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Looking Back at 5 Years of Empowering Women in Industry With DeIla Ray

There I was scrolling through the endless feeds on Instagram when something caught my eye. You see, I am by trade a traveling combo pipe welder and there on my screen were the words “Empowering Women in Industry.” What did that mean? How many other women work in industry? Who/where are they?! I was immediately flooded with questions and curiosity about who Empowering Women in Industry were and what they were doing to truly empower women.

As a traveling combo pipe welder, I was often told I was the first female person seen doing this kind of work. It was nothing to me to be on a jobsite and be the only woman present let alone to be the only welder on site. Unfortunately, I was oftentimes underestimated but I used that doubt to fuel that fire within to make it to where they couldn’t question what I did once they knew me and saw my work.

In 2019 I attended the inaugural National Empowering Women in Industry Conference in Chicago, IL. The event was held at the Chicago Athletic Association, which ironically used to be available to men only for membership until 1972. A past Certified Welding Inspector I worked for had nominated me for Tradeswoman of the Year. As the event approached I was contacted by Empowering Women in Industry and they told me that a fellow tradeswoman, Amy Chetcuti, was wanting to sponsor a tradeswoman to attend the event. I was astounded and accepted the gracious offer!! Come to find out Amy was an expedition mechanic working in the Antarctic and was also nominated for Tradeswoman of the Year! As the Conference flowed throughout the day I met and talked to women from a variety of occupations in the industry; a grouping of women with so many different backgrounds, yet somehow all so similar.

The moniker for the 2019 Conference was “Be the Change”. However, it feels more fitting for me to say “Be Changed” because that is exactly what happened for me while attending my first event with Empowering Women in Industry. The evening of the Gala and Award Ceremony Charli approached me and said she had a very important question to ask me. She politely told me I was not the winner of the Tradeswoman of the Year Award and that Amy Chetcuti won. However, Amy was not able to attend the event and Charli wondered if I would be interested in accepting the award on her behalf. Joyfully, I said yes! I knew that being recognized for my work and being nominated for Tradeswoman of the Year was a great accomplishment all on its own and now I get to accept this honor for an amazing woman working in the industry! Amy was one of the reasons I was attending this event as she sponsored me and now I had the honor of standing up for her while she was in the tundra of the Antarctic working and continuing to be the incredible tradeswoman she was.

Now, I must admit here - I have a large fear of stages/microphones/speaking in front of large crowds. But, I said yes to getting on that stage on the behalf of another woman in the skilled trades who couldn’t make it, because, well, she was working!! All I can tell you after I walked onto that stage was that I was changed forever. I cannot tell you what I said because I blacked out the entire display. All I know is that looking back it felt like I stood ten feet away from the podium and spoke in the quietest and most shy voice I’ve ever heard come out of my mouth. Who was that girl?! Where was that fire of confidence I know I have? All of a sudden I thought to myself, “the next time I’m on a stage it will be different. I’m going to go all the way up to the microphone and speak with the self confidence I know I have.”

2020 rolled in - and well, we all know how that year went. In true covid fashion the 2020 Empowering Women in Industry National Conference in New Orleans was canceled. I received a nomination for Tradeswoman of the Year and was up again to run against some incredible women working in the industry. Because the event was canceled my mom and I decided to rent a hotel room and tune into the conference there. As we were sitting in front of the computer screen waiting for the event to kick off we realized it was after the start time and started questioning if the internet connection was good. All of a sudden we hear “Congratulations DeIla Ray!” Then the screen changed and Charli was telling us they were having technical difficulties. I looked at my mom wide eyed and said “I won?” There was a group of women that voted for me to be the Tradeswoman of the Year? What did they see in me? How do I uphold this title? I began to have more questions, but now instead of “who is Empowering Women in Industry and what are they doing to truly empower women” I was asking myself “what am I doing to empower women in industry?” A shift was happening.

Empowering Women in Industry makes you question things and yourself. Somehow, they recognize leaders even before they recognize it within themselves. There is something about the organization and the people it attracts that helps make you believe in the power of your voice and the work you do. I heard Charli and Rebekah once talk about how Charli was asked Why Empowering Women in Industry? And she said her best and easiest response was, “because it’s important!” I know Empowering Women in Industry has helped me reach further goals and put myself out there in ways I didn’t know were possible, let alone achievable. All of this is because, well, it is important.

After traveling as a combo pipe welder and working in a multitude of industry settings and in many states across America for almost a decade my husband and I quit our traveling work and decided to create Alpha Duo, LLC. our custom welding and fabrication business. Somehow during this time I also fit in an apprenticeship for becoming a licensed body piercer as my husband and his brothers also own and operate a tattoo studio. You see, the “hustle” is not an unfamiliar attribute to me. The ability to recognize the time for a pivot in life and when to take risks is an essential intuition of an entrepreneur.

I took one of the largest leaps of my life in September 2022. I signed on as a Welding Instructor at the local Career Center. I now have the chance to help share my passion for welding with students and be one of their first spark to a very bright future. I have a very nontraditional approach to my work in the industry and how I got to where I am today. I know Empowering Women in Industry has made their mark on the person I am today and the desire to share knowledge and real world work experiences with our workforce to come for generations.

Empowering Women recognized me as their 2022 Mentor of the Year as well as their 2022 Industry Advocacy winner.

It’s like they helped light a fire in my soul to do better, to be better, and to share and pass the torch of welding.

Along with the career catapulting recognitions of achievements that Empowering Women in Industry has given me they have also helped me grow as a teammate, a mentor and mentee, an entrepreneur, and more importantly they have helped build belief in myself. The last two years I have had the privilege of serving on the Empowering Women in Industry Steering Committee. Within this role I have gained invaluable knowledge and team building strengths that have helped in all avenues of my life. Additionally, I have entered a network that continues to build my scope of reach to other professionals in the industry.

Through that reach of networks and social media platforms I have continued to grow in the industry. I am the new Welding PPE and Workwear Expert for The Safety Rack, we test it so you don’t have to! Also, with great excitement and a whole lot of nerves, I will be flying to Florida this April to speak to the Florida State College at Jacksonville and their students about my work in the industry, the path of an entrepreneur, and how welding has changed my life. Thanks to the help of Empowering Women in Industry I am ready to tackle the things that I may fear or have reservations about. They have helped me see the importance of the work that I have done and the work that I have ahead of me to help continue making a name for women who work in the industry.

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