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Dlugosh Leads Austin’s NAWIC Chapter in Keeping Women in Construction Connected and Growing Throughout the Pandemic

by: Julie Devine
Danielle Dlugosh
Danielle Dlugosh
“When I first got into construction, I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was a woman,” said Danielle Dlugosh, Area Superintendent for Hensel Phelps Construction in Austin, Texas. “When I joined the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), I learned to be proud that I’m one of the 9 percent of women that make up the construction workforce.”

Dlugosh first got involved with NAWIC in 2017. “I had just moved to Austin for a job and knew no one besides the people I worked with,” she said. “I had no idea of all the support, mentoring, connections, and educational resources I would get.”

Now Dlugosh serves as President of Austin’s NAWIC chapter, steering the organization through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic as they continue providing women in construction with opportunities for professional development, education, networking, leadership training, and public service.

Dlugosh previously served as a field engineer and superintendent for JE Dunn Construction in Baton Rouge, Houston, and Austin before joining Hensel Phelps in 2018.

In her interview with Texas Contractor, she shares the lessons she learned throughout her career, as well as the ways Austin’s NAWIC chapter helps members continue networking and growing in the midst of the pandemic.

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Why did you choose a career in construction?
I grew up in a construction family. When I spent time with my dad or brother, it normally revolved around some project we built. I always enjoyed seeing how things come together, so when I graduated from Emporia State University (in Emporia, Kansas) with a bachelor’s degree in history and politics, I got a job as an administrative assistant to a general superintendent. About three months into the job, he sat me down and asked what I wanted to do with my career. I said that one day I wanted to do what he did and run my own job. He then was my biggest advocate in becoming a superintendent.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
My biggest influence came from family members in the industry. Early in my career, my dad helped establish my general construction knowledge and taught me the lessons he learned along the way. My brother has always been my tough-love supporter. He didn’t let me get away with much growing up or while working alongside him early in my career. He taught me to value and challenge myself. Lastly, my aunt, a project manager, showed me that you can be a successful woman in construction.

What lessons have you learned in your professional life?
My first mentor taught me that communication is an evolving action, and that lesson still applies every day. He showed me how to make it a mutual conversation, not just one-sided. He also taught me that when dealing with conflicts, you get a lot farther by being respectful and listening to understand, rather than forcing your opinions.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?
The first pieces of advice that come to mind are to never stop learning and to never ask someone to do something you haven’t or wouldn’t do yourself.

What professional achievement makes you proudest?
Although I’ve served in a lot of leadership roles, being elected President of the Austin NAWIC chapter just hit a little differently. It was a proud moment being voted into this position by my peers, knowing they had trust in me to lead and grow this chapter and join the list of strong, amazing women who came before me in this role.

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What are the priorities for your chapter?
Our ongoing priority is promoting and encouraging women’s advancement in the construction industry. We host educational and networking events to help grow our membership and awareness of women in construction. We also focus on growing our scholarships to help local college and trade school students have more opportunities in the industry. Through our annual clay shoot, golf tournament, and Camp NAWIC, we’ve raised $18,000 for those scholarships.

What are the chapter’s goals for the next year?
COVID-19 and 2020 hit our chapter and the organization as a whole pretty hard. A lot of our local members experienced budget cutbacks, which resulted in them not renewing. This year our main goal is to continue bringing value to current members while trying to grow our membership.

How are you reaching members during the pandemic?
With COVID restrictions, we’ve been almost 100 percent virtual. We’ve held virtual happy hours, brought in speakers for virtual presentations, and even hosted some Zoom games like bingo, a scavenger hunt, and a trivia night. Because COVID financially impacted many members, we’ve held a lot of free events just to keep them connected. For Women in Construction Week March 7-13, we’re trying a hybrid calendar with some in-person, socially distanced events outside at parks for those who feel comfortable, along with some virtual events.

Are there other ways the pandemic changed the chapter’s work?
I think one of the biggest challenges is the lack of face-to-face networking. About 50 percent of our members say they joined NAWIC for the networking opportunities. The lack of in-person events takes away a lot of the networking that naturally took place, which in turn takes some of the value out of membership. We’ve tried to keep everyone engaged through social media, virtual happy hours, and small lunch meetings. In addition, we moved to virtual board meetings, which work great with our busy schedules and make us more efficient.

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