Women Build Nations Conference Draws 1,500

More than 1,500 skilled tradeswomen from 40 U.S. states, Canada, Nigeria and the Philippines attended the Women Build Nations Conference last week in Chicago. The conference, sponsored by North America's Building Trades Unions and hosted by Chicago Women in Trades, featured 50 workshops, a speech from Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and a panel of international building trades presidents as well as tradeswomen who began their crafts several decades ago.

At a Tools of the Trades workshop, pre-apprentices met experts in their crafts and had the opportunity to weld, bend conduit and use construction tools. Additional conference topics ranged from building leadership skills to strategies for overcoming social and political challenges.

A pre-conference event took 44 elevator constructors on a behind-the-scenes tour of the 106-story, steel-framed Willis Tower. The group who toured the tower represent more than a third of the union female membership for their trade. Another pre-conference event coached more than 150 apprenticeship prep and joint apprenticeship and training committee coordinators, program directors and instructors on how to recruit and retain women in the trades.

"At one point, the 1,500 attendees were asked if they had ever been the only woman on a job site. Every hand immediately shot up. The level of camaraderie and enthusiasm was electric," said Patti Devlin, Laborers International Union, chair of North America's Building Trades Unions' Women's Committee. "More than a job title, these women share an experience — one that doesn't always receive the resources it deserves."

For more about the conference, visit the Chicago Women in Trades website at The site also offers a variety of resources for recruiting and retaining women in the trades.