Isolation of Tradeswomen Melts at Rare Conference

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.

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Labor Department Shows Support

It was heartening for tradeswomen to hear Pat Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs at the Department of Labor, say publicly, "We know that women can do any job and--when given the opportunity--can exceed and excel. We know that good jobs are union jobs. I am here to tell you that the Department of Labor stands by you and stands with you and we support you."

Speaking on behalf of the Obama administration, Shiu told tradeswomen that taxpayer dollars should never be used to discriminate, that "being a federal contractor is a privilege, not a right."

Tradeswomen hope that regulations being developed by the Labor Department will mean increased hiring goals that target journey-level employment, serious enforcement and consequences for those who undermine civil rights.

AFL-CIO Building Construction Trades Department Secretary-Treasurer Sean McGarvey came from Washington, D.C., to address the conference, signaling serious support from the building trades unions he represents.

Here again, tradeswomen hope this will translate into new policies and practices in their unions that will identify and uproot the discrimination--intentional or not--embedded in these historically-male occupations, so that women can take their fair place on work sites and in union halls. Tradeswomen will be looking for the actions that follow the good words.


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Susan Eisenberg is author of "We'll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction," a New York Times Notable Book, creator of the mixed-media installation On Equal Terms, and Resident Artist/Scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. She can be reached at Your can read her "Move the Decimal Point" blog at:

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Well done, to have this conference at all, when isolation is what tradeswomen experience!
I would like to see companies advertise when they have a tradeswoman in their employ, or a public listing by female tradesworkers of their existence and where they work, because sometimes, I would much prefer to have a female working in my home, not a male, and I could actually find one!