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WNC Business

New Meetup group supports women in trades

Oct 19, 2023 09:41AM ● By Randee Brown

“Women’s pants suck” was the general sentiment for Founder of Stagehands Clothing Julie Walther and her business partner. Wanting to build an authentic business for people working at live events and in trades, Walther began actively getting to know more women working in trades to better evolve the company to the needs of her customers.

Relocating to the Asheville area from Chicago in 2022, Walther started reaching out to handywomen with the goal of pulling people together. She began a MeetUp group in January of 2023 called Women in Trades, inviting anyone identifying as female working in a primarily male-dominated business to attend. The first MeetUp consisted of 16 women, and by July the group comprised more than 110 individuals.

“We began by meeting about every two weeks, building a cohort of friends and colleagues,” Walther said. “There is incredible synergy and crossover here. It’s really about championing each other; encouraging people to speak up and be part of the conversation.”

The group now hosts a monthly formal meeting with programming in addition to several social gatherings each month. Program topics can be anything that a member wants to share including business issues like recruiting, preventing burnout, and social media marketing. The programming provides a vehicle for initiating conversations about these subjects as people mingle afterwards, and Walther said these conversations lead to friendships and collaborations.

“RadHaus Studio hired a woodworker to build a sound booth from one of these MeetUps,” Walther said. “They found a space for a photo shoot and used some women from the group as models. There is also constant learning back and forth. Retirees are sharing encouragement and knowledge for younger members, and younger members are encouraging older members in the tech arena. Connections outside of these MeetUps have been great too; I always hear talks of connections and collaborations that are happening.”

Collaborations like these are also bringing community issues to light, according to Walther. Many older women who live alone prefer a woman to come into their home to help with repairs when something goes wrong. She hired a handywoman to help her own mother and was able to pass along the handywoman’s information to another friend for the same reason.

“This highlighted an obvious need,” Walther said. “I want to create a space that is women-run. I reach out when I hear about women in trades and invite them to the group; it’s a space that feels really safe and connected. These women have really hard jobs, and it feels great to have allies that get it and take us seriously.”

Walther said she finds that the more people talk, the more they see connections with each other. They are sharing tools, techniques, and sales strategies, and individuals with “straight up trade skills” like a plumber or a handiworker often get asked a lot of questions. She said there is so much joy for everyone in gathering and everyone is excited to share and talk.

“There’s so much camaraderie and no competition,” Walther said. “I think we all have the feeling that there is enough work for everyone. If we can help get more women employed and engaged, we’ll never be in competition with each other. There’s so much generosity in helping to share information, and that’s pretty unique. I don’t know that men operate that same way.”

There is lots of peer encouragement and interviewing that takes place at each of these meetings, according to Walther. There are conversations about working toward retirement and how to train a replacement or bringing on an apprentice. Some women have gone to work for a day with another woman to see if the type of work is a good fit, which can turn into incubators for finding and testing new employees.

More than sharing trade information, tools, and direct business advice, Walther said there are also many conversations helping to empower women. Participants discuss the tendency to undervalue services, that it is okay to make money, and how to properly price the services being provided. She said so many women either volunteer or give away or underprice their skills, and there are often reminders that just because it is easy for one person does not mean a service, skill, and someone’s experience is not incredibly valuable to someone else.

“We have all been given messages of how to use our body and our brain and our skills,” Walther said. “We are taught how to behave at home and in the workplace. Having an outlet for women to be able to talk about their personal lives and also provide support to each other in that arena supports the positive thinking that each woman can be their own person and make the choices that work for them.”