SMART Women Take Seattle By Storm

December 11, 2018

A large delegation of over 210 SMART women joined more than 2,000 tradeswomen from around the world at the 2018 Women Build Nations Conference in Seattle October 12-14, 2018 to meet and discuss the state of women in construction, learn best practices for recruiters, and explore ways to keep the growing movement of women in the trades strong and vibrant as they continue to grow at a historic pace.

The conference was kicked off when SMART sheet metal sisters from across the United States and Canada volunteered at the Seattle Union Gospel Mission.  The shelter provides support for at risk women and children with locations throughout the Seattle area.  SMART Women’s Committee members paid for, prepared and served lunch for over 200 women and children who came to that shelter that afternoon.

The general session, which kicked off the following day, provided a diverse range of speakers who noted the progress women have been making in the trades with an eye towards the arduous work still to come.  North American Building Trades President Sean McGarvey discussed the skilled labor shortage and how women have been stepping up to not just fill positions but lead projects and crews across all the trades while the AFL-CIO’s Liz Schuler briefed attendees on the midterm elections and new developments at the AFL-CIO.

Conference participants, more importantly, came for the camaraderie and to learn from each other’s experiences – especially from those who serve as mentors to younger generations of women entering the trades.  It is in this role that SMART women stepped into to lead the way for their fellow sisters in the trades.

Vanessa Carman from Local 66 in Seattle helped lead a panel focused on the ins and outs of building a women’s committee at the Local Union level. The mentoring panel included local 66 mentors and mentees also included Local 66 members Emily Wigre, Tammy Meyen and Christina Bayaniyan.

Leah Rambo headlined and facilitated another panel where female apprentice from across the trades and around the country shared their experiences and advice for other women just joining the trades. Among the apprentices were two from from Local 17 in Boston and Local 28 in New York City who were joined by fellow sisters from the bricklayers, ironworkers and laborers.  The discussion, anchored by Rambo, was blunt and focused on real world situations. 

Chris Carlough, SMART Director of Education and Lisa Davis from SM Local 16 in Portland, Oregon lead a breakout that discussed the importance of mentoring and which covered what mentor training entailed at Local 16 in Portland as an example.  Topics ranged from communication and feedback, to setting healthy boundaries with mentees – complete with exercises and potential scenarios.  

The facilitators examined the process of implementing a mentoring program and provided a tool-kit of forms listing out goals, expectations and structure ideations that any organization looking to create a mentoring program could tailor for themselves.   There was also a moderated panel of mentees and mentors from the program established by the Women’s Committee of Local 66, who shared their experiences, expectations, rewards and benefits of participating in the program and answered questions from the crowd.  

The breakout session was received spectacularly well, with trades people and government entities from all over the country emailing for weeks afterward to share their enthusiasm and looking to brainstorm on ideas for their own mentoring programs.

While attendees shared their experiences during the conference at the interactive breakouts, attendees from every trade marched in a parade that highlighted each trade in attendance.  The SMART delegation was one of the largest if not the loudest during the parade as women from Portland to Kansas City to as far away as Boston marched through Seattle’s Pioneer Square behind their local union colors.

The conference wrapped up with caucuses held for each trade.  SMART’s trade caucus focused on receiving feedback from attendees on a proposed website and resource center; the recruitment of more women into the trade and required resources to support them; the development of mentoring resources on a state by state and provincial basis and issues faced uniquely by women on the jobsite and how to address them.

The 2019 Women Builds Nations Conference is set to be held in Minneapolis, MN October 4-6.  All locals are urged to send participants to this important event.