Women are Tearing Down Boundaries and Stereotypes While Finding their Place on Jobsites

By Ellen Rogers

Teachers, nurses, flight attendants, secretaries and hairdressers were the top career aspirations for little girls more than 30 years ago, according to a 1989 study published by the British Journal of Guidance and Counseling. Fast forward to 2015, and a study conducted by online media brand Fatherly found those career goals had shifted to doctor, scientist and teacher. Almost ten years later, that hasn’t changed. Girls as young as elementary school ages see themselves in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) roles—including construction. Learning a skilled trade, such as glazing, provides many opportunities that translate into more women stepping into roles once reserved for men.

Girls who Glaze

Women still make up a minority of construction workers, but that number is starting to grow, and the numbers on jobsites are changing. According to the 2021 labor force statistics report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up just 11% of the general construction sector; of that, the percent of women glaziers is around 2%.

Vicki L. O’Leary, general organizer for the Ironworkers International in Des Plaines, Ill., says while the growth of women in the ironworking trade (which includes installing curtainwall, storefronts and entrances) has been slow, women are turning to the trades for the same reason as men. “It is the good hourly wages, benefits and pensions. The wages are the same for men and women,” she says. “Many women do not want to be confined to an office, cubicle, restaurant or caregiving [job] and have no issue getting dirty at work, working hard and working with their hands.”

Tureka Dixon is the recruitment coordinator for the Finishing Trades Institute (FTI) Mid-Atlantic Region based in Philadelphia. She is also a glazier and spent more than a decade in the field. She took on the recruitment role last December and now advocates for trade careers—especially glazing.

“Glazing is like the hidden trade because no one really knows about it,” she says. “There are opportunities for women to learn the skill and become tradeswomen, to grow in a union and even become a company owner. We need females.”

O’Leary agrees. “There are just not enough men to handle all the work that’s upcoming. We need women to take these good-paying jobs. Women are an essential part of the economy. These middle-class jobs are an opportunity for women to buy their own homes and sustain financial independence.”

Madison Hull, director of service with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 16, adds, “The glazing industry is expected to continue steady growth through 2027. The traditional pipeline and well of workers is tapped. It’s going to require a strategic collaborative partnership between labor and management to recruit and retain the workforce needed for growth.”

Dixon says the number of female glaziers is low, though that’s changing slowly.

“Many businesses today have diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices and departments and people in the jobs sector working to make sure it’s diverse,” she says, adding that more exposure to the glazing trade will also help grow the number of women.

“I’m on the steering committee for WINC—Women in Nontraditional Careers—in Philadelphia. Some women in that program pick glazing [for their trade] because they see me there and can see [glazing] exists. They can see what’s available.”

Hull agrees and says the biggest driver for women to get involved in this industry is simply knowing that it exists. “Having vocational and pre-apprenticeship programs that offer an introduction and pathway to all building trade crafts is so essential,” she says.

As a recruiter, Dixon tells people—including women— about being a glazier. She visits schools and community events to talk to them about the different trades and opportunities in construction jobs.

“I’m helping them realize that glazing is a trade that exists. People are becoming more aware,” she says. “I’m seeing more girls at these events. It’s exciting to see [the number of women] coming in through the doors.”

Tools & Tiaras

Headquartered in New York City, Tools & Tiaras is one organization working to teach girls between the ages of six and 14 that “Jobs Don’t Have Genders™”.

“We do this through our hands-on monthly workshops and summer camps that expose girls to the skilled construction trades. All of our programming is taught by tradeswomen, so our girls get to see people who look like them doing this work,” says Judaline Cassidy, founder and chief visionary officer for Tools & Tiaras Inc. Cassidy is also a New York City union plumber, tradeswoman, activist and speaker. “What we do differently, is put real tools—drills, torches, wrenches—directly into girls’ hands, so they realize just how capable they are. We don’t put limits on girls. We empower girls with the skills and self-confidence they need to see limitless possibilities for themselves as next-generation construction workforce trailblazers, STEM leaders, or anything they dream for themselves.”

Cassidy says by making intentional changes to the way the world still views, portrays and defines “women’s work,” they are ushering in much-needed change so girls know they can do and be anything they dream for themselves.

“The data is clear. Girls and young women are still missing from the pursuit of STEM studies and careers, which encompass the construction trades. This is because their interest is not encouraged or is lost and discouraged at a critical point in their development. This is due to external factors, such as social expectations, gender stereotypes, and a lack of role models,” she says. “Tools & Tiaras programming delivers a pre-emptive, game-changing solution to inspire girls. We provide an encouraging space for cultivating and advancing their interest in STEM, access to non-traditional career exploration, pathways to opportunities, direct connections to mentors and role models and sisterhood.”

Girls involved in these camps and workshops learn core construction skills, including architecture, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, welding, automotive, engineering, sheet metal, and much more. What’s missing? Glazing, though not by choice. Just as Dixon pointed out, there isn’t enough exposure to the trade.

“We would love to do a glazing workshop,” says Cassidy. “If there are any glaziers out there who want to volunteer their time and talent with our girls and us, definitely get in touch.”

Beating the Odds

With every opportunity, there are challenges. For women in construction, one of the first steps is removing the stereotypical idea that this work is just for men.

“One girl told me her brother works in construction, and he’s always so dirty,” said Dixon. “I said, ‘feel my hands,’ and she was surprised to see they were soft. I say, stop thinking you must be hard and crusty to work in construction. We are the people you see in the community. It’s diverse within the trade. We have to get out of the male norm, and with more exposure, it will change.”

