By Susan Eisenberg
Friday, May 27, 2011
Carolyn Williams, chair of the National Building Trades Department’s Standing Committee on Women in the Trades and director of the Human Services Department for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, opens the conference.
(WOMENSENEWS)–For women who work in construction–an industry where women’s work force percentage has been stalled at 2.5 percent despite more than 30 years of enormous efforts to open those occupations–national conferences provide a vital lifeline.
Until the weekend of April 29-May 1, there hadn’t been one in a decade.
The long hiatus was broken by the national AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, which agreed in January to co-sponsor California’s annual AFL-BCTD-sponsored statewide conference, and let it serve double duty as the 10th conference for women in the state’s building trades and the first “Women Build the Nation” conference.
For women isolated in their workplaces and unions, the opportunity to make face-to-face connections with their counterparts, gain practical skills, talk strategy and hear information and commitments directly from national leaders was not only invigorating but offered life support.
The most raw moment came at Saturday’s noon plenary, when pioneer electrician Molly Martin, co-founder of the Bay Area’s Tradeswomen, Inc., asked from the stage, “How many of you have been the only woman in your trade on a job?”
Virtually all the hands shot toward the ballroom ceiling.