Women in Construction

Women in Construction

The construction industry is made up of many trades, techniques, and technologies. It is also a career for people from all walks of life. In honor of Women in Construction week, we are sharing the perspective of women in our industry.

Kimberly Kennah – 3rd term Idaho Apprentice – LU 635 – UBC member for 5 months

What is your craft? Why do you enjoy it?

I’m a general carpenter, mostly working in concrete forming and I really enjoy getting to create and build. It’s always been a part of my hobbies (I also crochet, knit, and quilt in my downtime). Getting to be outdoors and active has been a big thing too–having worked in an office for more than 10 years I really enjoy getting out and not sitting around at a desk. Most of my skills haven’t transferred over. A lot of the skills I use now are super different, but I think that’s why I like it so much. This is a great job I’m making more now than I ever made working in an office.

There was this one time when we were working on a bridge and I took a moment to just look over what we were doing. I was struck by this moment of appreciation, that what I get to do now is really cool.

What’s a piece of advice you’d give Sisters?

If you’re coming out of an office job, start going to the gym first. You’ll be very very tired after that first day. It was a bit rough at first, for sure.

I’d also say be prepared not to be great at first. I wasn’t very good and being ready to learn–being open to learn helped a lot. Getting over that hump and saying “yes I can” helps, you just have to give yourself that time. Don’t give up!

Jodine Hatfield – Assistant Superintendent at Clark Construction Group, LLC in Washington – LU 196 – UBC member for 18 years

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The thing I enjoy most about being a superintendent is that I really like giving people access. Everybody has good ideas: it doesn’t matter how much time you’ve been in the field. As a leader, I try to make people comfortable and safe so they can say something. I want people to have an opportunity to present new ideas. 

Another thing I enjoy is that this job offers me the opportunity to help others. For example, I had a female carpenter apprentice that used to bartend, and then she changed careers to become an apprentice on our two-billion-dollar project. She had a great eye for detail and safety, and she was excited to work in construction. She showed up on the job with a tiny pin hammer, a tool totally inappropriate for doing carpentry. Reggie Mayo was her foreman, and he and I brought tools from our own collection and tool bags to help get her started. It makes a difference because when I first started I didn’t know what I needed and I had to figure that out by trial and error. By coaching her and giving her tools we gave her a leg up so she could start learning other skills. Later she came to me about a problem on her job, and I told her she needed to step up and let herself be known. I was able to provide the coaching and she stood up for herself and she gained the respect of her co-workers.

Finally, I enjoy being an icebreaker ship plowing ahead into uncharted waters. I currently work on a joint venture project. Clark Construction has a handful of women superintendents across the nation and Lease Crutcher Lewis is 130 years old, I am their first women superintendent.

What’s a piece of advice you’d give Sisters?

My first piece of advice is for you to learn how to use your body in a way that works for you. Don’t allow someone to put your body in a position where you can hurt yourself. What are your leverage strengths and not-so-strong points? I was able to think about the tasks I need to accomplish and with my body type, how I should be able to accomplish a task. Don’t forget to lean on safety people–they’ll help you get the right equipment you need.

Secondly, learn as many things as you can–even the things you don’t like! Grab the opportunities to take classes at the training centers or at other events. Instead of turning down a job because you haven’t done it before, you’ll be able to come on and do the job and use what you’ve learned. You earn a lot of respect for doing something others on your job can’t or aren’t certified in.

Julie Schnyder – Vice President of LU 1281 and Alaska Journeywoman – LU 1281 – UBC Member for 6 years

Pictured above Julie Schnyder and Charlene Harris of LU 1281.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I love the scenery. It can be a challenge working out in -20 degree weather, but most of the time it’s good. I am a general carpenter and I love it because I get to work with my hands and it’s very satisfying to see projects completed. I like working and getting to solve problems.

I did some scaffolding work a while ago and it was fun to look at the area, where the engineers needed to get to and have that picture in my head of what needed to be accomplished to get it there. I always appreciate being able to get people where they need to go to solve their problems. Hanging scaffolding off beams, or making a really hard access available and better for someone so they can do their job. It’s satisfying.

What piece of advice would you give Sisters?

I would give this advice: stick with it. Build good connections in your community and go to the union meetings. I went to every union meeting when I was an apprentice through my whole apprenticeship and now I’m the vice president of my local union. It helps being involved. It’s important to be involved in your union and to make it a better place for you and those after you.

It’s nice to feel proud of my union and tell people I’m the VP of my local union; that gets them interested in learning more about it and why I took the position. It’s great to be able to connect with people when you speak with them.

Kristi Cole – Lead Representative South Puget Sound and Olympic Peninsula, WashingtonUBC Member for 15 years

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Being able to work with apprentices, especially Sister apprentices. I like helping them realize that they’ve got a lot of resources to be successful and also helping them navigate their personal challenges. I’ve also been an ear for them to vent to. I like helping to support and empower our Sisters to push toward their goals. 

With my role as a rep, I’ve been able to create connections within my community too. I introduce people to opportunities and to community partners. I get to see the positive change many of our members bring firsthand.

What piece of advice would you give Sisters?

I would say, show up at your best every day. Don’t let anything outside of your circle of control get into your wheelhouse. We all get things in our head from time-to-time that we can’t control. Focus on what you can. Each day is a new start and you can let go of the trouble of yesterday and keep moving forward.

Even if you’re an apprentice looking to journey out or a journeywoman looking to step into a leadership role, you have to have a clear vision to get there. Stay connected to your allies. Align with the right people so you have support when you hit those rough patches and so you can return the favor when they need help. 

Desi Wright – Oregon & SW Washington Representative – UBC Member for 10 years

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I really like being able to help people–helping them find work, helping them with issues or questions they have, and connecting them with resources… It’s rad to see our younger members grow into these confident, badass women in our industry.

A lot of the Sisters I’ve worked with were bartenders or servers, who didn’t have health insurance before they joined. You see them progress and grow–buy their first house, take their kids on vacations. It feels awesome to know that you helped them out a little and you see what a huge difference this career makes in their lives.

How do you hope job sites will change in the next decade?

We’re seeing more women moving into foreman and superintendent positions. Currently, our Oregon Sisters make up around 3.32% of our members, but when you look at a delegate meeting, executive boards of locals, or participation in local events, women are heavily overrepresented.

When it comes to putting in the work, women step up. Our Sisters are making a difference by getting involved, running for officer positions, becoming delegates for their regional council, etc. We’re making strides because it matters to us and we see an opportunity for growth and change in our union.

Heather Mayther – Oregon & SW Washington Representative – UBC Member for 6 years

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I’m a people person–I love working with and for our members. I enjoy that every day is different, too: one day I could work with a contractor to resolve a member issue and the next I could be helping a member work through a difficult personal situation that could affect their mental health. And then there are the days you might be a marriage counselor.

Since joining the union as a general carpenter, I’ve felt really empowered to help myself and help others; I think it’s translated well into the work I now do as a representative.

What piece of advice would you give Sisters?

A piece of advice I carried with me through my apprenticeship and today: Remember you’re building a career and a name for yourself. Set goals, move with a purpose on the job and otherwise, and don’t compare yourself to others–you’re walking your own path.

In remembrance of Charlene Harris, LU 1281 of Alaska.

Did You Know?

PNWRCC has many women in our crafts and leadership positions.

Margaret Ellings became the first woman initiated into the United Brotherhood of Carpenters in October 1935. The establishment of a women’s committee within the United Brotherhood of Carpenters is one of the most important developments in the union’s recent history. Visit ubcsisters.org


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