When I was writing my story on the first Women Building California and the Nation conference in Oakland earlier this month, Melina Harris, president of Sisters in the Building Trades, Renton, Wash. (and one of ENR's Top 25 Newsmakers this year), alerted me that she would be passing along some comments from some of the 625 attendees (a record number) that she was receiving. Well, the comments kept coming and I want to share a few with you: 

There are so few women in the construction trades, that they are severely isolated. The key ingredient to retention, “the support and interaction with other tradeswomen,” is almost impossible to achieve. Rare events like this National All-Crafts Conference are one of the few chances they get to understand they are not alone, to compare best practice, share what works, mentor each other, find each other, connect and support one another, find others that wish to work on things they are passionate about addressing and changing and build a team. – Melina Harris

I am rejuvenated. The realization came to me that the situation I am in in my local is not so depressing after all. I have new found hope for the women in the pipe trades in my area.  Wisdom from new ideas and strategies has been given to me. I can use other progressive sister locals as my role models in my endeavors to institute new ideas for my local. It was uplifting to see so many united in the same cause, and to know there are men in high positions within labor that will not only stand besides tradeswomen, but also stand behind tradeswomen. – Erica Braxton, Plumbers Local 24, New Jersey

Not many women exist that have shared that exact experience with me. This weekend a sister from Chicago and I got to meet four other sisters from Oregon, Ohio, California and New York. Of course there are many more of us nationally, but here at the Women Building the Nation Conference we were a total of five bricklayers in an amazing group of 625 tradeswomen from around the nation and Canada. We gathered because we want advancement – for ourselves, for our existing sisters, for our union, for our supporting organizations and non-profits, for future tradeswomen. This conference met our need to learn from those who know all the complexities of what being a Sister in the Trades means. – Vanessa Casillas, IUBAC Bricklayer Local 56, Chicago

Thank you to all the people who put this conference together, and all the hard work they put in to making this a success. I felt so fortunate to be a part of this history and for the union to send us even in this tough economy. I was inspired by the real individual stories and hurdles they had to overcome to get where they are now. In the ballroom when the “Rosie the Riveters” came walking with the forestry rangers to the front of the stage, I could not hold back my tears. – Nancy Donaldson, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, San Francisco Bay Area 

When I attend conferences with my United Association of Plumbing and Pipefitter brothers, I hear how they are supporting, encouraging and even having difficulty finding women who are interested in the plumbing trade. When I meet with the ladies at the conference, I find a conflicting story that more lines up with what I went through 14 years ago at the beginning of my career. Some women had difficulty obtaining funding to attend this conference – a conference where they can find support and coping skills for working in the industry that might increase their retention in the trades. The membership would not approve sending these women and even ignored their attempts to inquire and discuss how attending this conference would help them thrive in the industry. Women need this meeting to support each other and network. As we union brothers and sisters know, there is strength in numbers. And with our numbers as women being so small, we are easily dismissed. What Melina has done is unite women across the country in solidarity and support.  They can't ignore us as a whole. – Laura Biggie, plumbing inspector/training officer, Los Angeles Dept. of Building & Safety

This conference is a place where women can network, empower each other and go back to their locals and basically be a better union member. That’s what this is really all about: Empowering women to be the best they can be in their prospective unions. Women know the importance to fight for a better life, and this conference gives us the tools and courage to go out and fight for it! – Denise D. Soza, business representative, IBEW Local 551, Santa Rosa

I am always amazed and inspired by those who take women in the building trades to a higher level. These conferences remind me that I am glad that I chose to become a carpenter and make it a career for 29 years! I hope that I have helped to make it easier for other women to follow behind me and to be proud to be a carpenter! – Cindy Gaudio, instructor, Carpenters Training Trust, Washington

You get a room full of the best thinking people, who deal with the same issues as yourself, to learn techniques that work and what to avoid. Best advice is to have a high expectation of yourself. Acknowledge your career and what you have achieved. No one can take that away from you, no matter how hard some may try. Use that confidence every day of your life, let the other sisters see your pride and how high you hold your head up through all that is thrown at you. – Jennie Wagner, instructor, Carpenters Training Trust, Chicago
The problems women face in the trades remains challenging. Many of the women were fighting to stay employed, fighting to get the training they deserve, the respect they deserved. I appreciated the many women who told how they used the EEOC to fight discrimination, filed union grievances, were involved in lawsuits. Many of the workshops offered women strategies for survival and for advocating for “moving the decimal point” as Susan Eisenberg put it, so that individual women succeed, and the movement for economic justice for tradeswomen sustains itself and grows. – Vivian Price, IBEW