The Washington Post Magazine’s front cover story “Breaking Through” on women in construction is an empowering celebration of how women are supporting each other in and on the field. A community is thriving, especially online. One of my favorite anecdotes that writer Maile Pingel covers is of one of the featured women, asking for and sharing work clothing recommendations for mothers who needed to pump on job sites. As I wrote in my review of Susan Eisenberg’s art and oral history exhibit at the AFL-CIO headquarters in DC, there are hardly any maternity policies in place to support women in construction, the Ironworkers being the first of any trade to implement a maternity leave policy in 2017.
Women who are currently working in the trades are serving as role models for younger generations, reaching out through social media (#Move Over Bob), reality DIY TV shows (Philly Revival) and events and resources (National Assoc. of Women in Construction). The industry is becoming more open to women, and women are showing up; according to the article, the NAWIC’s DC chapter alone has grown more than 200%. The goal of these women isn’t to displace men, but to join them — and there is plenty of work and not enough people to do it.
Women still face many hurdles, in their minds and on the job, such as offering lower quotes for the same work. But a new client audience is emerging that I hadn’t realized — women are becoming an “in-demand” choice for other women and LGBTTQ clients, as well as among communities of color, who feel safer around women. Still, says NY architect Anik Pearson, “The most difficult issue to overcome is people’s misconceptions that women’s work is of less value”.
The pioneering women in Eisenberg’s remarkable oral history collection We’ll Call You if we Need You, said the same things that women today are saying. We need more women, more welcome and encouragement, earlier training and more vocational education in schools, and more community and networking. “Normalization is power.”