Fighting for Women's Equality

New Blog Feature: Tradeswomen Tuesdays

July 22, 2014 | by

Equal Rights Advocates is a proud member of the Taskforce on Tradeswomen Issues, which unites local, regional and national expertise and action to support tradeswomen and women who want access to these occupations. As part of our continuing commitment to advancing the conversation on employment issues faced by women in the trades, we are proud to announce that going forward we will be hosting a weekly feature profiling a woman in the trades and her career. This week’s installment of Tradeswomen Tuesdays (you can read previous installments) introduces us to Kathleen, an electrical journey worker from San Mateo, CA. Check in every Tuesday to learn more about the inspiring women of the trades.  

“I think that for myself, I’ve been able to figure it out how to work with men in the field and interact with them now in my administrative capacity. I don’t hold resentments, and as a result I’ve had more positive experiences than negative.” – Kathleen Barber, an electrical journey worker in San Mateo, California, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 617. Kathleen has been an electrical journey worker for 30 years, 20 of which were spent working in the field. She is currently the training director for her union’s apprenticeship program.

As training director for her union’s apprenticeship program, Kathleen is responsible for the administration of the apprenticeship program and of the journey worker upgrade program, supervising instructors, reaching out to schools and community organizations for recruitment, and participating in political dialogue — locally and nationally — on topics related to apprenticeship. Kathleen got her start in the trades when women were first allowed to join the apprenticeship program. Prior to that, Kathleen worked in an office.

077Kathleen said she joined the union as a condition of the apprenticeship, but that “it was the best mandatory condition that’s ever been put on me.” She credits her union and apprenticeship with providing her a sustained career, facilitating pay increases that have kept her in-line with the quickly disappearing middle class, providing her with a pension program that will allow her to retire without being overly concerned for her future, and allowing her to get her education, including a Master’s degree. Kathleen feels a part of a community through her union, but she also acknowledges that not every woman in the trades may feel that way.  

She does believe that every woman will figure it out if they stick with it though saying, “In the building and construction trades, there are no shy women. If you want to get ahead you’re going to learn to be assertive – not aggressive, assertive.” Kathleen believes it was her assertiveness over time that helped her to be successful. “As long as I was showing interest in what happened on the job, I never had a lack of people who wanted to tell me more. If I had been shy, then not as many people would have wanted to mentor me,” she said.

When asked what she loves about her trade, Kathleen said, “As an electrician, 90% of the time, you’re working in the dark. I love turning on the light. When you get to switch on the light you have a complete sense of accomplishment. I love that the fundamentals of electricity haven’t changed in 150 years, but the devices to control electricity have changed a lot. It makes for an ever-evolving industry. I love the challenge of having to do things differently.” 

Kathleen’s advice to future apprentices or tradeswomen would be to be mindful of their attitude. “Attitude is 90% of your success, ability is the other 10,” she said. She sees construction, and the electrical industry particularly, as a promising and fruitful place for women to consider working. “The industry itself has evolved to a much higher level of acceptance or women and different ethnic backgrounds than ever before. I wouldn’t shy away from this as a career choice. More high tech devices are being designed and will require an analytical approach – this will make construction something more attractive to women to consider as a career,” she said.

To learn more about women in the trades, tune in to ERA’s blog next week.

This post was written by Gabrielle Hickmon and Francoise Jacobsohn of the Taskforce on Tradeswomen Issues.

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