By Jeremy Kehoe
For many organizations diversity, equity, inclusion are boilerplate words tacked on at the bottom of a website or added at the end of a press release.
At IBEW 11 though, Business Manager Joël Barton and the Executive Board have made these values the foundational pillars of its commitment to recruit and retain more female apprentices and journey-level workers – to not just grow in numbers but more importantly add a new infusion of talent, strength, and innovation to its leadership ranks.
IBEW 11 recently announced its goal to increase the number of women members to 10 percent by 2024. Local 11’s current construction female membership is around 3 percent and 4.5 percent among apprentices.
Leading the charge to build that membership is Diana Limon, IBEW 11’s Director of Women Recruitment & Support. Limon, a 28-year Local 11 member, the first female to receive the Outstanding Apprentice Award in 2000, was previously on IBEW Local 11’s staff in Compliance and served as the Training Director at the ETI before taking on her new role in 2023.
“The difference now from when I first started is that there is support from the local union who recognizes the contributions of our women and the activism that comes with our women,” Limon said. “The women in Local 11, even though percentagewise is small, when you show up to any IBEW 11 event you always see women. Women play a huge role in membership activism here.”
Limon knows how far Local 11 has come – and how far it still has to go – to educate women about the opportunities union membership offers, overcome the stubborn stereotypes women still face, and secure more representation at the executive level.
“Women will feel like they’re more a part of this organization when they see people that look like them in leadership roles and at the apprentice levels – having women that are instructors and in management roles and out on the job site seeing women run work as foremen, superintendents, project managers, owners,” Limon said. “We see much more of that today than we have in the past.”
Citlali Castillo, IBEW 11’s Sound and Communications Organizer, said women are slowly making inroads in the field and in the office, and that simple visual of a changing face – and even simpler steps like now providing a women’s bathroom on a job site – can make a real impact on the next generation.
“I definitely see a lot more women in the field now than when I first started eight years ago, when on almost every job site I would be the only woman,” Castillo said. “Now, we’re seeing more women on the job and in these executive positions, and that’s something that will encourage the younger generation and females coming into the trades. They see this as an industry they can relate to and grow in.”
Limon is actively coordinating with national organizations like the National Association of Women in Construction, non-profits like Women in Non-Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER), coordinating pre-apprenticeships with the Los Angeles and Orange County building and construction trades, as well as partnering with employers and awarding agencies to make sure women are represented on the job and making sure IBEW 11 is represented at career fairs. But Limon says the real key to recruiting and retaining women comes from within.
“The majority of women that are out there doing the work will tell other women that this is a great industry, it’s great work, and they would encourage them to join (IBEW 11),” said Limon. “We’re starting to get those connections – connecting women in the trades right now with those considering going into it – and that’s a targeted way to reach out that’s going to make a difference.”
Limon highlighted two especially effective programs IBEW 11 has expanded to recruit, retain, empower, educate, and equip new female apprentices and established journey-level workers.
First, is Local 11’s EMPOWER mentoring program run by the ETI, whose mission is to recruit, retain, and support female apprentices and journey-level workers. Second, is the Solidarity Committee, an active committee that is in the final stages of getting officially chartered by the IBEW as a women’s committee.
“We really need to stop thinking about how to make women fit our industry and really focus on how we make our industry fit our women into an inclusive work environment,” Limon said. “When we make job sites better for women, we make job sites better for all workers. Otherwise, it’s the status quo, and nothing changes.”
EMPOWERING Members From Within
Since taking the helm as Chair of EMPOWER (ETI Mentorship Program Offering Women Extra Resources) just a few months ago Anthy Hadjimarkos, a 16-year IBEW member, has reinvigorated and reshaped the group.
“EMPOWER meetings are a safe space for women to connect, share experiences, learn about the industry, gain knowledge from experienced professionals, and find mentorship opportunities,” Hadjimarkos said. “EMPOWER’s efforts are instrumental in breaking down barriers and creating a level playing field for women in the electrical industry by building mentorships, providing support, and fostering a sense of community.”
During her tenure leading EMPOWER, meeting attendance has grown exponentially, and Hadjimarkos attributes that growth and increased engagement to one simple factor: listening.
Each EMPOWER meeting provides women with real-world, hands-on tools and advice they can apply immediately to achieve that elusive balance between advancing their careers and taking care of themselves.
EMPOWER topics range from managing health benefits, balancing school and work, creating business presentations, and securing childcare to finance and budgeting, fitness and stretching, leadership development, women business ownership, mock interviews, mental health, and self-care.
“I’m trying to make these EMPOWER meetings as useful as possible and focus on areas that I believe can assist people,“ Hadjimarkos said. “These are the things I wish I knew when I was an apprentice. I ask people for (topic) suggestions each month because I want every meeting to be a meeting that meets everyone’s needs.”
Hadjimarkos said the top-down commitment from IBEW’s leadership to push for greater diversity and inclusion and to help women earn greater representation in executive positions is paying real dividends.
“When I joined IBEW in 2007, there were only two women on staff: Jane Templin and Diana Limon,” Hadjimarkos said. “Now, there are more than double that number. At the training trust, our senior staff meetings are made up of 30 percent women, and we now have many more female instructors who serve as leaders and role models for apprentices.”
Despite those entrenched stereotypes they encounter from some of their Local brothers in the field – a place Hadjimarkos said can be “isolating and lonely at times, particularly when we are the only women”, and where Castillo says too often there is too often a “but” when deciding whether to place women in higher positions in the field – both agree the culture is evolving.
“While we still have a long way to go to achieve true gender balance in our local, I’m proud to be a part of an organization that is actively working towards this goal and empowering women to pursue careers in the trades,” Hadjimarkos said. “Things are 100-percent heading in the right direction. There’s a lot more momentum now to bring more equity to our local. Joël Barton has a vision to more than double the number of women here and have our membership mirror our community. He’s committed to bringing in members with different perspectives, and I appreciate that because that diversity makes us all stronger as a union. I’m definitely feeling a shift.”
Castillo agrees that while the journey for equity and representation in construction and electrical trades is long, the future for women at IBEW 11 is brighter than it has ever been.
“Everything that (Joël Barton) is talking about, he’s putting into action,” Castillo said. “It’s great to see that because it shows we are making progress.”