Feminism in the construction industry
“We have deeply ingrained ideas about what women are qualified to do, or want to do. So many women aren’t even aware of career paths that are available to them. Part of our intention is for women to know, ‘you’re needed, and you’re wanted.’”
Mary Ann Naylor has been working with Oregon Tradeswomen for more than a decade. Her educational background in sociology, political science, and women’s studies makes her a perfect fit as the Communications and Marketing Director of a non-profit organization that challenges the notion that women aren’t allowed or accepted on jobsites or in the trades.
Founded in 1989 “on the principles that women deserve and can attain economic self-sufficiency by pursuing careers in the construction, manufacturing, mechanical, and utility trades while helping and encouraging the trades industry to build a diverse workforce,” Oregon Tradeswomen has a clear mission and set of values: train women to enter the trades, thereby simultaneously meeting the need for more skilled, trained tradespeople.
Through classroom education, hands-on training, and “field trips” (jobsite visits), Oregon Tradeswomen instructs approximately 150 students each year, and they reach more than 3,000 women each year through career education sessions and an annual career fair. The students are primarily in the Portland area, though Oregon Tradeswomen also expands its work to other Oregon cities and beyond. The non-profit is women-run, with the exception of two male employees, and the entire staff of instructors and Board of Directors is comprised of women.
Students at Oregon Tradeswomen are taught construction culture and jobsite safety, safe hand and power tool use, and ladder safety. They also receive 30 hours of hands-on experience, learning from skilled tradeswomen instructors on real jobsites. Projects include building garden beds, stair layout, roof cutting, and even building barn doors. Career counselors are on staff to assist graduates throughout their entire career, and supporters like the well-known Milwaukee Tools, Keen Footwear, and the much less known Dovetail Workwear, in addition to financial donors, grant funding, and fundraising events, all provide the necessary resources for instruction. Training is run all day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with four groups of trainees, graduating an average of 120 students annually; 78% of graduates move into registered apprenticeship and employment after the program.
The projects completed during training are always community-oriented—students are meeting the construction needs of other local non-profits throughout their learning processes. Classes are complimented by twice-weekly physical fitness regimens so that students build physical strength alongside their education. The program’s overall attendance standards are rigorous, intending to mirror the expectations of the industry—students learn that being early is on time. The intention is to impress upon trainees the seriousness of jobsite culture, and the need to show up with respect and consideration. “If we’re not adequately preparing them for construction culture, we’re doing them a disservice,” Mary Ann reflects.
Women and people of color have historically experienced apprenticeship exclusion. The Title IX Educational Amendment, passed in 1972, opened shop classes to women, but still, the notion that “you’re dumb if you get dirty on the job” prevailed. Mary Ann refers to the ways in which FBI training has dominated the industry—father, brother, or in-law. The intention of Oregon Tradeswomen is to sit at the intersection of occupational segregation and economic need. She notes that childcare is one of the main reasons apprentices drop out, and discrimination, harassment, and isolation are the biggest reasons women leave the industry. In 2020, the home base of Oregon Tradeswomen will relocate to a new building, in a completely different part of Portland. This new building will coincidentally feature a woman-owned, affordable childcare provider on the premises; obviously the non-profit is enthusiastic about this coincidence, effectively complimenting the ways in which they seek to offer social services alongside education.
In addition to providing such important training, Oregon Tradeswomen also performs a large amount of advocacy work, seeking to change laws and systems at more macro levels to facilitate additional education opportunities in the industry, to address the pay gap, to create an increase in registered apprenticeship programs, and more.
Respect, equity, and excellence are at the center of this Portland-based non-profit. In the coming years, Oregon Tradeswomen plans to offer drop-in style classes for those in the community wishing to learn simple construction techniques, effectively creating an even larger space for women to explore a historically male-dominated system. The organization’s work is radical; rooted in challenging gender stereotypes, Oregon Tradeswomen offers a significant contribution to the evolution of feminist politics in the 21st century—clearly a unique space to hold in the construction industry.
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Tristan Katz is the Managing Editor of THISisCarpentry,the COO of the Katz Roadshow, and Gary’s “right-hand man.” For more than a decade she’s helped grow and develop the family business. She might’ve been hired out of nepotism, but her father quickly discovered that he couldn’t do any of it without her.
As a kid, she never wanted to enter the workshop garage where Gary spent most of his spare time. She would stand at the doorway, and quickly say “hello” or “goodbye” as she left to meet friends; she’d roll her eyes when Gary would ask that she pose for a magazine article photo—carpentry was the last thing in the world she ever thought she’d be interested in.
Flash-forward to years later, when Gary relocated to Southern Oregon, built the Dream Shop, and there were no neighborhood friends to run off to. Tristan quickly found herself working at the lathe, learning to turn plates, bowls, and pegs, and wanting to help with small household projects, like building a coatrack and bench for Gary’s entryway.
She now looks forward to working with her dad in the shop, and to being around the smell of sawdust.
After studying Spanish, Human Rights, and Latin American Studies in a master’s program at the University of New Mexico, she relocated to Portland, OR, where she’s spent the last 7 years, more recently cohabitating with her dear pup, Layla.
In 2018, she founded Tristan Katz Creative—a creative-consulting agency providing web and graphic design, administrative support, and coaching-consulting services for creative professionals, yoga teachers, healers…and the occasional woodworker! You can find her online at katz-creative.com, and you might also spot her on Gary’s popular Instagram account from time to time.
It’s good to hear of your progress. You may remember that I worked for Gary, and later you and he visited us in Tucson. He remains one of my favorite souls, and I wish you all the best.
Mr. Restin! Howdy! Thanks for your note on Tristan’s article!
Tristan, Very well written article on a topic that is so timely. Particularly when this country needs skilled crafts persons. Thank you for showcasing Mary Ann and the Oregon Tradeswomen’s mission and successes. Look forward to hearing more about females progress and success in this unfortunately male dominated environment.
Also appreciated your Bio. Gary does grow on you. Keep up the great work. Thank-you.
Thank you for your kind note! We were really pleased to publish that article, particularly since Tristan lives in Portland! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Tristan, (or Gary!)
Super cool article! One of my best friends has been getting more and more into carpentry; making her own furniture mostly. She is a teacher by trade, but she’s about fed up with the bureaucracy of the school system in Florida, and I’m trying to convince her to turn her woodworking passion into a career. Do you know if there are any programs or businesses similar to Oregon Tradeswomen in the South (or more specifically, Florida)? Thanks!
NO, I don’t know of any. You’d have to do a Google search, or ask at locally owned lumberyards that cater to professionals. Those folks always know what’s going on in their towns, and they often support organizations like the Oregon Tradeswomen.