Notes from the Shelter: A Long Time Ago at a Women in the Trades Conference

Topics: Inspiration

Today I decided to write about what now feels like long ago when I could go to a conference in a gathering of more than 50 people to learn about what I don’t know and connect with people from across the region. I stared at the calendar while writing this and it’s really only been three weeks.

I need to start by saying that I don’t count myself as a woman who works in the trades. I have little mechanical inclination. In fact, I frequently call myself mechanically disinclined to try to express how challenging it is for me.

Once I longed to be a pilot but then I learned that you needed to do preflight checks and understand multiple gauges at once that measure things in space like the plane’s attitude. (This is not, it turns out, how the plane ‘feels’ about flying.)

Because I do like living and understand that others enjoy doing the same, I decided to stick with my gifts and stay with languages and teaching instead.

Mostly, this worked out for me and I now get to enjoy flying as a passenger without endangering anyone. I can fix things, but you don’t want me to unless you have lots of time and patience and can explain everything to me by using a multi-sensory approach.

Luckily, I get to work AROUND the trades and the cool kids because I teach English at a technical college. It’s because of this gig that I got to go the EmPower Women’s Leadership Conference put on by the Construction Center for Excellence. I went with 3 young and admirable women students who ARE in the trades–they are all learning to work in electrical construction. Their elcon instructor was able to arrange for them to go but could not travel on International Women’s Day himself, so I got to drive the van and stay in the hotel near Vancouver, Washington on March 8 and 9.

In the casino presentation rooms, I shook hands with women who now work as ironworkers, electricians, laborers, and more in the closing window of time before shaking hands was something we could no longer do. I got to hear April Sims, the Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, and Zenovia Harris, the CEO for the Kent Chamber of Commerce.April+Simms Zenovia+Harris+headshot

At the end of the day, after some had foolishly gone home early, I also got to hear an incredible speaker named Jamie McMillan from Canada. She held us pinned to our seats with her powerful story of overcoming her own struggles. She had always been good at the things that I’m not but didn’t learn women could work in the trades until much later when she became an ironworker.

We didn’t glance at our phones for even a moment while she spoke of her failures and triumphs. Earlier in the day, I had admired Jamie’s friend and business partner Pat William’s shirt and asked to take pictures like these:


I regret missing my chance to shake Jaime’s hand as she stood next to Pat. Jaime has done astounding things in her life and career–ironwork was only a start–and is now empowering others to work in the trades with her organization called KickAss Careers. She has even met with Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, after he appointed her to an advisory committee for promoting trades and apprenticeships.

Being a word nerd in a room full of the mechanically trained and talented wasn’t always comfortable. But it was awesome anyway, and I’d do it again if ever another instructor has to miss the chance.

After all, I learned that I COULD have been a tug boat captain from Elizabeth Simenstad, a tugboat captain in training in San Francisco and member of the SeaSisters. A trade like that just might have pushed me to work through my mechanical disinclination had I imagined women could do such a thing. I mean, seriously. How cool is that?!?

You bet I shook her hand. It felt like I was meeting the tall and powerful Wonder Woman herself.

May we all get to do something we love and may all the girls see women like these-



About the author: Karrie Zylstra Myton is a blogger, essayist, and aspiring author who writes for the wild joy it brings on the best days and the hard lessons she learns about life on the worst. After crafting stories in the ridiculously early morning hours, she chases her two sons, cuddles with cats, and laughs with her husband about how crazy life can get in middle age.

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