#WomenCanBuild Exhibits Women In Manufacturing

Question: What happens when you mix a Pulitzer-winning photographer, two producers with a vision, inequity in employment, a history of hard-working women, and some conviction together?

Answer: The Women Can Build project, a collection of portraits of women working in manufacturing, both past and present.

The project, headed by producers Madeline Janis and Rachel Huennekens, is a response to the declining numbers of women working in manufacturing since the end of World War II. During the war, the Rosie the Riveter image was popularized – women who were working in heavy manufacturing, building planes and bombers as their contribution to the war effort. When the war ended, though, men started taking those industrial jobs, and ever since, it’s been harder and harder to find women in manufacturing and for women to get jobs in manufacturing. According to a recent USC study, only 13 percent of manufacturing workers are women, even though women want and are qualified for manufacturing jobs.

Women Can Build has teamed up with the Jobs to Move America Coalition and the L.A.-based organization A New Economy (LAANE) to advocate for women’s employment in manufacturing and demonstrate to girls and young women that manufacturing is a viable option for their careers. Pulitzer-winning photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice pulled her inspiration from WWII-era photographs of women laborers to compose a series of new portraits, each accompanied by an interview.

The project is timely: According to the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor, women’s labor force participation is only 52.7%, the median weekly earnings for all women workers in America is $706 to men’s $860, men who work at an hourly rate are about a third less likely to be making less than minimum wage than women are, and while women have lower unemployment rates, we’re also almost twice as likely as men are to have part-time jobs (read: little or no benefits, more commuting). The USC report also shows that in manufacturing, the higher the wage of the job, the less likely women are to be employed in that job. And it’s not just the heavy, physical labor – women are underrepresented in professional and managerial positions in manufacturing, too.

The women behind the Women Can Build project believe that advocacy and representation is the answer, and they’re doing that advocacy with the same kind of powerful images of women in manufacturing that were used to recruit women during the war. In addition to the online exhibit, the larger physical exhibit of the portraits will be running at Los Angeles Union Station through June 19.


[Women Can Build (1), (2)]


[Department of Labor]

[Image via Women Can Build]
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