The Workplace Equality (W.E.) Awareness Ribbon Campaign
Jamie McMillan is an Ironworker/Welder with over 12 years of experience. While she continues to take on increasingly skills-intensive projects as an Ironworker/Welder, she is also the founder and spokesperson for Journeyman, an organization that promotes careers in construction and non-traditional career paths through school and community outreach. Jamie and her business partner Pat Williams, an Operating Engineer, also launched the new Workplace Equality (W.E.) Awareness Ribbon initiative which aims to maximize recruitment and retention in the workplace.
In Part 1 of our interview (available here), Jamie spoke about how she became a skilled tradesperson and why she founded Journeyman.
In Part 2 of my interview with Jamie, we discuss what’s next.
Editor: We were discussing Journeyman, the organization you founded to promote careers in construction and non-traditional career paths. What are some of the areas that you have seen an impact as a result of your efforts?
JM: This is the part that gives me goose bumps and I get emotional. It’s the kids, especially girls that I meet along the way. It’s that one out of 20 that reaches out to me on social media. The thank you or random messages I receive telling me how I made a difference in their life. They follow up with me. We maintain online relationships and they keep me posted about their career paths or ask for my advice or support.
Often the Teachers and Coordinators send me the kid’s remarks about my presentations or write me a personal card or letter. I keep them and when I get discouraged, I read them and feel energized.
Then it’s the follow ups I get from organizations and teachers because a student talked highly of me. A text message I receive out of the blue to hang out sometime.
But most of all it’s when I see the spark in their eyes, the smile on their face, their engagement in my message and the idea that I might have ignited a little fire in them that might make all the difference now or somewhere in their future.
Editor: What are the top three things you’re working on or developing in 2015?
JM: 1 )My biggest dream of many years: A documentary style TV series that would follow the lives of construction men and women across the country. They would share their stories, experiences, and hardships but the major focus would be to showcase the positive aspects of being in mining, auto motive, forestry, gas &oil, hydro, building construction, etc. The sky is the limit.
2) To maximize recruitment and retention in the workplace by advocating and promoting the W.E. Ribbon with hopes to build relationships with industry, organizations, and government worldwide that support Equality in the Workplace.
3) To continue to expand the Journeyman program to influence those of all ages and walks of life to consider careers in construction trades through mentorship, outreach, and support.
Editor: You have been instrumental in launching the Workplace Equality (W.E.) Ribbon initiative. Can you tell me more about this campaign?
JM: The Workplace Equality Awareness Ribbon (W.E. Ribbon) was officially launched on March 5, 2015 to begin a conversation on social media. Early this year my business partner, Pat Williams, and I were brainstorming ideas to raise money for our friend Sue Doro’s online magazine “Pride and a Paycheck”. We came up with the idea of an awareness ribbon to promote workplace equality at an upcoming Women in Trades conference in California. It wasn’t long after that our friend Jill Drader (the Founder of Women in Work Boots in Calgary, Alberta) made us realize this was so much more than just a ribbon. At that point we began discussing other ways “post conference” to use it moving forward to maximize recruitment and retention in the workplace. This has been an ongoing problem Pat and I have recognized and discussed for years in our own communities and networks.
As tradeswomen we have often seen the challenges parents have regarding childcare needs. This is especially true for single parents. Contract construction is very different than a 9am to 5pm work schedule. It is very erratic and demanding.
Personally as a construction careers advocate through school and community outreach, I am often asked by young girls and women about the impact a career in construction can have on them once they become mothers. The truth is it’s really difficult. Childcare is the number one reason recruitment and retention in construction is so difficult for those who want to be parents actively involved in their children’s lives.
Right now the ribbon is about awareness. We are exploring, gathering information and starting conversations about the possibilities surrounding the ribbon and its potential. The plan is to use it to maximize recruitment & retention in the workplace through fundraising & awareness campaigns. One of our biggest hopes is to build relationships with like-minded organizations, industry and government to provide additional services and facilities that cater to those with irregular work schedules and child care needs.
However, it can be incorporated into many different genres.
Movements like this help by opening the conversation. Networking events bring communities together in solidarity to find ways to solve the issues that need attention. Fundraising helps with implementing the solution.
There is a decline in the middle or working class. Socially, economically, and culturally we have not taken on this problem. But it’s a conversation that needs to be addressed. The concept of a single member of the family working in a home is no longer the thought process for the majority of the population. We are forced to have dual incomes to provide a sustainable living for our households.
Family structure and community values have changed dramatically causing a massive shift. We have to move away from our families and communities to work and therefore often have to start over without support from friends, family and our known communities and surroundings.
Financially we are getting squeezed. The cost of living and childcare is high and unattainable for those who work outside of the regular workweek or make low to minimum wages. This prohibits those with children from furthering their education or attaining the skill sets needed for advancement in the workplace and higher paying job.
The W.E. Ribbon is a symbol of hope. Not to help cure a physical disease but many human issues globally. Everyone faces barriers and challenges in the workplace for many different reasons. In time we would like to discuss the possibility of using the ribbon for many different genres but right now this is what we feel is most important. Without around the clock affordable childcare many can’t even apply for opportunities to improve their lives, therefore we can’t expect to successfully maximize recruitment and retention in the workforce.
W.E. Can Change the World!!
JM: We came up with an idea to create red and white polka-dot awareness ribbons when we were inspired by the “We Can Do It” cultural icon Rosie the Riveter. She represents the women who worked in factories to replace the male workers in World War II. The poster portrays a female war worker wearing blue overalls and a bright red and white polka- dot bandana.
Our idea was to launch the ribbon at the Women Building the Nation conference in California where a thousand women from all over the world gather yearly to meet, support, and empower one another. It is an amazing place to be and I leave there on a high for weeks. I have become friends with some of the most amazing women while there. My business partner Pat is one of them.
Rosie is recognized by women and men internationally. Some proudly wear her image on t-shirts, hardhat stickers and posters. Others even get tattoos. Rosie is a constant reminder that We Can Do It. Using Rosie to launch the ribbon at the conference made sense. Showing Rosie and the ribbon together is so simple, creative, and obvious.
Editor: Finally, do you have anything else to say to our readers?
JM: Construction careers are valuable careers. There are so many opportunities to go from the tools to the white hat. The tools are just a foot in the door. Once you have a Journeyman ticket you can travel anywhere in the world to work.
The word Journeyman has been around for centuries. It does not mean that construction is only for men. Journeyman is a status not a gender. Women and girls should be proud of that status. It’s a great achievement.
Finally, I want to share some words of wisdom from my partner Pat: “One of the most important things about advocacy is that it gives people hope. People can only achieve and grow if they have hope.”
More information on the Workplace Equality (W.E.) Awareness Ribbon can be found on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/weribbon
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members.