New York, NY – Women may still only constitute about 10% of the overall construction workforce, but LaborPress spoke to two apprentices and their mentors who are working hard to change that dynamic with the help of the New York City District Council of Carpenters [NYCDCC].
The NYCDCC’s Women’s Committee launched the “Sisters in the Brotherhood” mentorship program this past summer to help support female carpenters. It is a unique opportunity for new female carpenters to learn from more experienced union sisters as they carve out their careers in the industry. It also creates critical mentorship opportunities that help women navigate the world of construction — both on and off the job site.
“‘Sisters in the Brotherhood’ has a big meaning,” Local 45 apprentice Maria Buffamante says. “[My mentor] has words of encouragement that I can use going forward – I’m very blessed. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to mentor somebody else.”
Twenty-four female apprentices have already been paired up with journey-level mentors to help them along their career path. The union recently appointed an all-female steering committee in tandem with the program to guide future diversity and inclusion initiatives that help recruit and retain more women in the union.
Buffamante began her apprenticeship in 2016, and now finds herself on the cusp of completing her training. She credits her “awesome mentor Jodie Ann Beatty” with helping her succeed.
“I love Jodie Ann – she encourages me, inspires me to want to be better and to do more,” Buffamante says.“[On the job] I did concrete form, framing, sheet rock, using tools – a little bit of everything, hands on. I was given the opportunity to become better. If I have any questions, Jodie Ann is always there to answer. If I need to know something, she always gets back to me.”
Fourth-year apprentice Nora Vega is also poised to complete her on-the-job training. She attended college, but felt unfulfilled. She worked in Puerto Rico as a stagehand, but ran into the wage gap that consistently shortchanges women on the job. That experience, however, didn’t deter Vega from wanting to work with her hands. A career counselor then suggested she check out the unionized [Building] Trades – a place where she could be hands on, be part of a team – and be part of something “bigger than yourself.”
“[My mentors] are always there to give me insights and answer questions when you have situations that have to do with the industry or that have to do with balancing your life – even things like nutrition,” Vega says. “Without mentors how are you going to learn that? I think having mentors from the beginning is vital, so when things get tough you don’t give up. They are un-biased because they are not on your job site. They want to see you succeed so it becomes a long-term career.”
Last month, the NYCDCC went further, launching its new Inclusion and Diversity program. Key elements of the program include: promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace; participating in active caring; and preventing sexual harassment, racism, and bias. Trained instructors will conduct mandatory 45-minute courses each week, ultimately rolling out the curriculum to all NYCDCC apprentices. Diversity and inclusion trainings will then be held annually and the curriculum will be incorporated in all apprenticeship onboarding programs going forward.
The [NYCDCC] is a representative body comprised of nine individual Locals and 22,000 union members. It functions as the voice for thousands of New York City’s most dedicated and skilled Carpenters, Millwrights, Dockbuilders, Marine Divers, Core Drillers, Timbermen, Concrete Carpenters, Cabinetmakers, Floor coverers and Industrial Workers.