Meet Kat Lakey, Ironworker

Meet Kat Lakey, Ironworker

Out of approximately 1500 local union ironworkers in Portland, there are only six women — and Kat Lakey is one of them.

“I see ironwork as this classic view of what the construction world is like,” Kat says, recalling images of tough guys who cat-call and want to play around.

There are two broad categories of ironworkers – those who work on buildings, and those who work in the shops. The ironworkers in the shop fabricate the parts that will be erected and installed by the ironworkers who are out in the field.

Kat works out at construction sites. “When I stepped into ironworking I felt my body bulk up in different ways, and I feel a lot stronger in my life, not only physically but mentally. I also make a whole heck of a lot more money.”

Kat plans to continue as an ironworker until she reaches retirement age. “You have to enjoy this work to get up so early in the morning and meet up with a bunch of guys and tackle such a huge project.” When she tells people that she is an apprentice ironworker, they sometimes react with disbelief or they tell her she’s “awesome.”

“I think everybody deserves to have a great wage,” Kat says. “And if this is something that a woman is interested in, then she should go for it. I think you have to have a passion for the work, and if you don’t, then you’re not going to be successful. But other than that, as long as you’re ready to show up and take the initiative to do what it takes to do the job, then you’re in.”

Photo credit: Dawn Jones – Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc.

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Tool Box for Success

Do you have the tools you need to succeed in construction?
  • Attach yourself to a journey-worker on the job site and learn from them
  • Focus to get ahead if you want to stay in the field
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Be good at your job
  • Work up your physical strength
  • Realize that there are no short-cuts
  • Enjoy the experience
  • Make friends with everyone
  • Go with the flow
  • Have a thick skin
  • Know who you are
  • Employ good time-management skills and good listening skills
  • Have a good learning attitude
  • Know that you are the competition
  • Don’t give up
  • Study hard at school
  • Be ready for a lot of work
  • Listen to what the foreman is saying
  • Learn how to take orders well
  • Learn how to take initiative
  • Be detail-oriented but do the job fast at the same time
  • Maintain good communication and ask questions
  • Know your stuff!
  • Be physical, work out
  • Work harder than everybody else, don’t talk a lot, pay attention, show up on time, be dependable and don't phone in sick unless you absolutely need to!
  • Have fun!!
Barriers to employment for women in construction

Although this list is not all-inclusive, it was included to give an indication of the kinds of barriers some women will face, and overcome.
  • Biased or discriminatory hiring practices
  • Stereotypical perceptions of women's abilities
  • Isolation of women in male-dominated worksites
  • Unequal pay for women performing similar jobs as male co-workers
  • Various forms of harassment (CLMPC, 1990; SPR Associates, 2002A; Grzetic, 1998;)
  • There is a lack of diversity training among co-workers, including clarity around the issue of employment equity. (WITT-NN, 1999)
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of education and fundamental skills
  • Lack of informal mentors to develop an interest in the trades
  • Lack of management / supervisor leadership in setting an appropriate tone in terms of acceptance of women in male-dominated workplaces. WITT-Alberta, 2000)
  • Physical Strength Limitations
  • Stereotypes / Sexism / Perception of women on job site
  • Lack of information available about trades as a career option
  • Lack of daycare/difficulty with work / life balance
Getting around Barriers

  • Recognize the friendly faces at your jobsite
  • Dress appropriately for the trade
  • Identify something your company does a lot of and get good at it
  • Use common sense
  • Find a mentor
  • Become good at job hunting
  • Network
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