Organizations such as the National Association of Women in Construction, WINC and other national and regional groups support women in these roles.

“As the only woman on a jobsite, you might feel like you don’t have the support you need … even something as simple as having your own [restroom] on the jobsite,” says Dixon. “The women in these groups encourage and support one another. Things are changing, and when we stand together, our voices are louder.”

Family Matters

Trade organizations are also taking steps to provide women with the tools and resources that will allow them to have a career and a family life. In 2017, for example, the Ironworkers Union made headlines with an industry-first maternity leave benefit.

“The Ironworkers International was the first in the building trades to have paid maternity care for six months before giving birth and with an additional six-eight weeks after giving birth,” says O’Leary. “We have had over 100 women ironworkers use this program to grow their families. Women in construction should not have to choose between growing their families and careers.”

Childcare, likewise, has always been a challenge for families, but in construction, it is an even bigger concern.

“Parents cannot drop their child off at daycare at 6 a.m. and make it to their jobsites with a start time of 7 a.m. Most childcare centers do not open before 6 a.m.,” says O’Leary. “This is where owners, contractors and all stakeholders will have to work together for solutions. North America’s Building Trades Unions is doing a childcare pilot to address these concerns in New York City and Milwaukee. We hope that data from these pilots will help shape the future of how we think about childcare for tradeswomen and men.”

Hull says IUPAT provides a number of training opportunities, including pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs in the glazing field. “Access to certifications and training (see sidebar on page 60) lead the industry to the highest standards and specifications. For women this can equate to higher retention and upward mobility.” She adds that the IUPAT also provides a maternity leave policy that recognizes and puts in place a program for women to have both careers and families.

The Good Fight

The construction industry has taken significant steps to create an open and inclusive work environment for everyone. However, women in these trades say there is still work to do.

“The most challenging thing about working in a predominantly male industry is being treated like we are lower or less than men,” says Casey Weir, a glazier with Local 636 in California. “I can’t count how many times I was told, ‘Go back to the kitchen’ or ‘Let me do that for you. I don’t want you to break a nail.’ It is tough if you don’t have support.”

Glazier Anna Wright, Weir’s mom, has a similar perspective. “It’s challenging to convince the boss to give you the opportunity to prove that you’re capable,” she says.

O’Leary says these situations are getting better, but there is still bias in the industry. “Women are changing that attitude daily. Bullying, harassment and intimidation are still part of the industry. There are many programs that are intended to bring on the cultural shift that is needed to address those situations.”

One of those programs is the Ironworkers International’s Be That One Guy (BTOG), which recognizes harassment as a safety hazard, not just a treatment issue.

“In any harassment scenario, there are three key components—a harasser focused on their target; a target focused on the harasser; and bystanders focused on the situation as it unfolds. The outcome is a whole group of workers not putting their full attention on the job at hand,” says O’Leary. “In the past, the solution was to remove targets of harassment from the situation. This approach, while often well-meaning, made it appear the target and not the aggressor was to blame for the situation. By identifying only the target’s lack of concentration as a cause for concern, we miss the bigger picture and feed into aggressor-biased solutions.

“Shifting to a true victim-protection and safety-focused culture, BTOG supports the removal of the aggressor—just as we would with any other identified safety hazard. This ensures the safety of workers and the jobsite and transfers blame for harassment to aggressors, where it belongs.”

Gina the Glazier

Since the 1940s, Rosie the Riveter has reminded women they can do tough jobs. Rosie continues to work hard today alongside Gina the Glazier, Wanda the Welder and everyone in between. But the work isn’t done. Women remain a minority in the glass and glazing industry, facing opportunities and challenges. Introducing more women to the jobs and benefits of learning a trade will set the stage for building the next generation.

Up for the Test

The Architectural Glass & Metal Technician Certification (AGMT) program started in 2019 and is a personnel certification process that provides an independent, third-party assessment of an experienced glazier’s knowledge and ability to perform fundamental glazing procedures properly. Since its start, the program has certified 1,193 glaziers; 11 are women. More than half of those women earned their certification in 2022.

“Glazing has been my world for over 18 years. As a woman in glazing, not all of those years have been easy,” says Suzi Person, who was certified in 2019. “Joining my union almost 15 years ago has greatly improved not only those tough times but my spirit to continue reaching new heights as a trained professional. To make half the impact, women often feel that we have to work twice as hard. However, the qualified certifications made available to me have given markable evidence of my ability and value as a woman and a member of my organization.”

Earlier this year Anna Wright and her daughter, Casey Weir, completed an industry-first mother-daughter journey: their AGMT certification.

“Casey and I were working together at a small shop in Hesperia, Calif., when her father-in-law mentioned the opportunity to join the Glaziers Local 636,” says Wright. Weir adds of her father-in-law, “He was always bragging about how great the union was, and my mom and I chose glass together.”

“Without hesitation, Casey and I signed up for the next test date,” says Wright, who is now in the process of getting her state C-17 license, which is required in California to bid work. “My business name is Feelin’ Caulky Glazing Inc.”

Weir also has a bit of advice for other women thinking about entering the glazing trade. “Don’t give up. Climb the ladder to the very top and you could end up taking over a company or starting your own.”

Wright agrees, adding, “Put your phone down and put some walls up—glass walls, that is.

Ellen Rogers is the editorial director for USGlass magazine. Email her at erogers@glass.com and connect with her on LinkedIn.

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