Women from across the Commonwealth gathered last week to attend the Women in Skilled Careers Summit. The event was designed and produced by the Hampton Roads Workforce Council (HRWC) and WHRO Public Media and was hosted by Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center in Suffolk, Va. GEICO Philanthropic Foundation provided a grant to support the event.

This summit brought together women, as well as a few men, from different areas of the community—service providers, educators, students and skilled workers—for conversations focused on creating awareness of the challenges that women face while enrolling in trade programs and working in skilled careers.

panel 1200

A panel discussed their experiences and answered questions from the audience.

In Virginia, nearly 95,000 women ages 25-34 are out-of-work as a result of various structural barriers and societal norms. Systemic challenges are limiting working women’s access to affordable childcare or eldercare, transportation, flexible work hours for parents of young children, and gender equity in the workplace.

The Hampton Roads Workforce Council’s Women In Skilled Careers (WISC) program helps women who want to learn a skilled trade to work in fields such as welding, construction, logistics, cybersecurity and manufacturing. WISC Program Manager Shankrystal McCaulley told attendees that the organization has a goal to see 100 women go through the program with an 80 percent completion rate. She said women face two common barriers when they desire to work in skilled trades.

“Transportation and childcare services in Hampton Roads are not sufficient to support women working in non-traditional spaces,” McCaulley said.

But these are just some of the problems facing women who desire to work in skilled careers. The attendees heard from a panel of women who have overcome barriers and shared their experiences about working in fields that are predominantly filled with men.

Stacy Daniels-Fayson, Hampton Roads Workforce Council’s CFO, welcomed attendees and Eleanor Delamater, Policy Analyst at the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau gave opening remarks.

youngkin speak1200

First Lady Suzanne S. Youngkin addressed the crowd through a video message.

Virginia’s First Lady, Suzanne S. Youngkin, sent a video recorded message in which she thanked attendees for being committed to helping women succeed. She mentioned the success of The Virginia Ready Initiative (VA Ready), established by her and her husband Govenor Glenn Youngkin in June of 2020 in response to the economic hardships created by COVID-19. The program seeks to rapidly reskill Virginians who are out of work to equip them for an in-demand career. “We are so proud to be part of a program that is bettering the lives of Virginians,” Youngkin said.

Attendees also heard from Dr. Latitia D. McCane, Director of Education at The Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding. McCane provided them with five key ideas that they would need in their careers and that she also hoped they would pass on to the women coming behind them.

mcCane table 1200

Dr. McKane spoke with attendees during a break.

“I gave them five tools they can use when they go back to their workspaces or education,” she explained. Among the tools she mentioned were exposure to a variety of skilled career fields, mentorship, and the idea that women need to support each other.

There was a consensus among attendees that women sometimes do more harm to each other in the workplace than their male counterparts because they do not support each other.

“You have to be a sister,” McCane told the attendees. “Look out for each other.”

jackie kelly1200

Attendees had time to network during the event.

Attendees also participated in break-out sessions where they brainstormed solutions to the challenges they face. The event is just one of many upcoming conversations that the organizers plan for Hampton Roads.

In partnership with WHRO, the HRWC launched the first iteration of the WISC program in 2019 as a barrier-breaking initiative to address the challenges that women face when entering or remaining in the workforce, especially in skilled careers. WHRO’s “Work Like a Girl” program partnered with HRWC to lead focus groups to explore the challenges that local women often face in the non-traditional careers.

WLAG Hard Hat Sticker

Learn more and follow WHRO’s initiatives related to skilled careers at the American Graduate website.

Learn more about Work Like A Girl.