After three years working in the construction industry, across both Ireland and the UK, Pure Fitout Project Manager Sita McDermott describes her career progress and journey as something that happened “gradually, then suddenly”.
Why did she choose to work in the industry? “Happenstance but I stay in it because it’s always interesting,” she says. A familiar circumstance for many saw the Covid-19 pandemic play backdrop to McDermott’s first job within the construction industry, working alongside her brother.
“There was a great mixture of office work and actual labouring on-site,” she says. Exposure to the industry, and just how enjoyable she found it, spurred McDermott to search for more work in the industry.
“I started looking for roles in construction and I realised that my previous experience of project management translated well,” she says.
Through the disruption brought on by the pandemic and the transition into the construction sector, a piece of advice she says that has stayed with her is to “stay in the present moment”.
“Covid and construction have taught me that things are uncertain and there are always changes from what is planned,” she adds.
The number of women working in the construction industry is growing, recent statistics have placed the number of females in the industry at slightly above nine per cent, an increase on the years before.
The reality remains, of course, that over 90 per cent are men. Meanwhile, on-site the disparity is even more notable. That said, Sita McDermott’s advice to any women considering joining the industry is not to be deterred. “Don’t be put off by the fact that there are not other women anywhere on site. You get used to being the only woman on a site and the work is super interesting and worth it,” she adds.
The scarcity of women actively working on sites is changing but still prominent, and on that note Sita recalls a remark made at a training event that surprised her.
When discussing a niche trade, apparently so much that only two people in Ireland were qualified, the trainer expressed incredulity that one of those two, being a woman, was quite skilled.
“Why was he surprised?” she remembers thinking. “I realised starkly that it really marked you out, being a woman.” To tackle the myths that surround the industry and women working in the construction sector, McDermott describes her own experience and misconceptions that have since changed.
She explains there may be a misconception about women’s tolerance for “dirty hard work” – something she believed herself in her school days.
That notion, in part, informed her decision not to pursue a career in construction initially and “because I thought I didn’t want to work with all men”.
Over three years she has realised how much she enjoys those very aspects of working in the industry. “I actually loved the physical work and later learning the different specialisations. It’s fascinating to be rebuilding the world around us every day,” she says.
The challenge remains in schools, with greater outreach needed and especially “an intent for girls to get direct experience working on-site.”
With the current dynamic, McDermott sees it is difficult for girls of school age to get the experience of working with men on the site – unless they knew one another already. This is why she sees outreach as important.
“There is demand for good labour and there are plenty of diligent girls to meet it,” she says. Presently though, “there is a gap in between. I hope it will close in the future.”
In an attempt to address the challenge of recruiting more women into the industry, McDermott describes an initiative from Pure Fitout arranging for her and her team to attend a conference in Northern Ireland last year.
“It helps to hear how others navigate our industry and their ideas and success stories,” she says. “My boss is also very mentoring and supportive that makes a huge difference.”
“I find myself lucky to be working with my boss Cathal,” she says when asked about her own role models. “I try to emulate his capacity for seeing the bigger picture and keeping a cool head,” She describes how her work with Pure Fitout “can feel like manifesting art.”
“The craftsmanship that goes in at the workshop level, then when it all comes together it form spaces that make you want to sit and look, as if you were in a gallery,” she says.
Sita McDermott remarks that fitout and renovation now seem to be thriving. “But there seems to be hesitancy with regard to new building, shell and core work,” she adds.
Sharing one of her prouder moments in the industry she recalls a project putting in 50t gantry cranes into a military nuclear facility in the UK. With a series of delays impacting upon the project bringing them within two weeks of Christmas, she says: “Everyone’s shock and surprise when it got done on time made me proud.”