Go to any IBEW conference, rally or gathering of activists, and you’ll frequently see a popular slogan on T-shirts and bumper stickers: “A woman’s place is in her union.”

In Canada, that sentiment is growing stronger, thanks to a new nationwide initiative.

The IBEW has joined a coalition of government, industry and academic partners to launch Connected Women – a mentorship program tailored to women looking to enter or advance in the trades and other non-traditional occupations.

Women make up less than one quarter of the electricity workforce, and less than 5 percent of those are in trade occupations. Connected Women will help address this yawning gap, especially at a time when the utility industry is facing down looming retirements and will need to shore up its ranks.

The new program takes its cues from a recently-completed research project called Bridging the Gap. The project’s contributors examined the reasons why women say they feel success in the profession and identified roadblocks to career advancement. The final Bridging the Gap report states that having mentors in the trade can make the difference between success or failure for female electrical workers.

“There are significant barriers to the recruitment and retention of women in the trade, including isolation, physical demands and the challenge of working in an all-male environment,” said Halifax, Nova Scotia, Local 1928 Assistant Business Manager Andrea McQuillan, who is a power line technician. “Over time, this project will provide significant benefits and training opportunities for women.”

Connected Women is funded by Status of Women Canada, a government initiative focusing on issues such as career advancement, leadership and economic security. Connected Women’s first cohort features graduates of Algonquin College’s Women in Electrical Engineering Technology program in Ottawa. As the pilot group of mentees, the graduates will partner with women who are already established in their careers. Over time, the mentees will become the new mentors, ushering in a larger wave of talent, said Michelle Branigan of Electricity Human Resources Canada, the group that spearheaded Connected Women. Local 1928’s McQuillan also serves on EHRC’s Connected Women steering committee.

“We always have to remember there are two challenges to getting more women in the industry: first of all, we have to attract them to the sector and, then, once we get them in, we have to make sure that we keep them,” Branigan said.

Learn more about Connected Women at the EHRC website.