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More than 1,500 skilled tradeswomen from 40 U.S. states, Canada, Nigeria and the Philippines attended the Women Building Nations Conference held at Chicago's Crowne Plaza O'Hare Hotel from April 29 to May 1. The conference, sponsored by North America's Building Trades Unions and hosted by Chicago Women in Trades, featured 50 workshops; a speech from Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky; and a panel of Building Trades International Presidents.
At a Tools of the Trades workshop, pre-apprentices met experts in their crafts and got the opportunity to weld, bend conduit, and use a jack hammer. Other workshops dealt with sexual harassment and racism both from a legal perspective (presented by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and a social one. Additional conference topics ranged from the benefits of project labor agreements to tips for developing good fitness routines.
A pre-conference event took 44 elevator constructors on a behind-the-scenes tour of the 106-story Willis Tower. The elevator constructors who toured the tower represent more than a third of the union female membership for their trade. Another pre-conference event coached more than 150 apprenticeship prep and Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee coordinators, program directors, and instructors on how to recruit and retain women in the trades.
"At one point, the 1,500 attendees were asked if they had ever been the only woman on a job site. Every hand immediately shot up. The level of comradery and enthusiasm was electric," said Patti Devlin, Laborers International Union, Chair of North America's Building Trades Unions' Women's Committee. "More than a job title, these women share an experience -- one that doesn't always receive the resources it deserves."
The panel of Building Trades International Presidents included Eric Dean from the Iron Workers; Frank Christensen from the Elevator Constructors; and Jim Boland from the Bricklayers. A second panel featured four "tradeswomen matriarchs." These women began their crafts in the 1970s, breaking through prejudice and stereotypes to pave the way for the skilled tradeswomen who followed.
ABOUT CHICAGO WOMEN IN TRADES
CWIT was founded in 1981 by tradeswomen whose desire to build their own careers in the construction industry evolved into a collective mission to ensure that all women who wanted to work with their hands and earn a good living had equal access to information, training, and employment opportunities in the industry.