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Mari Kaschalk: Women in Drywall

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As anyone in the industry can tell you, there’s a real shortage of skilled labor in drywall, and in the trades generally. What most people don’t talk about, though, is how infrequently we see women in drywall — and what an untapped resource they represent for this industry.

The fact is, construction is not an industry that has historically been very friendly or welcoming to women, and if we want to get more women involved (and we should want that), we need to make it a place that appreciates, respects and welcomes them. One of the best ways to do that is look to the women who are already working the job and use them as role models to encourage the next generation of young women to get into the trades. 

In this series, we're shining a spotlight on their stories.

From Stay-at-Home Mom to Top-of-the-Line Drywall Finisher

Mari Kaschalk: Women in DrywallEven now, women receive a ton of pressure to strike a delicate balance between their family lives and success in the workplace — in other words, to “have it all” or have no career at all. This way of thinking can discourage many women, especially the moms of the world, to ever even consider entering the trades. But not Mari Kaschalk, a drywaller who got into the trades by way of her previous career as a stay-at-home mom, and is managing to find that balance between family and business by making drywall a true family business.

Mari (known on Instagram as @themuddygirl) is one half of TK Drywall, which she owns and operates with her husband in a Pennsylvania town of Bloomsburg. Mari excelled in her field as a stay-at-home mother, and then, about five years ago, when all her kids were able to start going to school, she joined her husband, Thomas Kaschalk, Jr., in the newfound family trade of drywalling.

Mari Kaschalk: Women in DrywallThomas served as both business partner and mentor in those early days of working together, showing her the ropes of a skill that can start simply enough, but can be pretty challenging to master.

“My husband, he taught me everything,” said Mari in a recent phone interview. “And he’s very particular — he even says he’s real picky about it — so he’s really allowed me to perfect my skills. He can teach me all the little secrets to make it just right, perfect and straight, so I feel pretty lucky to have him as a mentor … As soon as the kids were all old enough to go to school, I came on board with him, and have been doing it ever since!”

‘Flawless Finish from the Get-Go’ With TK Drywall

TK Drywall (who you may have also seen on Instagram, where they have over 16,000 followers) does all kinds of residential work around their area, from hanging to finishing, new construction to renovations. Thomas and Mari have been thriving in their business, thanks to positive word-of-mouth and a strong social media presence. The secret to their success, according to Mari, is their reputation for perfectionism.

Mari Kaschalk: Women in Drywall“Our attention to detail [helps TK Drywall stand out], and we’re very particular about the way that it looks and how good we can make it; even though it gets covered by paint, we still have all our lines straight and everything looking beautiful,” Mari says. “The most important thing is the quality of the work: how it turns out and making sure customers are satisfied. You know, you don’t want to have to go back and do cleanup — we want to get that flawless finish from the get-go. And if it takes a little longer to get the quality just right, then we’re fine with that.”

On the jobsite, you’ll find Mari doing essentially all her work by hand, never far from a taping knife and, more often than not, up in stilts, proving a shorter stature isn’t a deal-breaker when it comes to working in drywall. She prides herself on a top-of-the-line finish, and TK Drywall has made its name on those high standards for a job well done.

Women in Drywall: ‘I’m Just as Much a Part of This as He Is’

Ordinarily, for many like Mari working in the drywall industry, they might spend entire years in this business without meeting a woman colleague. Less than 10 percent of the general construction workforce is made up of women, and even fewer work as drywall hangers and finishers. But, for whatever reason, Mari’s slice of Pennsylvania is far from ordinary: the area seems to boast more female finishers than most places you’ll find in the U.S. (including, a couple hours down the road, someone we’ve talked about before in our Women in Drywall series, Amanda Lechner).

Mari Kaschalk: Women in DrywallIt could be due to this local diversity that, around Mari’s home base, she hasn’t had to suffer too many fools around the jobsite who would discredit her work just because she’s a woman. Even still, there are plenty of people whose minds get blown to see someone like Mari become a professional drywaller.

“I love seeing women succeed in drywall,” Mari says. “I haven’t really come across anybody who has said anything negative or anything like that — I really haven’t had any issues being a woman in drywall. But people will be surprised. I recently had a builder who was literally in shock that I work in drywall because I’m a woman. And he asked me if I was also a hanger, and again, he was just shocked!”

Even while progress is being made to help women become more comfortable within the trades, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Besides making the workplace more welcoming, male drywallers will also have to get used to the idea of more women working on the jobsite alongside them. According to Mari, the very idea of her being on equal footing with her husband in their business is a challenging one for some people to accept. But Mari, as always, remains optimistic and resilient.

Mari Kaschalk: Women in Drywall“I’ve had people who see me and my husband and they automatically assume that he’s the one in charge, that he’s doing all the work, and that I’m just a helper,” she said. “And they go and they shake his hand, and they just kind of pass right by me. But I don’t let it get to me: I go up to them, and I put my hand out, and I give them a firm handshake and look them in the eye and let them know, you know, ‘Hey, I’m just as much a part of this as he is — we’re partners, I’m not just a helper.’

“But you can’t let stuff like that get to you. If people say something negative to you and you get upset about it, it gives that person more power. Why do you want to give someone who’s going to look down at you more power? You just have to let it roll off your back, and not let it bother you.”

Mari Kaschalk: Women in DrywallMari doesn’t have to get on a bullhorn and announce that she’s just as good at drywalling as anyone else — she usually lets the quality of her work speak for itself. Women in the trades are here to stay, and it’ll only become more and more common to see them on jobsites as times change. And there are many men who are doing the roadwork for a better, more inclusive route forward. Among them are Mari’s husband and business partner Thomas Kaschalk, Jr., who got in touch to give us his perspective on women in the trades.

"Having women in construction is just as beneficial as having guys in the trade,” said Thomas. “They are just as hardworking and dedicated. They can also bring new ideas and concepts to the table, which is always a benefit. They absolutely have my respect and I hope to see more women get into the trades.”

The Next Generation of TK Drywall?

Mari Kaschalk: Women in DrywallAs TK Drywall grows in its community, Mari is looking toward the future of her business. The plan is for, at some point down the road, to start bringing in a subcontractor or two for a lot of the more strenuous hanging work, training them in their ways of perfectionistic, premium-quality drywalling. Mari and Thomas, meanwhile, could advance into a more managerial roles to bring in more jobs — so long as they feel certain their subs could perform at the high level their business has become known for.

And, in fact, it’s possible Mari has already begun training her successor on the job, starting back in her stay-at-home-mom days. Her middle child has started getting fascinated by the family line of work, even paying a visit to the jobsite to start learning the basics.

“One of my sons has shown a little bit of interest; he’s been wanting to come to work with us,” said Mari. “He’s always been interested in building, and we thought maybe he’d want to be an architect or something one day. But who knows? He definitely showed some interest, so maybe he’ll join us more permanently one day down the line … For my son to carry the TK Drywall name on — that would be really nice.”

Mari is putting in the time to train the next generation of drywallers and, whether she knows it or not, surely inspire a new generation of craftswomen. And in the meantime, if any women come up against anyone bad-mouthing them because of their gender, she has the mother of all advice:

“Use it as motivation for you to really kick butt at what you do. Being the best will make them eat their words.”

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