Women Championing the Voices of Women in Rhode Island
March 21, 2022, Rhode Island — Kelly Nevins, the CEO of Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, and Anita Bruno, the Founder of Rhode Island Women in the Trades (RIWITT), are women determined to ensure women are heard across industries.
The Women’s Fund of RI advocates for equity through a gender-based lens. The organization works closely with community partners and activists to pass laws through legislation like the Fair Pay Act. They also run the Women’s Policy Institute, a nine-month program that teaches women how to be grassroots leaders.
Much like the Women’s Fund of RI, RIWITT thrives off of collaboration and mentorship. “The strength is in the solidarity,” Anita says, speaking to the origin of the organization. RIWITT stemmed from a space for women to discuss issues in their industry and has grown into an apprenticeship program and quarterly tradeswomen-led forums to empower, support, and advocate for women in the trades.
We just want women to get into the trades… understanding that they aren’t just jobs, they’re careersAnita Bruno
Anita says that more women joining the trades workforce indicates a stronger voice for women in the industry on the whole. This collective voice is vital to campaign for a healthy work environment for all genders. As of 2021, three percent of the trades workforce in the United States are women. One of the organization’s primary objectives is making the trades accessible for women who are students, formerly incarcerated, single moms, and others, and inform them on the benefits and stability a career in the trades provides. “We just want women to get into the trades… understanding that they aren’t just jobs, they’re careers,” Anita says.
However, being a tradeswoman comes with a variety of hardships. Anita cites that harassment and bathroom accessibility are two of the issues discussed at quarterly meetings. Often, women don’t feel comfortable going to their direct leadership on their job sites to solve these issues so they go to RIWITT. Anita and many tradeswomen have provided testimony at the State House and advocate for the issues raised.
At the Women’s Policy Institute, Kelly teaches women what to do in situations when they are outnumbered. She says, “We see that when women or people of color are less represented in a room, they tend to be less heard.” A way to combat this is to “amplify the voices of people less represented and appropriately attribute [thoughts and ideas],” says Kelly.
This has been coined as the authority gap, a measure of how much more seriously men are taken in comparison to women. When asked what is one of the greatest challenges about being a woman in entrepreneurship, Anita responds, “The biggest challenge I see is being taken seriously… I’m confident and sometimes it’s mistaken as cocky or arrogant and it’s not.”
Oftentimes, we find it easy to advocate for others but not ourselves. We need to learn to speak up, volunteer for stretch assignments, ask people to mentor or sponsor us… get people to be aware of the special skills and talents that we bring to the tableKelly Nevins
The gap makes organizations like RIWITT and the Women’s Fund of RI vital to forge systemic change. The two agree the catalyst for change is collaboration. Kelly and Anita’s advice to aspiring women leaders is to speak up, persevere, and work together.
“Oftentimes, we find it easy to advocate for others but not ourselves. We need to learn to speak up, volunteer for stretch assignments, ask people to mentor or sponsor us… get people to be aware of the special skills and talents that we bring to the table,” says Kelly.
“You have the support of all the women before you and all of the women that are standing next to you even if they’re not right by your side. If you ever want to call on me and the RI Women in the Trades, we’ll be there to support you…don’t ever think that you are not needed, that you are alone. And don’t ever think you’re not wanted. It’s all within you,” Anita says.
By Rachael Brady
SEG Communications Manager