As part of the recent Power for America conference, leaders from three locals joined me for a roundtable discussion on how we can all do a better job of fostering women leaders in our union. Juanita Ray, president of Local 223 in Michigan; Jean Washington, a Local 1-2 business agent; and Barbara Yatauro, president of Local 393 in New York, shared their journeys to leadership and advice on how to expand the role of women in the leadership of our locals and National union. One of the key takeaways was the need to change the atmosphere of local membership meetings to encourage more women to attend.
“If we want more women to participate in the union, the first step is to get them to show up at meetings,” Yatauro said. “We have to create a safe space for women so they will want to be at our meetings or events.” The other panelists agreed. “Getting women in the door of these meetings, and having a safe space is really important for a lot of women because they don’t want to come,” Ray said, adding, “They’ll only come if they feel the meetings are a place where they are wanted and that their voice and concerns will be heard.”
Washington shared that the atmosphere at her local’s membership meetings often gets rowdy, and women feel like they can’t hear and so get turned off. “We all need to acknowledge that sometimes it’s okay to sit and be quiet so we can all hear what’s being said, what’s being offered. And if you have something to say you go up to the mic and be heard, but let the women feel comfortable enough to come to this space, that everybody is concerned and everybody wants to know what’s going on in their local.” Yatauro agreed, “We need to show that the expectation is of mutual respect for everybody at the meeting.” Washington urged all members to show some compassion, be kind, and give each other the opportunity to be vocal in our union.
In an unexpected twist, Yatauro said her local has seen women’s participation in membership meetings increase during COVID, as the local switched from in-person to virtual meetings. “It’s been a silver lining to have women who hadn’t been attending in the past, who couldn’t make it because they had to go home and care for their children and make dinner and get to scouts or a soccer team or whatever else they have.” Yatauro hopes that by more fully adopting technologies like Zoom, it will become easier for more women to want to participate in other activities, as well.
For more information on the UWUA Women’s Caucus, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.