Women Run Work!

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—by Susan Eisenberg

As a kid I loved teeter totters –– the playful shift of ups and downs. There’s a rhythm, laughter. Even the meanest tricks on them were pretty harmless. As a grown-up, I can appreciate the hands-on learning. The math and physics kids figure out instinctively: the heavier person moves in so the two are balanced.

Talking about the history and experiences of tradeswomen has the same challenge: finding the balance of delight and routine and terror that feels fair and accurate. My eyes tend to roll backwards when the conversation is limited to successful pilot projects, but not whether they were replicated. Or how many women graduated pre-apprenticeship training, but not whether they were placed in apprenticeships — and fairly trained and graduated to journey level careers. Obviously with women only 2.3% of the construction workforce there’s a lot that requires concerned attention and activism.

But the goal is, of course, the satisfaction of skilled work and successful careers being available without discrimination. It’s important to celebrate the experiences that help us see that possibility. So, with the On Equal Terms installation going to New York City this fall (September 29 – November 1, 2013 at the Clemente on Manhattan’s Lower East Side!), I’m adding a new element–– Women Run Work –– to the always-shifting exhibit.

I figure that a lot must have gone right when we see a woman lead the work on a jobsite. She’s being trusted to manage a crew and manage business. Someone believes that she will get the job done right and on budget — enough to take a risk on that. I figure there were people earlier in her career who saw to it that she was well-trained, and mentored her. And maybe a good union rep or lawyer who advocated to make sure she wasn’t unfairly passed over . . . maybe a supervisor or owner who recognized talent . . .  or??? Probably different for each woman. But when a woman runs work, it likely represents a lot that’s worth celebrating.

The first responses have been heartening. I found out that high voltage electrician Wanda Davis supervises “two of the hydroelectric generation projects that produce power for Seattle” — how cool is that!!! And I’ve been interested to learn who women credit for their chance.

If you’ve run work, or know a tradeswoman who has, please fill out this form and send it in. I’ll include it in On Equal Terms. I’ll also be adding a Women Run Work page to the blog (as balance to We Remember).

I’d be glad to hear any comments on this. I know some women have told me, No one ever asked me to be foreman. Or, explained why they turned down the offer, when they were asked. And, like Diane Maurer explains in We’ll Call You If We Need You, a woman successfully running a job doesn’t always carry the same benefits as for a man. I’m curious about all that, too. But let’s also celebrate that Women Run Work!

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5 comments

  1. Two friends of mine in the SF Bay Area became not just foremen but superintendents: Nina Saltman, who’s now retired, and Steph Lind. My impression is that they were and are superior at the job. Nina was one of the first women to get into the carpenters union in California and wrote a piece for my anthology, Hard-Hatted Women, about starting out in the trade. She has spoken often at Tradeswomen events, always willing to share her story.

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  2. I was a member of UBCJA from 1978 till I retired from the union in 2006. From about 1990 till 2006 I ran work for PlantConstruction in SanFrancisco. Working as a forewoman and Superintendent I managed many multi million dollar projects.
    Regards
    Nina

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