Business

Statewide campaign encourages women to join construction industry

Billboards advertising the “Build a Life That Works” effort appeared along Interstate 93.
Billboards advertising the “Build a Life That Works” effort appeared along Interstate 93.

In the construction field, Savy Man-Doherty is a rarity — a female Cambodian pipefitter. Her presence at a job site shocked a fellow Asian male worker so much that he blurted out, “Why aren’t you doing nails or hair?”

“We laughed it off,” Man-Doherty said. “He’d never met a female pipefitter — an Asian at that.”

Now Massachusetts residents will get the chance to see for themselves. Man-Doherty, 34, is one of several women working on the construction of the Wynn Boston Harbor casino in Everett. They’re the faces of a new statewide recruitment campaign to encourage women to pursue a career in the union building trades.

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Launched Thursday by the Northeast Center for Tradeswomen’s Equity, the “Build a Life That Works” campaign seeks to address an issue that has long plagued an industry overwhelmingly dominated by men. The goal is to increase the number of women in the building trades to 20 percent by 2020.

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In Massachusetts, tradeswomen make up 5 percent of the workforce. That figure is at 6 percent in Boston, which is experiencing a major building boom.

City officials approved an ordinance earlier this year aimed at increasing the hiring of local residents, women, and minorities on construction jobs. Billboards featuring Man-Doherty and three other women working on the Wynn and MGM Springfield casino sites went up along Interstate 93 Thursday, which was also National Women in Apprenticeship Day. Both casino companies, and the state’s Gaming Commission, are among a group of partners and sponsors behind the campaign.

Stephen Crosby, state Gaming Commission chairman, called it “the best shot ever at actually being a lasting catalyst for the future of economic opportunity for women.”

He spoke to a crowd at the Sheet Metal Workers training center in Dorchester, where the recruitment campaign was announced.

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Elizabeth Skidmore, the business representative for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters and cofounder of the Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues, told the group that the needle hasn’t moved much for women in construction since she started as a union carpenter 29 years ago.

“We have to turn back on the supply side and recruit more women,” Skidmore said, adding that the new campaign is also targeting high school seniors for apprenticeship programs.

“There are women all over the Commonwealth who can do this work, but no one’s told them it’s an option, no one’s told them how to come in the door; how to find the door,” Skidmore added.

Along with the billboards, the Build a Life that Works campaign launched a website for women who want to find out more about how to join the industry.

For Man-Doherty, going into the building trades “was my calling.”

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Her grandfather, a painter, taught all the girls in her family how to use tools at an early age, she said.

“He always told us, ‘Don’t depend on the other sex; if you get older, you’ll have to learn how to do things yourselves,’” Man-Doherty said.

Five years ago, she decided to quit her $12.50-an-hour job at a nonprofit to pursue her lifelong passion.

She told the crowd that the women working at the Wynn construction site “lace up their boots, put on their hard hats, and go right to work, just like all the guys.

“They’re just as hard-working, or even more hard-working, than the men,” she said.

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.