Trades network has your back

 In News, Partners Magazine

By Lily Raff McCaulou

Want to come to campus to speak or mentor women who are training for the trades? Contact Kelsey Hukill, director of alumni relations at 360.992.2767.

As a network technician, Shawn Cismar is accustomed to stress. When a computer network is down, everyone shifts into crisis mode. Some people take out their stress on the very workers who are trying to get the network back up and running. In such cases, Cismar said, being a woman can be an advantage.

“Sometimes a male will not yell at a female, so a male co-worker who’s having a tough time with a client will say, ‘Hey, can you take a shot at this?’” Cismar said.

It’s a reminder why companies benefit from having a diverse staff.

In her current position, Cismar has a couple of female coworkers. They’ve become her friends, and their camaraderie makes work more enjoyable, she said. She knows that not everyone is so lucky.

There are a handful of groups that offer support to women working in male-dominated trades. Washington Women in Trades holds monthly meetings in the Seattle area. Sisters in the Building Trades is another group for Washington women.

Clark College officials recommend that alumni keep in touch with their instructors, who sometimes invite alumnae to speak to current and prospective students. Hearing from others who have been successful encourages women in the trades.

Alumni also offer valuable feedback. Exit interviews from alumnae led Clark’s network technology program to begin offering courses online because faculty were asked to offer more scheduling flexibility.

Catharine Keane, associate director of Career Services at Clark College, said that even women who are happy with their careers should think about the future and consider additional training. That’s especially important in physically demanding careers such as welding and automotive mechanics, she added.

“I encourage them to be thinking ahead to five years, 10 years from now…and having the ability to be more diverse in terms of their training,” Keane said.

Additional certifications and degrees can lead to opportunities in management, for example.

The nonprofit Oregon Tradeswomen, which works with women in Oregon and Washington, doesn’t just work to get new individuals into the field, it also works to get women into leadership positions such as field managers or foremen. Connie Ashbrook, executive director of the group, said that having a woman in charge of a project means that more women are likely to get hired and stay on the job.

“Diversity is not just for entry-level jobs,” Ashbrook said.

Lily Raff McCaulou is a journalist living in Portland, Ore. She is the author of “Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner,” which the San Francisco Chronicle named one of the best books of 2012. She has written for The New York Times and The Atlantic.


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