Maria Elena Durazo was the first female President of UNITE HERE Local 11 from 1988-2006. She was the first female Executive Secretary Treasurer of Los Angeles County Labor Federation from 2006-2014. She is now General Vice President for Immigration, Civil Rights, and Diversity at UNITE HERE.
In the year 2014, we don’t have to prove that women can do everything that men can do. We dealt with that in the 1940s, with Rosie the Riveter. But forces holding women back still exist, and so do stereotypes. We can break through, and reestablish the ability and competence that women have.
#WomenCanBuild tells the story of the extraordinary women who are already doing these manufacturing jobs and have been for many years. The diversity of their capabilities is very telling. These women are extremely capable, strong, and beautiful. What an honor to be in the same project alongside these powerful women.
Let’s use these women as examples and a reminder of what women can do.
Women need to be recruited in the exact same way as men. Right now they’re left out -- we don’t seek them out, they’re not hired, and they’re not promoted. So whenever a woman does end up in the industry, she is an outlier. We don’t explicitly welcome women to take these jobs or explicitly acknowledge that women are as capable of doing these jobs as men are. I continue to hear comments like “women don’t have the same technological skills,” or “women don’t have the same abilities” -- this attitude is prevalent.
A lot of fields are the same, including the labor movement. I’ve seen and felt over and over, that social networks do not include women. And sometimes when I challenge an idea, there is a different reaction than if it came out of a man’s mouth. The end result can be exclusion, although on a professional level, I know I have respect from many male colleagues.
We are going to give more women the opportunity and training to fill these jobs. With the investment of billions of public dollars in the transit manufacturing industry over the decades, women deserve to have the same opportunity as men do. I want to see more women being able to fulfill their aspirations through these jobs.
The most important things in my life right now are my granddaughters, who are 6 and 4 ½ years old. I want to expose my granddaughters to everything, so they feel they have the choice to be anything they want. I don’t want their options to be limited. I’ll take them to see a musical or to the playground. Recently I went to the Science Center downtown, and I bought them a doll with a spacesuit -- but she had high heels on! She should’ve been wearing space boots.
As I make the change from leading the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to advocating for civil rights and immigration, I’m looking forward to accomplishing even more, in this last phase of my career.