Tinsmith, builder, plumber, carpenter … The number of jobs conceived as an exclusively male task is infinite.
Although the most common argument has always been the requirement of greater bodily strength for these types of jobs, the reason behind historically male industries is part of an extensive debate.
For Consuelo Poland, the place of women in the welding industry was a matter of opportunity.
According to the Indianapolis Star, Poland, 31, was the only woman and the single woman of color in her class to earn a welding certificate seven years ago in Michigan. Thanks to her skills, job opportunities were never lacking. Still, it was inevitable to realize the lack of female representation in her field of work.
Once she moved to Indianapolis, she decided to share her knowledge and pave the way for other women in the welding industry.
Born in Guatemala and adopted by American parents, Poland founded the Latinas Welding Guild in 2017, a non-profit organization to empower Latinas and women in a personal, creative, and economical way through welding.
“From my personal experience of joining the welding industry as a woman and trying to enter a creative world and then also trying to survive in a white world, I know I would have liked to have more support,” she told the AP. “That’s why it is so important that we are inclusive and that we have women from all backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, and education levels.”
The programs and workshops include fieldwork, industrial manufacturing workshops, and personalized art workshops, always framed by working together and networking.
“Being new to the industry you don’t know what questions to ask, you don’t know who to talk to, no one teaches you that stuff,” she said. “If they don’t feel confident enough to go buy their own supplies then there’s a chance they won’t keep welding. There’s a chance they give up.”
An emergency job
Although professional diversification has considerably improved over the past decades, women’s incorporation in all spheres of work has not always been a guarantee.
In welding and industrial work, for example, women were brought in only out of necessity.
The female labor revolution resulting from the Second World War — considered a turning point in feminist history — was objectively necessary after a large part of the male population had enlisted to fight on the other side of the Atlantic.
Bethena Moore, one of the workers at the Kaiser’s shipyard in Richmond, Calif., remembered how in 1942, weighing only 110 pounds, she had to go down into the bowels of the ships (about four stories deep) on a steel ladder and tightly tied to a welding machine to reinforce the double bottoms of the vessels.
“It was dark, scary,” she later recounted to a New York Times reporter in October 2000. “It felt sad because there was a war on. You knew why you were doing it — the men overseas might not get back. There were lives involved. So the welding had to be perfect.”
After the end of the great wars, domestic life gradually returned to its traditional course. According to a study conducted in 2016 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, there is a new impetus for women in mid-level jobs to improve employment conditions and family income.
However, the Department of Labor has presented figures where 96% of welding workers are still men.
Poland and the Latinas Welding Guild could be the first step in changing this.