Trendsetters? That’s the goal!
The sisters of Steel Edge Women are certainly proud to hold all of these titles, but what they really want to do is simple—welcome more women in the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Association (OPCMIA) and elevate the current sisters making a huge impact on the union. Oh, and busting the stereotype that construction work is better suited for men is also a top priority.
The Steel Edge Women is a sister-only committee of the OPCMIA that seeks to highlight the many successful OPCMIA sisters who have made a meaningful and lucrative career in the trade, encourage OPCMIA sisters to get more involved in leadership roles within the union and recruit future generations of women into the trade. These lofty goals would be impossible goals if not for the fact that Steel Edge Women has the unwavering support and respect of the entire OPCMIA, from the rank-and-file members all the way to General President Dan Stepano’s office who made creating this women’s committee one of his first initiatives in office in 2016. The committee received formal recognition through a resolution that passed at the OPCMIA’s 52nd Convention in 2019.
What started as eight women laying the foundation of this committee, including choosing the name Steel Edge Women and creating a logo, has grown into several hundred members of Steel Edge Women all throughout the OPCMIA, across the United States and Canada. The founding members made their first goal a very viable goal—to connect the sisters of OPCMIA together through social media and other avenues and create a home base they could call their own—and have since raised the bar even higher on what they would like to achieve for their fellow OPCMIA sisters and the future generations of sisters to come. Without a doubt, the committee would say that their top priorities today are to educate women about a future career in the trade and encourage women to join the union; to create a legion of female mentors who can encourage, problem solve and motivate; and to pay their experiences in the union forward to future OPCMIA sisters. They know this is best done by setting and leading by example and they are driven by the desire to make their fellow OPCMIA members proud of the impact they are making on the union.
Today the committee is led by Sisters Kilah Engelke, Local 599 business agent, who serves as the committee’s president, Alise Martiny, Kansas City Business Trades business manager, who serves as the committee’s vice president, and Veronica Godinez, Local 400 recording secretary, who serves as the committee’s secretary. Some of the regular activities of the committee include working in partnership with the highest levels of leadership within the OPCMIA, organizing and participating in outreach events to women within the OPCMIA and prospective members and gathering as a caucus at the North American Building Trades Unions’ Tradeswomen Conference, in addition to regular monthly meetings, which has certainly been made much easier thanks to the accessibility of virtual conferencing.
Sister Engelke notes that not only has the committee made a huge impact on the women of the OPCMIA, it has made an impact on the entire union. Steel Edge Women has encouraged more sisters to pursue leadership roles, ultimately changing the “face” of the union’s leadership on the International and local union levels and even the face of OPCMIA jobsites to be more gender diverse. This is the same impact that Steel Edge Women has had on contractors and end-users. The committee helps bring increased diversity to jobsites, but even more than that, it creates a group of women who are among the most highly skilled and committed tradespeople in the industry with an energy and ability to tackle even the greatest jobsite challenges. It is extremely important to note that the committee has received the full support of their OPCMIA brothers all along the way. In fact, their OPCMIA brothers have been some of the committee’s most die-hard supporters. Despite common stereotypes, Engelke says that the brothers she has worked with throughout her career have always made her feel important, capable and valued and now she’s receiving that same support for the committee she leads. She says that her union brothers have regularly reached out to her with leads on women who might be interested in the trade, acting as an army of organizers for Steel Edge Women. This has been especially important to the committee because one of the biggest challenges they face is recruitment, mainly because the physical nature of the trade narrows down the pool of candidates as the work is just not for everyone.
While the proudest moment so far for Steel Edge Women has been becoming an official committee of the OPCMIA, these women have their sights set on more. They hope to see more women in leadership roles. And, they want this for other trades as well, not just for the OPCMIA. Steel Edge Women hopes to be an example for their sisters in other trades who want to organize themselves into a formal committee to bring more women into the union construction trades.
“Steel Edge Women is a group of women who have wild respect for each other and who can combine energies and forces to impress, accomplish goals, inspire each other and those around them, and learn and grow together,” noted Sister Engelke.
With this kind of support, enthusiasm, and talent there is no limit for this special group of women, or for the OPCMIA, which is the beneficiary of a strong group of women who are committed to making their trade a great place to work, a great place to call home!