The 2017 Women Build Nations Conference took place in Chicago last week. More than 1,600 tradeswomen within the glazing industry and other construction industry sectors attended the event to raise awareness and build support for tradeswomen.

The conference provided tradeswomen with a platform to address everyday challenges while learning about career-advancing opportunities. Tradeswomen attended workshops focused on recruitment and retention, leadership development, safety, politics and policies.

Many tradeswomen, including attendees, worked on the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place where the event was held.

“The conference has become the single most effective tool to retain, recruit, educate, mentor and meet tradeswomen in North America. It’s the largest all-crafts tradeswomen conference in the world,” says Melina Harris, Sisters in the Building Trades president.

According to Harris, there were a record 16 women glaziers at Women Build Nations this year.

“Attendance at the conference has an amazing effect on tradeswomen. Having so few of them on a daily working basis in the construction industry, they walk in to find literally hundreds of women they feel an instant bond with,” she says. “Women glaziers make up only .04 percent of the industry. Though the rapid rise in women doing glass blowing and glass art shows that women have the attention to detail and teamwork mindset it takes to excel in the industry and increase their employer’s bottom line.”

Madison Hull, a glazier and the political and communications director for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16, has attended the conference since 2003.

“I was the sole glazier at the conference for a while. It’s great to see more new, young apprentices attending and leaving feeling empowered and excited to go back to their unions to spread that message,” says Hull. “For pre-apprentices, apprentices and journey women, it teaches the language of construction both within the field and within your local union; it helps build the foundation for a long a successful career. It is also a place to build networks of support, ideas and growth for our industry.”

She says that the conference has grown from approximately 280 attendees in 2003 to the more than 1,600 who attended this month.

“It shows that Women Build Nations is a proven model that brings people together,” she says. “It gives them a voice and an opportunity to be part of change and growth within their trade. Women see other women doing that job and they can start to see themselves being in those positions.”

Earlier this year the Iron Workers (IW) introduced the first-ever paid maternity leave benefit in the industry with six months of pre-delivery and six to eight weeks of post-delivery paid maternity leave.

Bridget Booker, an ironworker from IW Local 112 in Peoria, Ill., shared her story of trying to hide her pregnancy out of fear that she would lose her job. She had a miscarriage as a result. Her story inspired the paid maternity leave benefit.

“It’s bittersweet for me because I wish the paid maternity leave benefit had existed before and prevented my tragic experience, but I’m so happy for my ironworker sisters who will never have to hide their pregnancies in fear of losing their jobs anymore,” says Booker. “It feels great to know that my story inspired that change for them.”

Hull says she was glad to see positive change for women.

“It’s great for women to be able to stay in a career they love and have a family,” she says. “The IW also implemented the ‘Be That One Guy’ campaign, which is about stepping up for everyone. I thought that was great.”