At present, women account for less than 10% of workers in the construction industry. To understand the unique reality of their chosen career path we have put together a series of interviews with 3 women who have forged successful careers in this lopsided industry. Starting with Irish Mining and Quarrying Society (IMQS) President and TOBIN Consulting Engineers Associate Siobhan Tinnelly.

A Natural Sciences graduate at Trinity College Dublin (followed by a Postgraduate Diploma in Environmental Engineering from Trinity and an MSc. in Applied Hydrogeology from Newcastle University), Siobhan became the first female IMQS Vice-President in 2013 before trumping that the following year by becoming its first female President.

“People can become a specialist in a field very quickly”

Her niche expertise in extractive services was central to her rise through the IMQS ranks and is something she sees as a key factor in her success. In her own words, “if you have an interest or develop an interest in a particular area, you can become a specialist in a particular field very quickly if you focus your time and energy on that area”. This approach to forging a career, specifically in construction, is effective regardless of gender and is something Siobhan continues to promote.

Speaking about her election to the position of IMQS President, Siobhan candidly states that “I wasn’t sure how it would be received by the membership”. She explains that “the positive reaction following the announcement was a reflection of a changing industry and a forward thinking membership”. Siobhan also notes the continued support from organisations across the island of Ireland.

“Just the tradition of the industry”

Gender is not at the forefront of people’s thoughts when they ask what she does. In her opinion, people’s “first reaction is intrigue – people are curious to know what projects you are working on and what your role is on those projects…people like to hear about your day-to-day activities and how you got involved”. Gender discussion rarely rears its head as quite simply “it’s a short conversation with nowhere for the discussion to go”.

Siobhan believes that “traditionally construction in Ireland is male dominated, particularly on site, however, this is not the case in the planning/office based environments of the construction industry”. She states that this is “just the tradition of the industry and will be slower to change whereas with the office environment the percentagesare visibly different”. For example TOBIN Consulting Engineers has a very healthy split across both genders with the expertise and experience of the scientist or engineer determining their inclusion in project teams. She is unequivocal however in finishing with the point that “the opportunities on site are open to everybody”.

“The recession was not gender biased”

Many people also point to the recession as a blow to the emergence of women in our industry. Siobhan is adamant that females have been affected “no more than males… the recession was not gender biased”. Siobhan summed up her thoughts on the issue, “I’m looking forward to the day that gender isn’t a discussion piece… that change is gathering momentum”.

When looking for evidence of that trend Siobhan points to the likes of Prof. Yvonne Scannell, Dr. Eibhlin Doyle, Dr. Marie Cowan and Dr. Deirdre Lewis – top female industry experts who “are being recognised for their jobs and for making significant contributions as opposed to the fact that they are female”.

“Work experience is crucial”

Finally Siobhan reminds any female looking at the construction sector as a career path of the benefits of learning and finding your niche, “the opportunities within the construction industry are vast so, if you have an area of interest, you should do a course to reflect this – but work experience is crucial. Keeping up-to-date with new technologies and guidelines within the industry, reading industry magazines, attending evening seminars, focusing on industry role models on social media and generally being aware of the latest industry trends and announcements – all these activities will help you to keep pace with an ever changing sector. If you work hard and focus on the field that best suits your interests and capabilities, you will meet the right people and find the best job for you.”

Read more about gender diversity in other industries

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