WINC: Women in Nontraditional Careers

This story was shared by Tara Toms, Apprenticeship Coordinator, Keystone Development Partnership.

On January 26th through 28th, tradeswomen and workforce partners from Philadelphia gathered virtually for theWomen In Nontraditional Careers Institute (WINC). The WINC project is a regional collaborative partnership to support, increase, and advance women’s participation in construction, manufacturing, and transit careers. Over three days, 195 participants attended sessions to learn about the unique experiences of tradeswomen in workplace health and safety practices, recruitment and retention methods, mentorship, and other considerations from the front lines of work in fields where they have faced historical barriers and obstacles to equality.

The WINC Institute highlighted our union sisters’ voices from IBEW Local 3, Construction and General Building Laborers Local 79, IUPAT District Council 21, Plumbers Union 690, and TWU Local 234. Other speakers included strong diversity and inclusion advocates from Philadelphia Works, the US Dept of Labor Women’s Bureau, Chicago Women In Trades National Women’s Center for Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, OSHA, and Philadelphia City Council. We congratulate and applaud the work of these union locals and their partners in education and workforce to proactively promote and create more accessible and welcoming pathways for women into their apprenticeships and worksites. 

Partnerships such as WINC are essential because they help us evaluate our existing practices and identify strategies for improving our outreach to diverse populations. Simple adjustments to recruitment language and materials, considerations in program development for women’s issues, and other very attainable shifts in practice can drastically increase women’s participation in our training programs and worksites. In the building and construction trades, for example, women represent only 3.4% of workers nationally. In other related fields, where there are good union jobs, women consistently account for only small percentages of workers. Even in manufacturing, where women represent 29% of production workers, they often occupy the lowest-paid positions and find frequent advancement barriers. We saw that even in recent months, most jobs lost due to COVID-19 are those held by women. 

To truly bring about equality in our workplaces, our strong union leaders must prioritize the facilitation of equitable, inclusive environments for people from all backgrounds and walks of life. If we want to see more representation at the table, there must be a seat for them. In the case of women in the trades, there must be thoughtfully designed access to opportunities and the security and fairness of a union contract, the supported learning environment of apprenticeship, and the top-of-the-line wage and benefits packages that the union defends with our collective strength and solidarity. 

Congratulations to the folks at WINC and to our union brothers and sisters in Philadelphia who are putting these ideas into action and creating new seats at the union table for women. 

To learn more about WINC, access resources for your union or employer, and hear the stories of brave tradeswomen who are forging new paths, check out the links below:

Are you a tradeswoman in the Philadelphia area? You can join WINC to meet other tradeswomen, share your story, and connect with future events and opportunities just for you!