‘You don’t even need a man’: UMass Building Authority recognizes D.A. Sullivan for creating opportunities for women in construction

By Maddie Fabian

For the Gazette

Published: 03-21-2023 3:09 PM

AMHERST — Growing up, Holyoke resident Carolyn Diaz Rodriguez preferred helping her grandfather with building projects in lieu of doing chores. Originally from the Dominican Republic, she has always loved using a hammer and working with her hands.

Now a mother of two children, Diaz Rodriguez works for D.A. Sullivan & Sons Inc. as a journey-level carpenter. With the help of Job Corps, she came to the United States in 2014, received her GED from Westover School, and became a union apprentice.

“I have the opportunity to do what I really love to do, to be in construction and build with my own hands,” Diaz Rodriguez said. “It’s great pay, it has a retirement plan. ... You don’t even need a man, to be honest,” she said with a chuckle, adding it that it is still nice to have a significant other.

On Monday, D.A. Sullivan was recognized by the UMass Building Authority (UMBA) for its performance in creating opportunities for women in its construction projects. The UMBA, established by the state Legislature in 1960, is charge with building facilities on the UMass campuses.

“The UMass Building Authority works really hard to ensure that our projects meet the needs of campuses… but we also work to ensure that our projects are creating and opening up opportunities for all workers in the construction of our buildings,” UMBA Executive Director Barbara Kroncke said. “March is Women’s Month and it’s a fitting time to recognize the contractor DA Sullivan that has done the strongest work across the state bringing women into the workforce.”

Based in Northampton, D.A. Sullivan is a mid-sized general contracting company that has served New England, mainly central and western Massachusetts, for over 125 years.

Women remain exceedingly underrepresented in the male-dominated construction industry. In an effort to address this inequity, the state maintains diversity goals for all of its construction undertakings, including that projects reach a minimum of 6.9% women work hours.

D.A. Sullivan more than doubled this goal with 14.9% women work hours in its ongoing renovation of the Lederle Graduate Research Center on the flagship campus. Moreover, the company has the highest completed project women work hours in Massachusetts’ history with 13.6% women work hours on the Biomedical Engineering Building, also on the Amherst campus.

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“It takes recruiting more women to the industry, but it also takes owners like the state creating demand and like the UMass campus creating demand and ensuring that contractors are creating those opportunities,” said Lisa Clauson, director of strategic partnerships for the North Atlantic States Carpenters Labor Management Program.

She also recognized vocational technical and CTE, or career and technical education, schools for their work in training young women for construction jobs.

Several tradeswomen also spoke at Monday’s event about their experiences as women in construction.

“Being in this trade has allowed me to own my own home, support my daughter… I am able to do things that I would not have been able to do if I was not in this position,” said Lindsay Gustafson, a pipefitter who has worked in the industry for 13 years.

“Over the years, there’s so many more women. I went from maybe seeing another female on a job site once a year to every job I’m on,” she added. “It’s wonderful and I appreciate all the work that everybody has put in to make that happen.”

Another worker, 20-year-old Mara Castillo, is a third year apprentice who is financially independent as a result of her work in the industry.

“It takes collaboration and deep, meaningful partnership to get this work done,” said state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst.

D.A. Sullivan Project Manager Ryan Gagne acknowledged trade partners, including Adams Plumbing & Heating Inc., American Environmental Inc., Zap Electric Inc., and Universal Electric Co. for their commitment to women in the workforce.

Gagne also pointed out that in the coming years, much of the construction workforce is expected to retire.

“There’s plenty of opportunity for women to fill those gaps moving forward… Studies show that diverse workforces are more profitable, so it makes good business sense to hire more women in construction. And we are committed to doing that.”