Women made up 9 percent of the total construction workforce in 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the labor shortage becomes more acute across all sectors, including glazing, women could play a vital role in growing the trades.
Vicki O’Leary, a general organizer for the Iron Workers, at the 2018 Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference, gave a keynote speech called “Ironworkers Build Diversity,” which was later hosted as a webinar on the ENR website.
O’Leary spoke about the challenges of being a female ironworker in the ‘80s. She said she was underestimated and couldn’t find work boots in her size.
According to O’Leary, women have come a long way in the trades, but still have further to go.
She played a video featuring Bridget Booker, a female ironworker who told her story at a past Women Build Nations event. Booker hid her pregnancy and ended up having a miscarriage. Her story led to the creation of the maternity leave benefit.
“In that moment, the trades weren’t keen to women being pregnant on the jobsites, so you would hide it,” Booker said in the video. “And when you were pressed with the issues [you had to decide,] do I provide for my children or do I quit? Do I provide for my rent, my water and my bills or do I tell them I’m pregnant and lose everything?”
O’Leary said up to 11 women used the program in 2017.
“It only cost $146,000 to do the right thing. It can be done and it should be done,” she said.
O’Leary also emphasized the importance of the Iron Worker’s “Be That One Guy” campaign, which encourages male ironworkers to stop harassment on the jobsite.
“Be that one guy that realizes the person getting bullied could be a mom, a daughter, a sister or a niece… Be that one guy who treats a woman coworker as a sister ironworker. Be that one guy who teaches the tricks of the trade rather than assuming because of her gender she’ll not be here long…Be that one guy who creates a safe haven for all workers,” said O’Leary.
She stressed the importance of feeling safe on the jobsite.
“It’s important to feel like you’re safe on the job. Our job is dangerous enough as ironworkers, we don’t need to have that fear of the people we work with,” she said.
O’Leary called for tradeswomen to work collectively to help each other so that the number of women in the trades can grow from 9 percent to potentially 20 or 40 percent in the future.
Women Build Nations
The 2018 Women Build Nations Conference will begin in Seattle tomorrow, and aims to empower women in the trades.
USGNN™ spoke with Karen Dove, executive director of Apprenticeship & Non-Traditional Employment for Women, a partner of the conference, about why women glaziers should attend the conference.
“This conference brings together more than 2,100 women so they can meet other women, develop mentors and develop a support system,” she says.
According to Dove, often times there is only one women on a job. This conference allows them to come together with other women within their trade.
“Even if they’re across the country from each other they can call each other to talk about their work,” she says.
The conference also provides opportunities to develop leadership.
“We need women leadership,” says Dove. “If people don’t see people like themselves in leadership roles they won’t join a career or organization.”
She believes having more women in leadership roles will draw more women to the trades.