EllisDon supports women with vests that fit

Journal of Commerce | Don Wall  | January 19, 2023

EllisDon’s new Fit Your Frame campaign, launched to provide construction safety vests to women and gender-nonconforming workers, is about much more than simply providing PPE that fits properly.

The initiative, led by the firm’s 2gether inclusive diversity leadership group, involved seeking a supplier that was philosophically aligned, developing a modern vest that at long last offers the right fit for female employees and others, and planning distribution to some 800 EllisDon employees. The program kicked off Jan. 16.

“It’s more than a safety vest,” said Jennifer Khan, EllisDon’s vice-president of inclusive diversity. “It’s a commitment. It shows you’re committed to women in construction and to gender nonconforming people and to diversity and inclusion.”

Khan said in recent years construction employers have increased their focus on diversity, aiming to attract more people that are not part of the majority group into their offices and onto jobsites. The vest represents a new act of inclusion.

“It is the company saying very clearly that where something doesn’t exist, we will create it for you, and we will pay for it,” she said. “I think that’s equally as important as getting representation. We need to create an environment where we say to somebody, ‘you belong here, and we have a tool to make sure you feel that way.’”

The problems women employees experience with ill-fitting PPE is generally becoming understood, Khan said, and there are a few suppliers that address the gap, but it had not been a priority for EllisDon until the topic was raised off-hand at an employee leadership group meeting focused on gender equity.

It dawned on the group — why do we allow women to work in protective clothing they are “swimming in?”

A vice-president of safety gave the OK to begin a search but it was soon determined regular vendors had products that were of poor quality or had low functionality.

Khan said what was needed is called a surveyor’s vest, with nine to 15 pockets that can carry items such as tape measures, pencils and drawing lasers.

“Because our women were wearing men’s vests that didn’t fit them, a lot of our women were experiencing back pain by midday, because of the way that the weight is distributed on their shoulders,” Khan explained.

The supplier will be Toronto-based Safety BeSpoke, a new division of Md Bespoke, a Black-owned custom clothing manufacturer that until now has not produced construction wear. Khan said the firm is committed to diversity and inclusion so there is a natural partnership.

“We thought this was a great fit, not only for the quality of their work, but also who they are and what we mutually value,” said Khan.

The firm was founded by Marlon Durrant in 2000 and the Fit Your Frame initiative was spearheaded by COO Tess Durrant.

“It is so important to feel like you belong in a workplace, and I know from personal experience what that can do mentally to you when you feel like you do not belong,” said Tess Durrant.

She said as an outsider to the industry it was a shock to learn that there aren’t more vest options available.

“When we were first approached by the EllisDon team, Marlon and I were up for the challenge,” said Durrant. “We’ve always been in the business of designing and manufacturing clothing that fits the needs of our clients and their unique body shapes.”

The Fit Your Frame program is geared not only to women but also gender nonconforming workers. Men with slim physiques will also be able to order the vest.

“One of the most interesting things is when a person or a woman puts on the new vest, there’s like a sigh of relief,” said Khan. “They say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize my vest was supposed to fit me this way.’”

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