About Us



Chicago Women In Trades (CWIT) works on many levels across local, state, and federal government with public and private entities to improve outcomes for women seeking and working in nontraditional careers such as advanced manufacturing and construction.   Our toolkit is designed to meet the needs of industry and to support women in gaining economic self-sufficiency in these high-wage, high-growth nontraditional careers.

Find more information about CWIT here.

Improving Women’s Economic Status

The conditions that served as the impetus for CWIT’s development persist.

  • Women’s wages remain on average 25% lower than those earned by men.
  • Nearly 40% of the wage gap can be attributed to occupational segregation.
  • Despite significant gains in careers once thought to be the exclusive province of men, an estimated 77% of working women remain clustered in just 20, typically low-wage, low-skill occupations
  • Women hold less than 25% of jobs in all other fields.
  • One significant reason for this gap is women’s continued under-representation in high-wage, skilled trades occupations, constituting less than 3% of the construction workforce

Benefits & Opportunities for Women in Skilled Trade Construction Careers

  • High Wages-apprentices in the Chicago area earn starting wages averaging more than $14.00 per hour leading to journey-level wages approaching or exceeding $35.00 per hour.
  • Benefits – union tradespeople receive better than average benefits including health insurance and a pension plan.
  • Wages are based on union negotiated rates and are the same no matter who you are or what company you work for.
  • Earn while you learn – unlike most fields that expect applicants to fund their own education and then obtain employment, an apprentice receives paid classroom and on-the-job training to learn the skills of their trade.
  • Once learned, these skills are portable and pay is not dependent on the fortunes of a single employer.

Benefits for the Construction Industry

  • A lack of interested new applicants and skilled workers is a major challenge for building a qualified workforce
  • As its current, primarily male, workers advance and retire from the skilled trades, it is incumbent upon the industry to reach out to the underrepresented populations that will constitute tomorrow’s workforce.
  • There are limited pathways for prospective workers to access information about and gain support for entering the construction trades.
  • Workforce development is vital for an industry with an aging workforce that retires over 200,000 workers annually.
  • Changing workforce demographics require that these employers look to the females, minorities, and immigrants who will comprise the majority of those entering the workforce, all of whom are significantly under-represented in the skilled trades.
  • Women’s lack of representation is detrimental to the industry, denying it access to a critical source of labor to redress a projected skilled worker shortage and perpetuating the challenges to supporting and retaining a diverse workforce.
  • Continuing small numbers of female workers in the field foster inequity in the workplace, exposing the female minority to ongoing discrimination, isolation and practices that preserve a male-dominated environment.
  • The marginalization of female employees not only affects women’s retention, but can interfere with overall company productivity and prevent women’s advancement to leadership positions that could provide a platform for change.

Barriers to Women’s Particpation in the Skilled Trades

The reason women remain an untapped resource for the skilled trades is due to longstanding patterns of occupational segregation by gender, and stereotypes and institutional practices that have a disparate impact on women’s participation and success. The barriers to women’s increased participation in nontraditional employment remain numerous and complex.

  • Persistent stereotypes about women’s roles in the family and in the labor force limit girls and women’s choices about careers and access to jobs.
  • Girls and women in schools are rarely steered toward trade and technical careers and may even face discouragement from counselors and teachers when considering nontraditional vocational choices or isolation in classrooms filled with male students.
  • Research demonstrates that the workforce preparation and post-secondary educational systems have been found to be particularly ill-equipped to promote nontraditional careers to female students and clients who are instead clustered in predominantly female, low-wage vocational training programs. *
  • Few Workforce Boards and Local Workforce Investment Areas analyze data about or set plans and goals to promote women’s placement into nontraditional jobs according to recent reports. In a client driven system, women, who lack information and exposure to tradeswomen role models, are unlikely to request and, therefore, receive assistance in entering a skilled trade. **

*(Working First But Working Poor, report of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2001; High, Paying Technical Occupations: Successful Programs for Employers, Unions and Women, Mastracci, S. 2003.)

**(Wider Opportunities for Women and National Association of Workforce Boards Report: What Local Workforce Boards Say about Services to Women, and the Equitable Access to Employment Services: How are Women In Illinois Being Served report of the Statewide Nontraditional Leadership Team and Gender Equity Advisory Committee, Illinois State Board of Education, 2002