outreach and education programs. Additionally, we have seen that offering more apprenticeship and training opportunities that are tailored to women’s needs, promoting inclusive policies that create supportive work environments, and providing ongoing mentorship, all contribute to attracting and retaining more female talent. However, there’s more to be done. 

Our industry case studies, a cornerstone of our Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) project, offer a unique opportunity for forward-thinking companies. With limited spots available, fifteen organizations across Canada will have a chance to showcase their commitment to gender equity and workplace inclusivity. We want to highlight inclusive hiring practices, supportive workplace cultures, and leadership development initiatives. These organizations are the ones leading the conversation and by showcasing their success stories, we aim to inspire other companies to adopt similar approaches, ultimately increasing the presence of women in Red Seal trades and reshaping the skilled trades landscape.

SiteNews: How can men support women who choose to enter predominantly male fields like construction?  

Hachem: Male allies can play a pivotal role by actively advocating for inclusivity and challenging gender biases within their workplaces. Beyond that, providing tangible support such as mentorship to female colleagues, fostering a culture of respect and equality, and actively creating opportunities for women to highlight their skills and leadership capabilities are crucial steps in breaking down barriers and creating a more inclusive industry landscape. 


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