Latina Welders: A New Generation of Women in Steel
When Guatemalan Consuelo Poland started out in the white-male dominated profession she was the exception, now she is determined to make Indianapolis the capital of blowtorch feminism.
"Why aren't more women doing this," Consuelo Poland asked herself after getting her welding certificate. She had been the only woman in her class in Michigan, and the only one of color, and although the course hadn't taught her how to break into the industry, offers poured in just before she graduated.
"My welding skills opened many doors for me," the Guatemalan told journalist Natalia Contreras of Indystar.
In 2015, Poland, 31, moved to Indianapolis and saw that her profession needed to be much more inclusive and diverse, and that she needed to help other women like her enter an industry full of opportunities for meticulous people, including an artist's point, and indeed, hard as steel. But she also hoped that the change would help her create a community.
"I wanted to find a way to bring more Latinas together," said the welder, who was born in Guatemala but was adopted by an American family and raised in a mostly-white Michigan.
That's why she founded Latinas Welding Guild, a nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis that uses welding to empower women professionally and creatively by offering workshops where she is the instructor, and teaches her students how to make their way in the predominantly male guild — something, she says, that no one considers in the training courses.
"From my personal experience of joining the welding industry as a woman and trying to enter a creative world and then also trying to survive in a white man's world, I know I would have liked more support," Consuelo said. "That's why it's so important that we are inclusive and have women of all backgrounds, ethnicities, ages and levels of education."
Her classes are eminently practical and include visits to supply stores and manufacturing workshops, both large scale and much more artistic and artisanal, as well as networking for greater unity among them.
"Being new to the industry you don't know what questions to ask, you don't know who to talk to, nobody teaches you those things," said Consuelo Poland. "If they don't feel confident enough to go buy their own supplies, then there's a chance they won't keep welding. There's a chance they'll give up."
So far, the Latina Welding Guild has helped more than 20 Indianapolis women become welders. Diversity is not only the foundation of their classes, but it's also evident in the future professionals, whose ages range from 20 to 60, and most of them are mothers looking to open their work range.
Although welding remains a male-dominated field — according to the Department of Labor, more than 90% of U.S. welders are men — a study by the Institute for Women's Policy Research found that more and more women are taking an interest in this type of vocational training, which is easier and less expensive to access than college and offers a more secure income stream.