Women of Steel


Women of steel have paved the way for equal rights in a male dominated industry. 

Many women who work in steel mills do it for the betterment of their financial futures and to help with their children financially.

“It is hard to balance family life because schedules interfere with family events, and holidays. So, I miss a lot of things,” Samantha Coen, who works at Cleveland Cliffs in the 160 Plate Mill, said.

According to the documentary Women of Steel, 1985, the exception of employing women during WWII, prior to the mid-1970s most steel mills did not make a practice of hiring women as production workers. According to USW, the first committee of the Women of Steel was created in 1981 in USW 2900 in Toronto, Canada. According to Brenda English, Co-Chair to the WOS, the local committee welcomes around 20 members, and they focus on holding fundraisers for breast cancer awareness and bringing women’s issues to the forefront helping to pave the way to equal rights.

“We do it because the money is good and we want to pay our bills,” Stephanie Miller, who works at the Cleveland Cliffs in the 160 plate mill, said.

There were few opportunities for women back then; sexual discrimination ran rampant.

According to the documentary Women of Steel, the opportunity for a chance to break out of traditional women’s work and become well-paid women in steel came only with the legal backing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The combined movements for equal rights and opportunities gained momentum in the early ‘70s. This eventually led to the signing of an agreement on April 15, 1974. On this day, it was announced that the nation’s top nine biggest steel companies agreed to sign a five year plan overseeing opportunities for minorities and for women and the largest financial settlement it has ever achieved, representing 75% of the steel industry.

Today, many of these women will quickly note the downsides of working in a male dominated industry, as the price for independence runs steep. The steel mill is a harsh workplace for men or women. For women, it puts breaking into a man’s world with special challenges to women.

“It was really hard when I first started working out here trying to find a good balance of family and work life. I now work a straight midnight shift so that I can be at all my kids’ events and stuff that they need to do,” Kristina Kuszmaul, who works at the Cleveland Cliffs as a NDT operating technician, said.

For most women having a job in the mill means having to prove yourself everyday, and work your way up to be given the same amount of respect as a man in that line of work. Now with more attention being brought to the issue 

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