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Virtual Tradeswomen Build Nations brings the energy and a crowd of union women together online

Despite being a virtual event, the 2020 Tradeswomen Build Nations kicked off with inspirational images and video popped up on laptops, tablets, smart phones and other digital devices around the world.

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The 2020 Tradeswomen Build Nations event proved that in a pinch (or pandemic), virtual events can effectively bring people and ideas together for impactful inspiration and empowerment. More than 1,600 people—including 52 Boilermakers—registered for the inaugural on-line conference, October 17, hosted by North America’s Building Trades Unions via Zoom.

IR Erica Stewart, who is a member of L-693 (Pascagoula, Mississippi) and national coordinator of Women in the Trades Initiatives for the M.O.R.E. Work Investment Fund kicked off the conference as an emcee. She is also on NABTU’s Tradeswomen Build Nations committee, which plans the annual event.

“As a goal, the committee wanted to let our tradeswomen sisters know that even in the midst of a pandemic and with protests throughout North America, Tradeswomen Build Nations is still here for them,” said Stewart. “We wanted everyone to be able to keep the connections we’ve made over the years, continue to build sisterhood across the U.S. and Canada and continue moving forward stronger than ever.”

Featured speakers included Facebook Chief Operating Officer and Lean In Founder Sheryl Sandberg, California Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, Southern Company Gas Chairman and President and CEO Kim Greene, NABTU President Sean McGarvey, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and more through a mix of pre-recorded and live remarks.

“We’ve got to step up, stick together and own our power at work,” Shuler said in a rally cry to participants. “We may be the first in our field or in our workplaces, but we most definitely will not be the last. … We need to get more women leaders in the labor movement, and we need more labor leaders to run for office and be leaders in their own communities.”

I’m so grateful I got to participate in this year’s event from all the way in Japan! TWBN is one of my favorite events of the year. I always leave with my cup full and feeling so inspired.

For L-290 (Bremerton, Washington) Boilermaker Rachel Montoy, who is currently working for her employer in Japan, having the event virtual was a lucky twist of fate.

“TWBN is one of my favorite events, and I was super bummed thinking I was going to miss this year’s event due to the current travel restrictions for us in Japan. When I found out it was going to be virtual, I was ecstatic,” Montoy said, noting this was her third consecutive year attending. She said she missed the energy of everyone being together in one place but commended the TWBN committee for pulling off a successful event amid the circumstances of the world.

What the event lacked in the annual banner parade and workshop enthusiasm, it made up for in a constantly moving Zoom chat that kept a side discussion and comments flowing among attendees, amidst impromptu “roll calls” and shout-outs from old friends.

The event also introduced the concept of “Lean In Circles,” small groups that meet (virtually) to discuss mutual issues, challenges and opportunities. The aim of the Lean In program is to bring equality to the workplace and cultivate work environments that allow all genders to reach their goals without bias or barriers holding them back.

“What you do as women of the building trades is remarkable and inspiring. … You’re changing the face of labor,” Sheryl Sandberg said before announcing a partnership between her Lean In foundation and the building trades.

Hopefully, since the virtual event allowed more women to attend, this will have them all coming to represent for the Boilermakers in the future years.

The Tradeswomen Build Nations committee, which piloted a Lean In Circle for union tradeswomen several months ago, led conference participants in a sample Lean In Circle discussion and encouraged them to join Lean In Circles on their own.

“In our Lean In Circle, we look forward to connecting personally and on issues we need to address in the labor movement,” Stewart said. “Lean In is a great opportunity to talk about business and what’s going on and to encourage each other through what we deal with on a day-to-day basis in our work.”

Through Sandberg’s partnership, Lean In Circles have been developed specifically for union tradeswomen, purposefully bringing together women from a variety of unions. NABTU encouraged Tradeswomen Build Nations participants to sign up for additional Lean In Circles that will draw from a cross section of all unions.

DeAnn Smith, L-456, enjoys the outdoors while she participates in the virtual 2020 Tradeswomen Build Nations via smartphone.

Erica Stewart did an awesome job. I was extremely happy to see her in the conference. The conference went well with the theme of the Lean In project.

“It’s good to get perspective from all kinds of people, from different places and different unions,” Stewart said. “Someone might have a solution that’s worked in their environment or an idea from their union that might work in ours.”

Registration for Lean In Circles is open to any union tradeswoman by visiting: http://leanin.org/trades

“Tradeswomen Build Nations 2020 exceeded our expectations,” Stewart said.

Those who missed the 2020 Tradeswomen Build Nations, can watch the full conference at https://vimeo.com/kellycompanies/...