Women in Construction: Sarah Kennedy’s Love of Working as a Woman in Construction

06 March 2020

Women continue to make strides in Construction. Some are even key members in a male-dominated industry, but still have a way to go in this challenging field. This International Women’s Day, Sarah Kennedy – Bid/Marketing Manager at Garland Consultancy, discussed how she managed to make her own mark in the industry while encouraging other women to enter into construction.

The construction industry continues to evolve. It’s also embracing diversity, during a serious international labor shortage. Despite a certain level of progress for women, construction remains a male-dominated industry, especially on worksites. In Europe, 99 percent of the workers on job sites are male. In the UK, women make up only 12.4 percent of the total construction workforce.

It’s the same in the U.S. 939,000 women worked in various sectors of the construction industry during 2016. That’s only 9 percent of the industry at best. Women also earn less working in the same position as men. For example, in the U.S. construction industry, they earn only 95.7 percent of what men make.

Nevertheless, construction offers many opportunities—and benefits—career-wise for women. Below we talk with Sarah Kennedy who is seizing her chance to work in the industry and making the most of it.

How did you come to join the industry?

I spent my summers from ages 14 to 21 working part-time on different construction sites around Dublin for pocket money. It also kept me busy during those summers and out from under my parents’ feet. Over those Summers I worked on some of the country’s busiest sites including DAA Terminal 2, Intel, and AIB Ballsbridge project.

I have always enjoyed the fast-paced, exciting environment in construction. I joined the industry full-time in 2015 working for EIDA Solutions, a construction management software platform. I had used the platform at the Intel site three years previously. I spent three years with them in a variety of roles, including technical writing and later business development. In July 2018, I joined Garland Consultancy Engineers as its Bid/Marketing Manager, my current position.

How did you perceive the industry before joining it?

Having worked in the industry from the age of 14, I had experienced the construction industry before I really had a chance to form a clear perception of it. If I didn’t have this experience, I probably wouldn’t have seen it as a positive place to build my career.
I was always aware that there were women who worked for construction companies going in and out of my dad’s office when I was younger, but I was surprised to learn these women weren’t always in administrative roles.

The first summer I worked in construction alongside female cost controllers, QA personnel, quantity surveyors, and engineers. I was surprised to find women in almost every department within the organisation, but always in the minority. If there was more than one woman on a team, it would have been remarkable.

How have your perceptions changed since then?

Having now worked within the industry for several years, I’ve seen an increasing interest in attracting and including women in the workforce. While previously companies often paid lip service to increasing female participation, there’s an increasing acknowledgment across the industry that equal gender representation is better for business.

While participation has increased and management are willing and eager to hire women, they’re still very much underrepresented at higher levels. In all my years working in the industry, I have yet to have a female boss. As someone who’s is hoping to continue my career trajectory in the industry, this situation can be disheartening.

What’s great about this industry for women?

It’s a satisfying industry to work in. You are contributing to the infrastructure around you in a big way. I still point out the different sites I’ve worked on to people ten years later. It’s also fast-paced, with loads of opportunities for progression if you want to learn.

Often, you have an informal atmosphere, and there’s great fun and the possibility of making great friends. Increasingly, construction companies are committing to providing a respectful and enjoyable place for their employees to work. Plus, it’s an exciting time for Construction with many companies embracing technology and innovation.

What’s your impression of the industry?

Construction is a busy industry, so there are numerous opportunities for women to advance. The industry accepts and acknowledges people that work hard. If you do your job well, managers are willing to give you more work and bring out the best in you.

While I did not find many instances of discrimination on a day-to-day basis, people do often assume that women are admin staff or receptionists and can overlook them for promotion or investment. Unfortunately, women need to push harder. Being one of a handful of women in a room of 80-100 men can be a little uncomfortable, but unfortunately, it’s very common.

When will women achieve equality in the industry?

I think it will be a very long time before women achieve parity within the industry. At the moment only 5-10% of the industry is made up of women, and much less so at the management level. We will need to see a significant increase in women entering the industry over the next decade to begin to close this gap.

How does the industry get more women to join?

Most young women aren’t encouraged or even offered construction-related subjects in school which needs to change. Schools need to ensure subjects such as physics and tech drawing are offered to girls in school, and career guidance teachers aren’t afraid to suggest skilled work or engineering degrees to their female students.

The industry also needs to emphasize the benefits of the construction industry to women who are considering career changes or returning to work. They also need to make the industry a more inviting place, particularly for young women who expect to work in a company that is diverse and has women in management positions.

Do you have role models in the industry?

In one of my very first jobs, I worked with a female cost controller. She was such an asset to the company, and so good at her job that she was a role model for me. But I also like to look at other women in the industry to inspire myself, particularly those who are running their own businesses or sitting at director level.

I see more and more women entering the industry as CEOs, member of boards, and business owners. With more and more women succeeding, I think their success makes it easier for women already in the industry to move up and for other women not in the industry to join and make it a career.

Where do you see opportunities for women in the industry?

One area where I see more opportunities for women is in construction technology. As more and more construction companies embrace new technologies positions will become available in exciting companies who are the forefront of innovation within the industry. These positions can give women access to some of the most complex and advanced projects locally and internationally, as it did in my career.

What’s one piece of advice you give other women?

Find a champion in the industry. That’s a big help.

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Jenny Snook
Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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