BC’s Electric Ladies

President and CEO of the BC Electrical Association, Barbette Ishii, is taking her 25-plus years of electrical-field experience and using it to empower the next generation of skilled tradeswomen

Photo by Photos with Finesse
Photo by Photos with Finesse

Although women are quickly closing the employment gap in Canada’s overall labour force, inequality still remains—especially in fields where men have traditionally dominated such as construction and agriculture. In fact, according to Canada’s Status of Women economic-security fact sheet, women represented only about 5 percent of skilled trades workers in Canada in 2014. Barbette Ishii, CAE, who has been a member of the electrical field for over 25 years, is looking to change that.

Ishii is the president and CEO of British Columbia Electrical Association (BCEA), a nonprofit organization that aims to help those in the electrical industry reach high levels of success. The association largely focuses on education, advocacy, and building community.

The forerunner of BCEA, the Electrical Service League, first took form in the early 1920s. The group was financed by the BC Electric Company (today, known as BC Hydro) with the aim of encouraging the conversion to electricity. Since then, the league’s activities and involvement fluctuated. During the ’80s, the league slowly gained more independence from BC Hydro. In 1990, the Electric Service League underwent an overhaul and officially became BCEA.

Today, BCEA has greatly expanded its services and reach. The association has members in nearly every sector of the electrical field, from marketing and sales to finance, engineering, contracting, and communications. Through publications, networking events, trade shows, educational seminars, committees, scholarship programs, and more, BCEA hopes to foster a community within the industry, where members can grow and learn from one another.

“An educated industry is a safe industry,” Ishii says. “Between all our partners—whether it’s the utility side, electrical engineering, contracting—they need to know their business, codes, and standards. That’s how we align ourselves to help them be successful in what they do.”

Today, the company has more than 145 corporate members and is expanding. In particular, during her time as president and CEO, Ishii hopes to focus on women and youth in the electrical industry—two demographics she says have been traditionally underrepresented.

“It’s a very male-dominated industry, and that can be intimidating, especially for young women,” Ishii says. “We can’t get women and youth engaged and wanting to stay in our industry if they don’t feel empowered.”

“We can’t get women and youth engaged and wanting to stay in our industry if they don’t feel empowered.”

In order to ease the way, Ishii has led the formation of two new committees at BCEA to act as support groups: the U40 group, a committee for those under the age of 40, and the Women’s Network. Both groups function as a space for people to ask questions, network, and learn from their peers. Ishii hopes the U40 committee, in particular, will lend itself to developing ongoing mentor-mentee relationships. The Women’s Network, which had its inaugural meeting in November 2015, has big plans for 2016, including both social nights and educational evenings. Ishii says she wants to see a women’s conference develop in the future as well.

“We’re giving them a platform where they have a voice and they feel free to express and ask questions,” she says. “It’s really just exposing and giving them opportunities—opening doors they may or may not know were there.” In supporting individuals, Ishii believes BCEA can strengthen the electrical industry as a whole.

Much of the inspiration for Ishii’s initiatives comes from her own experiences in the industry. Originally studying to be an accountant, Ishii says she more or less fell into the electrical sector when she was hired as a temporary receptionist at BCEA. Ishii received her designation in 2000, became the executive director in 2005, and was promoted to president and CEO in 2015. Ishii leads the BCEA board of directors, committee members through the strategic initiatives that focuses on their core values of leadership, integrity, networking, and knowledge. Much of Ishii’s day-to-day tasks include collaborating with BCEA’s board of directors, committee members, and industry partners to determine how to further educate those in the electrical field.

“I am a person who believes education comes in many forms, whether it’s peer discussion or sitting as a volunteer on a community,” she says. “Stay connected, stay educated, and don’t be afraid to explore new ideas.”