Utopia recently conducted a Q&A with women in the construction industry. From product and safety managers, to engineering directors, these women climbed the ranks and made a name for themselves in their respective companies.
Rachael Dolecki, safety manager at McHugh Construction, is one such woman. She started out flagging for concrete structures, but by now she's in the business of safety. Alongside other women, she even played a "towering" role in the construction of this $1 billion skyscraper in Chicago.
Here's her story on industry passion, pains, and shifting perspectives for women in construction.
Q&A WITH Rachael Dolecki
Could you tell me a bit about your market, company, and what you do?
I work as a safety manager on all Chicago-area projects for McHugh Construction, a general contractor specializing in multifamily residential, hotel and hospitality, and recreational facilities.
How many years you've been in your career? What are some of your day-to-day operations and activities?
I have been the safety manager for McHugh Construction since 2012. I drive from site to site and walk the project to make sure everyone is being safe and OSHA compliant. I look for safety concerns and address them with the appropriate subcontractors. I then touch base with McHugh Construction’s project team and go over what I saw on site, and then we discuss the upcoming project schedule.
What sparked your initial interest in the industry?
My dad was a construction laborer for 38 years. It was always cool to see the buildings he worked on. It really started as a joke. I asked my dad to get me a job as a flagger and two days later he called and asked: “Do you really want the job?” And I said, “Yes, I want it.” I got my foot in the door in the industry and then began laboring for concrete structures.
What do you love most about your job/career?
I love meeting the different types of people and learning more about how a building is built. Being able to start a project from the ground up and then seeing the finished project is amazing.
What has been the biggest barrier you've faced in your field?
The biggest barrier is when everybody's not on board with safety and getting them to buy-in on why we’re doing it the way we’re doing it. It’s come a long way since the time I started, but it could be even better. When we do orientation, we always say, “We want you to go home the same way you arrived.”
What are some common challenges that women in this industry (and perhaps the workforce as a whole) face?
I don't think women are given enough credit for the knowledge they have of the industry. Construction has been considered a man's world and when you have a female come in and intelligently speak on construction issues, some men can feel inferior and try to put you down.
It's been getting better; it just takes the men seeing that she really can do this and giving them a shot. Too many prejudge. A lot stems from the top—when you see your leaders leading by example and giving the women respect, it trickles down to the tradesmen.
What do you think are the reasons women either don't want to work in the industry, won't get hired, or don't retain positions?
A lot of women are scared and don’t think they have enough knowledge about the construction industry. Or they have a prenotion that they're going to be harassed, but the times really have changed. I haven’t seen this or heard about it happening.
What solutions do we have to solve these problems? Do you know of any good resources for women and businesses to go to in order to circumnavigate these challenges?
To get more women in the industry, they just need to know about the benefits between the pay, the health insurance, and the pension. By learning a trade, they can become more independent. We need to provide them with the knowledge, and we need to be encouraging the trades in the high schools and let them know there are other great opportunities besides just college.