Ninth Annual TWBN Conference
Women elevator constructors fnd inspiration at Minneapolis gathering.
by Dot Mynahan
photos courtesy of NEIEP
“Every best wish to today’s construction tradeswomen. May your numbers and occupational specialties increase as you show the world what women can do.” These were the inspirational words shared by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a video greeting that opened the Ninth Annual Tradeswomen Build Nations Conference (TWBN) in Minneapolis in early October 2019. Out of approximately 2,700 tradeswomen in attendance, 75 were elevator constructors.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up less than 1% of elevator constructors. Events like TWBN allow this small percentage of women to connect with peers who share their passion for the elevator trade. Nickie Gray, an Otis elevator mechanic with 22 years’ experience, said:
“The value of TWBN is seeing many other women in all trades being strong, proud and positive. Often, we are the only woman on the job, and it’s empowering to know that we are not alone, we are not token, and our numbers are growing.”
The conference has become a staple for 23-year elevator mechanic Aimee Paquette. This year’s TWBN was her sixth, and she said she gets something new out of it every time. “I just like helping and being a mentor to the younger sisters coming up in the trade,” said Paquette, who shared that she was the frst woman in her local union in Florida to work on elevators. “There are a lot of women here who are the only women in their area,” she said. “It’s good for them to come here to build a network.”
In the tradition of previous TWBN conferences, the weekend- long event started with a choice of community-service projects. This year’s projects were at Haven House, which provides a stable environment to women in crisis, and Second Harvest Heartland, a regional food bank in Minneapolis. Saturday morning featured the surprise welcome video from Justice Ginsberg, which energized participants and encouraged them to keep moving forward.
A series of workshops followed the welcoming plenary. These featured such topics as how to recruit more women into the trades; how diferent generations of tradeswomen can best engage millennials entering the trades; and “Tools of the Trade,” a hands-on opportunity for all tradeswomen to share some of the specialty tooling and educational materials they use. It is organized by the North America Building Trades Union, Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council (BCTC) and Minnesota BCTC.
Terri Stave, the frst woman elected as a business representative of a local International Union of Elevator Constructors chapter, shared why she thinks the “Tools of the Trade” workshop is so valuable: “Everybody loves it, because you get to see all of the diferent trades that are out there.”
Similar to previous conferences, material presented by the National Elevator Industry Educational Program (NEIEP) at the “Tools of the Trade” booth attracted a large number of tradeswomen interested in learning more about our trade. The booth showcased such items as NEIEP’s tabletop scafolding model, which gives apprentices a hands-on tutorial on how to erect scafolding safely; a cutaway of a hydraulic valve; and an “elevator in a box” simulator that helps apprentices learn how to troubleshoot elevator faults.
Many of the women constructors in attendance received sponsorship from their local unions, and, for the second year in a row, Otis ofered fnancial support to any female feld employee interested in attending the conference. Julie Munger, a former elevator constructor who is now a maintenance supervisor at Otis, shared her feelings regarding the importance of a conference like TWBN. “Seeing such strong, ambitious, powerful women supporting and guiding each other: that’s what life is all about,” Munger said.
Sarah Byrd, an Otis electrical engineer, shared that she wondered how many women have stayed in the trade because of connections made and support received at this conference. Your author believes that, as all trades continue to struggle with recruiting and retaining new talent, events like TWBN will continue to encourage more women to work in our trade.