Monday, January 08, 2018

What better way to fight workplace alienation than attending the largest gathering of tradeswomen on the planet?

By David Hogben

What better way to fight workplace alienation than attending the largest gathering of tradeswomen on the planet?

Working construction can be an alienating experience for women, especially when women fill only 3% of Canada’s construction trades jobs.

That’s why 25 B.C. tradeswomen – a dozen from the BC Building Trades – travelled to Chicago in mid- October to attend the Women Build Nations conference, the largest gathering of tradeswomen in the world.

“Attending the conference has been extremely valuable to help connect tradeswomen with one another and learn new methods to increase women’s participation in the building trades and our economy,” Julie Sawatsky, a carpenter with the B.C. Regional Council of Carpenters Local 1907, said at the conference.

Sawatsky said the experience will help her make her union stronger, for female and male members. “I made allies across Canada that will continue to encourage me to rise in my union to strengthen all our brothers and sisters,” she said.

Michelle Neil, a member of Electrical Workers Local 230, said the experience strengthened her. “The support of 1,600 sisters makes me feel like I can climb any mountain,” she said.

Lisa Langevin, Electrical Workers Local 230 assistant business manager, said the Chicago convention is the start of a growing movement which started in California as Women Build California.

With so few women working construction, alienation is still a major problem, she said. “On the job, very often women don’t get to meet each other. So coming together with other like-minded women is energizing and inspiring.”

At an earlier conference Langevin met Theresa Moss King, the first female president of the Florida Building and Construction Trades. It helps to meet women who are successful in the trades and successful in the maledominated, building trades union movement. “We struck up a conversation and we have been friends ever since.”

Those relationships include opportunities to be mentored by, and mentor other women.

“It’s a unique opportunity to meet other women in the trades, and especially leaders in the trades,” Langevin said.

With so few women in the Canadian building trades, the women don’t have a lot of contact with each other.

The isolation was epitomized by one female bricklayer from Saskatchewan who had never met nor heard of another female bricklayer in her home province.

Langevin and other participants heard from a Newfoundland tradeswoman who worked on a job site with 22% female tradespeople as a result of quotas established by the provincial government.

“Hopefully we can take some of those best practices and import them into other provinces,” Langevin said.

For More Information: 

Contact the BC Building Trades office
(778) 397-2220