‘I Can Build My Future Now’: Why More Women in Massachusetts Are Turning to Commerce

Euda Williams spends the morning digging metal beams into the skeleton of a wall that will soon become part of a new building near Boston’s South End. She tries not to look down 60 feet from the bottom – she’s not afraid of heights, but she still is.

She said, “I don’t like them.” “But it comes with the zone, so I’m used to it.”

Williams is a first-year intern with the local Association of 327 Carpenters. When she first entered the construction site two months ago, she was the only woman on her team.

“My mentality was, ‘Don’t love me girl,'” she said. “And they just didn’t. On that day, I have to cut 500 boards for this deck we built.”

“I never pursued it because of the way I was brought up, the mentality and the stigma that this is a man’s job.”

Euda Williams, apprentice in carpentry

Williams laughed as she recalled how it hurt when she got home, but it was a “satisfying pain.”

“I made my money today, like I did today!” Remember Williams’ thinking.

Soon after the pandemic broke out, Williams, 47, was laid off from her job as a fitness trainer for the YMCA. She still had special clients, but she couldn’t count on them for a steady income because they were mostly seasonal.

A mother of six children – three of whom are still young enough to live with her – Williams has thought about reinventing her career from before. But with family commitments, she never felt like she had the stability or time to take the plunge. The epidemic changed the equation. Thanks to regular unemployment checks, I finally got into a pre-professional building program called Building Pathways.

It was something she had always wanted to do.

“I’ve never pursued it because of the way I was brought up, the mindset and the stigma that it’s a man’s job,” Williams said.

Euda Williams, a first-year apprentice, and Glenn Caufield, a carpenter’s agent with Local 327, talk at a construction site in Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Now, Williams is one of a growing number of women entering professions such as carpentry and plumbing. Construction is one of the few areas women have gained during the pandemic.

In Massachusetts, women make up 10.3% of trade apprentices, a number that has been on the rise in recent years. Although it may seem modest, it is the highest share in the country. There is also a growing interest in careers among girls, who now make up 21.1% of those enrolled in vocational and technical programs at Massachusetts High School.

The number of women in occupations has increased steadily in Massachusetts over the past decade. This is partly because a lot of the work has been done to recruit and train more women, says Liz Skidmore, an organizer with the North Atlantic Carpenters Regional Council. But, she adds, the numbers really spread when the administration of former Governor Deval Patrick began requiring contractors to hire more women and people of color in order to win state-funded construction projects.

Liz Skidmore, Carpenters Guild organizer, wants to recruit more women into well-paid craft jobs (Yasmine Amer/WBUR)
Liz Skidmore, Carpenters Guild organizer, wants to recruit more women into well-paid craft jobs (Yasmine Amer/WBUR)

Unlike Massachusetts, Boston has struggled to meet its building diversity standards. None of the city’s major projects in the past four years have met the criteria for employing women, according to an analysis by the GBH and Boston University’s Justice Media Computational Journalism Laboratory. Only a third met the criterion for employing people of color.

Skidmore would like to see more women enter the industry.

“These are great jobs,” Skidmore said. “They’re very satisfying. Like you can drive around town,” I built it. “”

Another reason Skidmore wants to see more women enter the trade: They pay well. An apprentice can earn $20 an hour, while full-time union carpenters start around $50 an hour. This is in addition to the benefits that include health insurance and pension.

The pay is part of what convinced Angela Lormius, a second-year apprentice in carpentry, to make the transition from a career in early childhood education.

“It’s crazy,” said Lormius. “I’m earning more now from working with kids who have a bachelor’s degree, and I don’t know much what I’m doing.” “That was a huge motivator.”

Lormeus has a college degree in children, family, and community services, and she still owes it. in spite of She loves working with children, and says the job affected her 10 years later. And she wanted a job that would pay better.

“It’s crazy. I’m earning more now, and I don’t know much more to do, than working with kids who have BAs. That was a huge motivator.”

Angela Lurmius, second year apprentice in carpentry

“I can see that I can build my future now,” said Lormius. “Because of the childcare wage rate, I will never get out of debt from school.”

Angela Lurmius attaches metal brackets to the keel.  (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Angela Lurmius attaches metal brackets to the keel. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Lormeus says the switch from working in a mostly women environment to working with nearly all men didn’t feel like a huge culture shock to her.

“Honestly, it’s no different,” said Lormius. “The gossip is the same. The jokes are pretty much the same. The only difference I can tell is…the condition of the bathroom.”

Skidmore says that the idea that men in construction are more prejudiced against women than men in other industries is a persistent misconception. She believes that this is another stigma that makes it difficult to recruit more women into the industry.

“There is stereotyping and discrimination in every industry,” Skidmore said. “But this idea that it’s somehow worse at building, I just think it’s just not true.

Euda Williams in action.  (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Euda Williams in action. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

It’s the stigma that Euda Williams had to get rid of, too. Now, you see room for her and for other women in professions.

“I honestly can’t see myself returning to an office environment,” Williams said. “I feel like I made the right decision for myself and my family as well.”

She’s looking forward to the day when she’ll be able to point to the site in Boston where she used to work as an intern and tell her kids, “I built that.”

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