CIF International Women’s Day Conference 2023: Moving towards an inclusive, competitive and progressive industry

by | Apr 3, 2023

What: CIF’s International Women’s Day Conference
Where: Dunboyne Castle, Co. Meath
When: March 8

Construction Industry Federation President Joe Conway opened the CIF’s International Women’s Day conference by introducing a theme to ‘embrace equity’.

He spoke to the importance of a more “inclusive, competitive, and progressive industry” describing it as “vital to safeguard our industry into the future”.

He marked the March 8 event by acknowledging there is still a long way to go when it comes to addressing the number of female workers in construction.

“The magnitude of your collective influence in the industry is multiples of this,” he added.

Chaired by Jean Winters, CIF Director of Industrial Relations, the first discussion panel of the morning featured female leadership figures from within the CIF.

Next up was keynote speaker and leadership development consultant Barbara Nugent. “Change needs to happen from the inside,” she said.

With women in the construction industry making up just nine per cent of all workers, the highest since records began, she added: “You don’t need to be the CEO to be a leader. All of you, part of that nine per cent, are leading in the industry … leading by example.”

She spoke also of the importance of leading with empathy.

“What we need to do is lead with emotional intelligence,” she said using the example “of someone you will be seeing in every leadership manual for all time”, that of former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“If you are part of the nine per cent, you are in the inside. Look into yourself to see what you can do to bring about the change we need.”

Next on the conference agenda was a conversation around how to build a sustainable business, and in the context of the construction industry what that means.

CIF Director of Main Contracting Paul Sheridan chaired this panel with industry leaders speaking to the importance of the genuine impact of sustainability initiatives and warning against greenwashing – a practice of sustainability in name only.

The panel featured Anne Kinsella, Engineering Manager for Clonmel Enterprises; Glenveagh Properties Head of Sustainability Lorraine Fitzgerald; Sinead Hickey, Head of Sustainability (Ireland and Europe), John Sisk & Son and Bennett Construction Quality & Environmental Manager Ana Paula Paes Landim.

Each spoke to the drive to build a more sustainable future and the increasing importance of green initiatives in delivering that.

With over 30 years’ experience as an engineer in construction, guest speaker Susan Cormican, Group Director of Urbanism Ethos Engineering said she has “learned a lot about women in the industry, what works and what doesn’t”.

She spoke of the historical progress the industry has made having “come a long way in five or six decades” but she said there is more to do. “Perhaps since then in the last few years we have plateaued a little,” she said.

Of the things that work she added: “Having women on recruitment panels, it’s not always that there’s a bias otherwise, but it does make a difference.”
Supporting gender quotas, which she suggested might be a controversial opinion, she added: “I know some think it might diminish our contribution but we need more women in senior roles so we need to push and prod to make that happen.”

Finally, “what’s not working”, she said speaking to the challenges facing the sector, “is all girls schools not providing the resources for young girls to learn construction skills”.

Securing the future of skills in the construction industry by drawing on the talents of future generations and ensuring that young women are not excluded from that drive was the task chaired by CIF Director of Safety and Training Dermot Carey.

He was joined by Suir Engineering Human Resources Director Claire Cusack; Evercam Senior Global Enterprise Manager Tammy Bennett; Ormonde Construction Chartered Quantity Surveyor Lisa O’Shea and HSQE & Sustainability Director for Glan Agua, Áine Healy.

“Lads can be cheekier when asking for more pay and we should start asking for more because we deserve it,” said O’Shea to raucous applause.

Each spoke to the cultural shift needed to effect mindset change, the importance of recognising unconscious biases, and how ignoring the needs of women would eliminate nearly 50 per cent of potential workers in the industry.

Natalie Ryan, Regional Ambassador in Ireland for the Lighthouse Club, was the final speaker of the day. She highlighted the importance of empathy and how crucial it is to be mindful of our own emotional needs and those of the people around us.

The Lighthouse Club is a charity that provides emotional, physical and financial well-being support to construction workers and their families.

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