Meet all of the 2022 Top Women in HVAC

Patricia Rizzo

Title: VDC operator
Company: John W. Danforth Company
Educational Experience: BOCES HVAC training; Plumbers and Steamfitters, Local 22 apprenticeship; United States Army (Active and Reserve duty), Operation Desert Storm Veteran
Industry Work Experience: John W. Danforth Company, VDC Operator (2020-Present), HVAC Service Technician (2006-2020). Plumbers & Steamfitters, Local 22 (2006-Present). MJ Mechanical, Service Technician (2001-2005)

What caused you to/when did you to enter the HVACR industry?

After spending 11 years in the foodservice industry, the restaurant that I was working for closed. I was looking for a new career path and went back to school. A career in the construction trades and HVAC in particular sounded like it would be a fun and interesting challenge. I thought I might be able to start my own business down the road, if I chose to do so.


What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in HVACR?

I’m very proud that I have been able to grow and stand on my own in the industry, especially as a female. Being a woman entering the construction world was a bit overwhelming when I first started. When you finally learn and get good at your job and are treated as an equal, it makes you feel respected. Teaching has always been a passion of mine, and I have done — and still do — a lot of teaching, first through BOCES and then through my union, Plumbers and Steamfitters, Local 22.


Describe the proudest moment in your career.

When the leaders at Danforth recognized my abilities and pulled me out of the field for an opportunity within our VDC operation. It really verified not only the career choice I made, but all of the hard work I have put in over the years.


What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example?

There are still not many peers for women to turn to in our industry, which can be stressful. Especially in the field, you’re always in the fishbowl with all eyes on you. When I started my career on the service side, if I showed up to a site and took a ladder off of a service truck, I would get an audience immediately. When you are new, that can be pretty overwhelming. It was uncomfortable every single day. It takes time and confidence to prove yourself and earn the respect of your coworkers and others in the field. The industry also needs to improve the availability of safety equipment for women. Too often, women have equipment that does not fit properly or have a very limited selection of equipment, such as small gloves, work boots, etc.


How can we increase the number of women in HVACR?

I think we get to female candidates too late. We need to do a better job of engaging them and introducing them to the trades at an earlier age, like when they are in middle school. I took Industrial Arts in 7th and 8th grade, but I didn’t know what that could translate into. I didn’t know that the unions or the HVAC world was an option until I went back to school years later. We need people who can make female apprentices feel comfortable. I try to get our union hall to have events tailored to women.


What does your day-to-day job entail?

I am on a totally different career path now than when I first started in the industry. I used to drive to client sites for service calls and appointments. Now, I am in virtual design and construction (VDC), working with our CAD team. I draw it as opposed to fixing it, which is really exciting and interesting. It was hard starting over. I had to learn a lot on my own on how to get the computer to do what I wanted it to do.


What remains on your HVACR bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?

I want to play a more active role in recruiting more women to industry and also work on retention for women professionals. We get female candidates in, but it can be a challenge to keep them. Since there are so few women in the trades, as compared to men, we often don’t get to be on the same jobs with one another. Sometimes there is only one women for each trade on a job site. My union has over 700 members, but only 22 women. Having more women working together on jobs and being able to be peers to one another would certainly help.


What advice do you have for females who are considering entering the HVACR field?

You need to be continually learning. Take the initiative to learn on your own. You also have to have integrity — mean what you say and say what you mean, otherwise people won’t take you seriously.