Op-Ed: Celebrating Women’s History Month: Empowering Women in the Trades

03.14.2024 jwatson

Women’s History Month is an important time to recognize, reflect, and celebrate the remarkable contributions of women in all aspects of society. For me, a New York City union carpenter and chair of the union’s Women’s Committee, it’s a moment to honor the trailblazers who paved the way for women like myself to thrive in a traditionally male-dominated field. It’s also a time to highlight the importance of programs like Sisters in the Brotherhood (SIB) that support and empower women within the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC).

Our history as sisters in the brotherhood traces back to October 1935 when Margaret Ellings made history as the first woman initiated into the UBC. Since then, women have been vital members of the union, contributing their skills, dedication, and passion to our trade. The establishment of the Women’s Committee within the UBC marked a pivotal moment in our history, providing a platform for women to come together, support one another, and advocate for change.

The SIB program embodies the spirit of solidarity and empowerment. Since its inception in 1998, SIB has been instrumental in creating a network of active members dedicated to eliminating barriers to success for women in the union. Through networking events, training sessions, and other various activities, SIB has fostered a sense of community among women carpenters, empowering them to thrive in the construction industry.

But our involvement goes beyond mere camaraderie. As committed union members, SIB members actively participate in local union meetings, advocating for issues unique to women members and ensuring their voices are heard. We engage in political activism, turning out to support the union at rallies and campaign events, and advocating for union projects at public meetings. We are not just women carpenters; we are advocates for change.

Mentoring and recruiting are also fundamental aspects of our mission. We recognize the importance of supporting the next generation of women carpenters, providing them with guidance, mentorship, and opportunities to succeed in our industry.

I would not be in the position I am today without the support and guidance of my mentor – an instructor at the training center. I knew from the moment we met that I wanted to become her in the future, and flash forward eight years later, I am teaching that same class, in that exact same classroom. The journey from an aspirational apprentice to an experienced instructor was the proudest moment of my career, and I am honored that I now get the opportunity to mentor other women entering the industry.

As I reflect on my own journey as a union carpenter, I am grateful for the support and camaraderie of my fellow sisters in the brotherhood. I am also thankful for the union’s good wages, quality benefits, and pension that have allowed me to become the first homeowner in my family – a dream that could not have been accomplished without the support of my union sisters. Together, we continue to break barriers, defy expectations, and shape the future of our trade. This Women’s History Month, let us celebrate the achievements of women in the trades and reaffirm our commitment to building a more inclusive and equitable future for all.