Jennifer Gaspersich went ten years without seen another woman on a job site. She’s an electrician and a woman, a combination that she found uncommon for so many years. Now, as the number of women continues to grow in her union and she’s taken on increasing leadership roles, she’s found support in her new colleagues through events like all-female Habitat for Humanity builds.
About five years ago, the leadership of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) took their most effective step yet in getting more women into the field. By creating initiatives for local unions and their leadership, it encouraged them to recruit more women into the trades and IBEW. And from the climbing number of women in Minnesota’s IBEW locals, it seems to be working. In just five years, the number of women in one Minnesota local has more than quadrupled.
For so many of these women, they didn’t always envision themselves as electricians. Take Allyson Childress, a third-year apprentice with a bachelor’s degree in English. She considered going into grant-writing, and she even tried working at a food safety lab, where she tested products for contamination and bacteria that could cause food-borne illnesses. Allyson liked the field, but she wanted a career with better advancement opportunities. Now, as a third-year apprentice electrician, she’s already earning more than she did after several years working full-time at her previous role.
These women are now finding support in the field from one another. In the spirit of the union dedication to volunteering, some of them spend weekends donating their skills and time together through Habitat for Humanity. They bring valuable expertise to the builds, as wiring homes requires an advanced skillset that most volunteers don’t have. And on top of giving back to their communities, the project allows them to work with women from other local unions that they likely would not have met otherwise.
It’s clear that the faces of construction unions are changing. New voices are bringing fresh perspectives, and they’re already creating positive change. And through initiatives like IBEW’s all-female Habitat for Humanity builds, they’re finding ways to support each other and give back to Minnesota.