Went to a Sisters in the Building Trades meeting just outside of Seattle this past Friday, and I was blown away by the energy and enthusiasm I saw there. Having only just become involved in the building trades a year and a half ago…I felt like this meeting was a place I finally belonged! Not because I am interested in becoming a union worker necessarily. I would say that my interest in sustainable building practices and the building trades in general are more in using it as a vehicle for addressing many issues facing my community. Regardless, I will be working right alongside the female union carpenters, welders, plumbers, etc. And gladly!
In my many meetings with community organizations and sustainable businesses, I have rarely been as moved as I was at this meeting. Each woman in the room seemed to be glowing with an inner strength, a knowledge that they had proven themselves and were working alongside men, despite some people’s efforts to discourage them. Strong, badass women shouting, “welcome to the workforce of the 21st century; we’re women and we’re here to stay!”
Now, wasn’t that what they said in the 20th century? Yes, and it needs to be repeated until it is accepted as fact. Sisters in the Building Trades is trying to promote that message through several routes:
1. Working in the trades themselves. When there are not a lot of women around the jobsite, it is easy to make jokes and play on stereotypes of women. There is an assumption that they are bitchy, hard to work with, too weak, etc.
2. Being mentors for incoming sisters. I've only had men as mentors and teachers, but I can only imagine how supporting this would be. Someone to commiserate with, to ask questions regarding pregnancy policy, etc. Not to mention getting tips on how to make tasks which require brute strength easier, how to make up for height discrepancies, etc. Basically a sister to guide you through turning a "male job" into a job in which both genders can be equally successful!
3. Providing co-ed trainings in which men walk out with a more positive attitude toward women than they did coming in. A bonus effect of having the sisters do trainings...because women are teaching, the thought of capable women in the workplace is automatically more in the forefront during trainings.
Of course, like any organization, they have problems with funding, volunteerism, lack of ownership of projects by members...but they work in spite of all of it. Upon leaving this meeting, I felt like the tension of being accepted into a male-dominated profession didn’t matter as much; I felt like I had been accepted into a sisterhood of builders who had already accepted me. This makes me want to realize the same for other girls…especially some women in my neighborhood who have been taught that the incredible power of their own bodies and spirits does not exist...