Oregon Tradeswomen has offered Monthly Social Hours for years as a way for tradeswomen to connect with each other and provide educational experiences through topics and guest speakers. As a tradeswoman, it is commonplace to be the only woman on a jobsite, and the opportunity to connect with other women in the trades is such an important aspect for the retention of women in construction careers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic impacted us last year, our Retention Services Coordinator, Kim Neel, knew it was more important than ever to offer a way for tradeswomen to continue to have an opportunity for support and socializing. With that, OTWednesdays was created, a virtual Social Hour taking place on the third Wednesday of every month!
Unlike past Social Hours, OTWednesdays is more of an open format, with no topics or guest speakers, just pure connection between tradesworkers of all ages and experiences. There is something so special about seeing the mentorship between veteran tradeswomen and those who are just getting started on their paths with the sharing of stories, advice on surviving apprenticeship, and tips on how to earn the respect of their male peers. At a recent social hour, we had a tile-setter named Joanne who had been in her trade since the 1980’s who generously answered questions from some upcoming pre-apprenticeship students who were excited about their new careers, but a little nervous about what to expect. From advice on what PPE (personal protective equipment) to invest in to how to approach learning a new tool, the exchange of information was inspiring to witness and it was clear that the novice tradesworkers there took Joanne’s advice to heart.
A unique aspect of our virtual format is that other supporters of tradeswomen can join in to connect and learn. Sometimes industry partners join to provide opportunities to tradeswomen to advance their careers, offering a foot in the door for elevated positions like Construction Inspector or Surveyor. We have even been joined by regional legislators like Sue Chew, Idaho State Representative District 17, who want to learn more about tradeswomen issues as well as provide resources for professional development opportunities. We are grateful for those in our industry and those who are supporters of the tradeswomen movement for their commitment and involvement.
As the pandemic begins to wind down and we look to the future for what is on our horizon, we are evaluating how to best offer support to tradeswomen. While we cannot wait to host Social Hours in our own building, we have seen the value of providing a virtual space for tradeswomen and their supporters to gather and collaborate. Many tradeswomen are tired after a long day of hard work and to have to go home, change out of their work gear, and head out to a social gathering is not always easy. But, to be able to settle in to a comfy chair after work and simply log in to Zoom, the opportunity to socialize is available to a wider community of tradesworkers and their supporters!
The connection between tradeswomen is so valuable, and our goal is to offer easy access to a supportive community that can provide advice and camaraderie. Being a tradeswoman is a unique experience and the hurdles that can come with it can become more manageable when there is a place for others with similar experiences to gather and socialize.