Evelyn Pacheco became Nevada’s first black female plumber 17 years ago. She isn’t aware of any woman who’s followed in her footsteps.
Now she is working to change that.
Pacheco has officially launched Nevada Women in Trades, a nonprofit dedicated to encouraging and preparing women to enter blue-collar trade occupations. Nobody expects physical occupations like plumbers, pipefitters, journeymen or electricians to become 50 percent women. However, state law requires apprenticeship programs to have affirmative action plans and specifies those plans include goals (example: 12 percent of the workforce should be women). The law doesn’t mandate quotas but programs are required to put in a “good faith effort” to recruit. Similar affirmative action guidelines apply to contractors who want to receive money from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Last year, the Current reported that 99 percent of apprenticeship programs reviewed by the state were cited for “underutilization” of females, meaning there were fewer women than would be “reasonably expected in view of all relevant factors.” Furthermore, more than half of apprenticeships hadn’t been reviewed at all. No information is readily available on what constitutes a good faith effort.
Pacheco vowed then that if the trades weren’t going to be proactive about recruiting women, she would be.
Now her nonprofit has amassed a bevy of formal partners and supporters, including several state lawmakers, local trade unions and government agencies. Pacheco was twice asked to discuss women in the trades on the floor of the Nevada Legislature — once by Democratic Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen and once by Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres. Both women represent central parts of the City of Las Vegas.
The Governor’s Office of Workforce Innovation (OWINN) and Southern Nevada’s Local Workforce Development Board (known as Workforce Connections) have also extensively assisted the nonprofit and written letters of support for grant applications. OWINN oversees the state’s apprenticeship programs and has since last year increased its efforts to compile data on women and minorities within the trades.
“People are stepping up,” says Pacheco.
Taking on sexual harassment
Pacheco’s labor-of-love project — that is to say Nevada Women in Trades is still an all-volunteer effort — is on schedule to hold its first “training institute” this fall. It will include 150 hours of demonstrations and hands-on classroom learning that exposes women to job possibilities, as well as tutoring on math and science skills and wrap-around skill-building focused on things like interviewing and dealing with sexual harassment.
While the acknowledgement of sexual harassment and discrimination has raised some eyebrows, Pachero believes it’s an important part of the conversation because women already perceive blue-collar careers as a “boy’s club.” Pretending otherwise and only talking about the benefits of entering the trades would come off as lip service.
“We have to talk about more than the money,” adds Pacheco.
Wage gap narrower
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women across all industries earn 81.1 percent of what men make. In the construction industry, that wage gap is much narrower — women earn 95.7 percent of what men make. That narrow gap is attributed to the prevalence of unions operating with structured pay scales determined by years of experience and therefore removed from the human biases that lead to the gender wage gap. It’s a popular talking point for recruiting women, especially with women who are the top or sole income earner within their households.
Over the past year, Pacheco has been vocal about her experience within a trade industry, sharing both the good and the bad. She makes the case that women deserve a nuanced look in order to decide for themselves whether they’d like to pursue it as a career.
“Women are like, ‘I don’t know; I don’t know,’” Pacheco says. “Stop that thinking.”
Charlene Day, a longtime public health professional who is volunteering to help with grant-writing and behind-the-scenes aspects of Nevada Women in Trades, agrees.
“This is taking away all of the mystique,” she says.
While not affiliated with any other trade nonprofit, Nevada Women in Trades is not a new concept and modeled its forthcoming program after successful efforts in other places, including Chicago and Utah.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” says Pacheco.
Pacheco says her original motivation was teaching her grandbabies they “don’t have to hook up with the bad boys” and set themselves down the wrong path in life, but she has since come to realize there is something bigger at play.
“It is more than that. It’s turned into a movement.”