Almost three-fourths of working women are in non-professional occupations—but what if being a lawyer is no more appealing than a secretarial job? Donna Milgram, the Executive Director of the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science (IWITTS) has dedicated her career to helping women find places in a vast range of careers that have been traditionally “male”—from engineering and auto mechanics to law enforcement.
Can you tell me a little bit about your organization?
The Institute for Women in Trades Technology and Science is a national non-profit organization which I founded seven years ago in Washington D.C., and is now based in the Bay area of California in Alameda.
Its mission is to provide training, strategies, publications, and technical assistance to the education system and to employers to integrate women into technology and law enforcement careers.
What need are you working to fill?
The employers need us because most of them have not been successful in recruiting and retaining women in what are traditionally male occupations. Women need our help because often it’s been left to them to individually figure out what to do if there is not support for them in the workplace. It’s important to make sure that the workplace and the classroom are “user friendly” for women.
Can you elaborate on that a little?
For example, in recruitment it’s not unusual for publications or Web sites for colleges to show only males in technology-related majors. If you don’t see a picture of someone that looks like you on the Web site, or in the catalogue material, then you don’t think about being a computer network technician or an auto technician.
Our primary focus is women at the technician level and women in law enforcement. For these women, things haven’t changed a lot over the last 20 years.
I’m surprised to hear that.
Today, about 72 percent of women who work are in non-professional occupations.
About 8 percent of engineers are female, and the percent of engineering technicians is probably even less. The figure for auto technicians is less than one percent. Heating ventilation and air-conditioning technicians—both occupations with a labor market shortage—are also less than one percent.
For a lot of the information technology occupations there’s nobody collecting data nationally, so you can only use anecdotal data. But the percentages are still very small—definitely under 20%.
Depending on whose numbers you’re looking at, women make up about 10 to 15 percent of the national law enforcement workforce.
What are some of the kinds of jobs women could be pursuing?
Cable installer, photographer, welder, carpenter, firefighter, telecommunication engineer, commercial driver, aircraft mechanic, pest control, electrician, cartographer, surveyor, embalmer—does that give you some idea?
What inspired you to start IWITTS?
The leading occupation for women is secretary. It’s a job with no career ladder up.
I really believe that a lot of things that are so-called “women’s problems” really have to do with the fact that women don’t have a seat at the table—and also that we don’t have enough economic power.
I felt that if we had more women distributed through all the occupational areas, a lot of things that were considered to be “women’s issues” would go away. Not only would make more money and have more economic power—we would also be involved in daily decision making, whether it be about the resources extended on domestic violence or ensuring that women are included in clinical trials.
I’ll give you an example: airbags. As you know, they are not safe for women under 5’4″ and children. If more women were involved in car design, do you think that they would have forgotten to consider whether these airbags were safe for women and children?
There are actually very few groups working on behalf of everyday working women on these issues on a national level, and a policy-making level.
What are some of the things you do to address these problems?
We provide training to educators on how to recruit and retain women in technology. We host a national 2-day workshop here in the Bay area called “Women in Tech: Train the Trainer.” We do this workshop quarterly, and we also have a wonderful trainer based out of Orlando who conducts the same training for us around the country.
We base our training on strategies that have really worked elsewhere, and on the research that we’ve done. We provide a lot of specific “how-to’s.” Over and over again, participants comment on how many practical strategies they’ve learned that they can implement. They write to us about how they’ve implemented them, and it’s wonderful.
What kinds of teachers attend?
The primary audience is high school and community college teachers. We have had technology instructors attend, we’ve had School-to-Work coordinators attend, head counselors attend, and administrators attend. If you go to our Web site*, you can see some of the response to these events.
What have you done to reach out to students?
One project is the WomanTech Project, a national demonstration project. We are working with three community college systems—Community College of Rhode Island, the North Harris College in Houston, Texas and College of Alameda here in Alameda California.
We have used a variety of strategies for recruiting and retaining women in technology training courses.
As one example, we have helped these colleges develop women tech sections of their Web site that feature female role models that have graduated from their programs and are now working and successful out in the community.
Soon we will also launch a new website for women in these occupations, and also for students in these occupations—that URL is womentechworld.org. We want to develop an online community, with a message board and a listserve. We will have an “e-mentoring” element, so that women can come together and support each other. You might be the only auto technician who is female and African American in Milwaukee, but online you can meet another one who is from Boston. It will also have a job center, so that employers who are looking for women particularly in these occupations can find them.
As I was saying, about three-fourths of the women in the workplace are in non-professional occupations. If we think that equity refers only to women who are scientists or Ph.D’s, or doctors and lawyers, then we’re missing out on three-fourths of women in the workforce.