IBEW sisters from across the U.S. and Canada joined in the solidarity – and showed off their union pride as they marched through the streets of Washington, D.C. – at the 13th annual Tradeswomen Build Nations conference. (Click the numbers to advance the photos.)








Solidarity, strength and sisterhood were on full display as nearly 4,000 tradeswomen — including almost 400 IBEW members — descended on Washington, D.C., for the 13th annual Tradeswomen Build Nations conference.

"It's my favorite conference that I go to," said Vancouver, British Columbia, Local 213 apprentice Michelle Abdallah. "This is the one that fills my cup for the rest of the year."

It's a sentiment shared by a lot of attendees. For a group of workers who often find themselves the only woman on a jobsite, attending a conference filled with thousands of women who work in the trades is a powerful experience, whether they are apprentices or seasoned journeywomen.

"These events are important because it gives all sisters in the trades a sense of belonging and a reminder that they are supported," said Jennifer Gray, director of the IBEW Civic and Community Engagement Department. "There is tremendous value in our sisters and siblings telling their story, and hearing others' stories, that a job in the trades can truly change the trajectory of someone's life."

The December conference in Washington, hosted by North America's Building Trades Unions, was the largest yet. Attendees had 18 workshops to choose from, on topics including mentoring, child care and LGBTQ+ issues, as well as a session for allies. There were also affiliate caucuses and speeches from leaders like former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, who's also a member of Portland, Ore., Local 125.

"We need every woman in America to see that construction is for them," Shuler said to a packed ballroom, commenting on how much the conference has grown from its original meeting of just a few hundred women. "We dreamed about filling a ballroom like this, and look at us now!"

For Tampa, Fla., Local 915 Recording Secretary Theresa King, a highlight was seeing younger tradeswomen getting energized and becoming leaders in their own right.

"It's gratifying to watch the newer generation grasp just how much empowerment goes on at these events. It's truly a celebration of the trades," said King, who also serves as president of Florida's Building Trades. "It gives them an opportunity to learn, meet other IBEW sisters, then utilize what they learned and bring it back to their local and really show their worth."

King also noted that more business managers are encouraging their male members to attend.

"It changes their perspective," she said. "Now if a woman has a hard time, these men will be more apt to help them and not just say, 'You're not built for this.'"

One of the men in attendance, Houston Local 716 member Paul Puente — who also serves as executive secretary of the Houston Gulf Coast Building and Construction Trades Council — was there to learn best practices on recruiting more women to a NABTU apprenticeship readiness program he runs.

"There are a lot of barriers these ladies go through. We need to be cognizant of that," Puente said, adding that he is looking at ways to provide child care and more wrap-around services, as well as create a safety policy that requires that everyone be treated with dignity and respect.

Detroit Local 58 member Nick Chapital attends every year and encourages others to do the same. It's important to hear the stories of his sisters, he said, especially if a union really wants to recruit — and retain — more women.

"It's important for me to feel what they're feeling," he said. "Me being a male counterpart and advocate, I'm a minority in all this. The 'my stories' are very important … and then saying: 'Why is this happening? What can I do to change this?'"

Local 213 journeywoman Sheena Brown is used to trades conferences where she's in the minority, surrounded by men, many of whom already know one another. It's easy to forget just how many tradeswomen there are, she said.

"I've never attended an event like this with so many women, let alone all tradeswomen," said Brown, who took advantage of the tattoo booth to get inked with a Rosie the Riveter design with a lightning bolt. "It's such a special and supportive atmosphere. You make friends as soon as you walk around a corner."

For a lot of attendees, the support network they build over those three days is one that sustains them throughout the year, until the next conference.

"Creating networks and friendships allows us to be there for each other, not just at the conference but whenever a sister needs us," said Toronto Local 353 apprentice Teri-Anna Libby. "To go from being strangers to exchanging contact information and hearing those words — 'Call me whenever you need, sister' — in the matter of a weekend is incredibly impactful."

The conference also fosters a sense of sisterhood that transcends individual trades since so many women and nonbinary union members share similar jobsite experiences.

"There is something to learn from everyone you talk to at these events," Brown said. "Regardless of their trade, or whether they have more or less experience, there's always common ground and you start to feel less alone and more connected."

Portland, Ore., Local 48 pre-apprentice Lauren Paine said she spent her flight home talking with other sisters about what they learned and how they can bring it back to their local.

"It was great seeing what other locals had done and how we can improve things," she said. "I want to share the power of union trades. In numbers, we are so powerful."

Paine said she hopes to attend the next conference in New Orleans in September, but in true Tradeswomen Build Nations spirit, added that she would gladly give her spot to a fellow sister who has never attended so she could experience it.

Local 353's Libby said she wants as many women from her country as possible to attend next time.

"I'm coming back with 5,000 Canadians," she said. "It's so important for women from my local area to be aware of this network."

Regardless of whether she hits that goal, Libby said she's got the memory of the banner parade, where all the trades marched together through the streets of northwest D.C., with IBEW sisters chanting: "Who brings the power? We bring the power!"

"We were surrounded by the feeling of being a part of the IBEW family," Libby said. "Our sisters are powerful, and I do not have a doubt in my mind that this generation of IBEW sisters is going to make history."


More than 130 union tradeswomen from 19 states, Canada and Denmark came together for the Union Sportsmen's Alliance's All-Women's Hike at Great Falls Park in northern Virginia.


Union Sportsmen's Alliance Kicks Off Conference
With Women's Hike

More than 130 tradeswomen from 19 states, as well as Canada and Denmark, started their Tradeswomen Build Nations conference weekend with an all-women hike on the morning of Dec. 1, courtesy of the Union Sportsmen's Alliance.

IBEW sisters were joined by women from 12 other unions on the River Trail at Great Falls Park in McLean, Va., about 10 miles from the conference hotel. Hikers were also entered in a drawing for a prize package that included a sleeping bag, camp stove, backpack, hydration pack and Danner boots. Kimberly McGraw of Laborers Local 238 in Spokane, Wash., was the lucky winner.

"We couldn't be more pleased with how the hiking event turned out," said USA CEO and Executive Director Walt Ingram. "Registration filled up so quickly, we had to reserve a third bus and order additional gift bags — a terrific problem to have."