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Published in Feature on 19/09/2016

Women In Construction

CNI Editor reports

You can’t deny the statistics. The number of females applying for construction studies courses has not risen dramatically over the years; that’s a fact. However, what is undeniable is that there are now many more female Quantity Surveyors, Project Managers, Architects and Engineers in the industry, particularly at a senior level, than ever before.

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) and the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland (ACEI) recently said that Ireland is actually lacking in Chartered Surveyors and Engineers, a dearth which could have a huge impact on the construction industry in the next four years.

This summer both bodies were actively encouraging students, particularly females, with an interest and aptitude in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects to consider a course that would lead them into the construction industry.

At the time, Aine Myler, Director of Operations at SCSI said that surveying, for example, has often been seen as a male-dominated industry, but she says it’s great career for a woman. “Sometimes people feel there is a need for physical strength in surveying but there isn’t. Women tend to be better people persons and the skills they offer are absolutely applicable to this range of opportunities,” she said.

It’s clear that for Ireland’s economic recovery to continue, with the Irish Construction and Property Industry at the forefront of that, a more gender balanced workforce is required.

With that in mind, over the next ten weeks, we will speak to women who have made their way to the top of their specialty in several areas of the construction industry.  They will tell us about the challenges they faced, their achievements, the projects they have worked on but will also give advice to and encourage young women who would also like to get into the industry.

Senior Project Manager with KMCS Ltd., Catherine Murphy kicks off the series, filling us in on how she took the ‘scenic route’ to her chosen career and speaks of her time at Carlow IT, where she was the only female graduate from the course.

“Eighty students started, and two of these were girls. In my final year there was one girl who finished-me,” she tells Construction Networks Ireland.

She says she can see a change in the industry now though.

“I would acknowledge the numbers have increased and I am encountering more females in the industry every day, from areas like health and safety to administration on site to architectural, engineering, acoustics and fire,” she says. “Companies need to make a concerted effort from the top to hire females, thus achieving a gender balance within their company. KMCS Ltd. has approximately a 50: 50 male to female gender ratio to the benefit of us within the company and our clients.”

While more women are taking up these jobs and senior jobs into the bargain, figures entering colleges are still low. As of March 2015 there were 2,506 women enrolled in full time undergraduate engineering, manufacturing or construction  courses at Higher Education Authority-funded institutions, compared to 14,215 men.

Director General of Engineers Ireland, Caroline Spillane says that, while the outlook is positive in that there was a 9% increase in CAO first preferences for engineering/technology degree programmes in 2015, there is still a lack of gender diversity in these programmes.

“Despite engineers being renowned for their innovation, ingenuity and problem-solving skills, the profession still has to overcome its long-standing challenge of attracting and retaining female engineers,” she said.

Even so, Lorraine Carlisle, CEO of the FKM Group, who we will also speak to us for the series, echoes Murphy’s comments.

“The balance of females to males, since I started, has changed. When I started there was only one other female in the company I worked for and she was in the accounts department. The presence of professional females has increased fourfold since then and they are industry qualified architects, Engineers and Quantity Surveyors. I do believe the numbers are rising. There is a significant gap but I do see, through networking, an increased number of females but not only females in the industry, females at a senior level as well which is important. It’s in the harder disciplines like QS and Project Management as well.”

Carlisle says that she is of the belief that if you are good at what you do, people look beyond the gender.

“I think the perception of the industry could put some females off but once you’re in it and if you’re good at what you do, then there’s no holding you back. I frequently find myself at round table meetings where I am maybe the only female but my voice has been heard and there is respect and other females I have spoken to would say the same.”

Murphy agrees but acknowledges that her gender can still raise a smile the odd time. “On occasion, I will smile, if I have set up a meeting and you greet a person who maybe you haven’t met before and you see an acknowledgment of, oh, she is actually chairing the meeting. Naturally I wouldn’t be a person who would linger on that, we’re all in this together be it male or female and we have to get on with it. I would not differentiate between male and female. That being said, I would not be the woman to go to a building site teetering in a pair of high heels and a skirt and not be able to get up a ladder. I’m practical in that regard,” she laughs.