Finding sisterhood in a trade of brothers

On a Tuesday in late May, the tradeswomen of Northwestern Facilities brought their sandwiches and their stories to the table for a lunch they had long awaited. They came together as a support network would, organized as part of the University’s effort to support a diverse community, which includes staff in all fields. The women spent the hour sharing experiences of being in the minority in their fields.

Nationwide, women make up just three percent of maintenance tradespeople. At Northwestern, the members are growing and visibly approaching five percent.

“I think the first few meetings we had here, everybody just needed to get things off their chest, and it was kind of emotional,” said Trina Whittaker, assistant foreman of the auto shop and Northwestern employee of 17 years. This time, the group focused on supporting each other and promoting the trades to young people in the community.

“I always felt like if a man shows up to do the job, they assume he can do it. When I show up, I felt like I had to prove that I could do it,” one tradeswoman said.

Many of them agreed that they put pressure on themselves. Some felt they had to perform to a higher standard.

Every story had a warm response. Sometimes the women chuckled because they could relate. Other times, they said nothing because silence was the best way to support one another.

Each has had her challenges over the years, yet there was hardly any discontent with the job. The group shared a sense of feeling welcomed, supported and appreciated here at Northwestern.

Taking on this kind of challenge, Holly Iversen, the journeyman electrician, described a feeling of pride.

“It’s hard to explain, but it really builds up your self-confidence,” she said.

Self-confidence in the way that Iversen meant it may not be something that others could understand. But this group nodded and affirmed a shared understanding.

“I want (others) to see our strength, our strength in supporting each other,” Iversen said.