1,600 tradeswomen converge in Chicago

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More than 1,600 tradeswomen representing various crafts in the building and construction industries attended the 2017 Women Build Nations (WBN) conference last week in Chicago to raise awareness and build support for tradeswomen.

The conference provided tradeswomen a platform to address every day challenges and learn about opportunities to advance their careers. It offered a buffet of workshops to build collective knowledge to ensure equal opportunities for tradeswomen to succeed and lead in the construction industry. The workshops covered a range of relevant timely topics including recruitment and retention, leadership development, safety, politics, policies affecting tradeswomen and issues beyond the tools.

The conference celebrated recent victories in the movement to improve diversity and inclusion. The Iron Workers (IW) took center stage at the conference with its groundbreaking paid maternity leave benefit and the recently trademarked “Be that One Guy” campaign to raise awareness about adversities tradeswomen experience based on gender.

The IW introduced the first-ever paid maternity leave benefit in the industry with six months of pre-delivery and six to eight weeks of post-delivery paid maternity leave. The news made headlines in major news outlets. It was a breakthrough for all tradeswomen and a giant leap forward in the movement to ensure equal opportunity in the workplace.

In the final plenary session, an IW panel shared the inspirational story behind the paid maternity leave benefit, encouraging other trades to follow the lead. Bridget Booker, ironworker from IW Local 112 in Peoria, Ill. Shared her tragic story of trying to hide pregnancy in fear of losing the job, having a miscarriage as a result and how her story inspired the groundbreaking paid maternity leave benefit.

“It’s bittersweet for me because I wish the paid maternity leave benefit had existed before and prevented my tragic experience but I’m so happy for my ironworker sisters who will never have to hide their pregnancies in fear of losing their jobs anymore,” said Bridget.  “It feels great to know that my story inspired that change for them”.

“Bridget’s story tugged at my heart and I couldn’t just overlook the issue of our ironworkers having to sacrifice their family lives and put their unborn children at risk,” said IW General President Eric Dean. “I brought it to our board of trustees and we all agreed that it’s not only the right and morally responsible thing to do but also a good way to recruit and retain ironworker women.”

“We are always looking for things a good union and an employer association should do to improve diversity and inclusion, and providing our ironworkers paid maternity leave made sense morally and economically,” said CEO of Ben Hur Construction and Co-Chair of IMACT Bill Brown.

The IW became a pioneer in the industry for diversity and inclusion with its “Be That One Guy” campaign and the groundbreaking paid maternity leave benefit. “Our ironworker women shouldn’t have to choose between having a family and working,” said Vicki O’Leary, IW district representative of safety and diversity. “So many members had to hide their pregnancies and that will no longer be an issue.”

“The IW paid maternity leave is a milestone moment not just for tradeswomen but for women everywhere, and the fact that it came out of the building trades is huge,” said Lauren Sugerman, national policy director for Chicago Women in Trades. “It happened right here at the WBN conference last year when Bridget Booker, a brave young ironworker stood up and shared her story with the IW leadership.”

The WBN conference is a catalyst for progress and positive change in the construction industry and continues to be the national platform for all tradeswomen.

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