Women in construction: Nancy Sweeney

by | Apr 5, 2023

Equal Measures: Industry insight from a woman’s point of view

Nancy Sweeney is BCAR Manager with Glenveagh Homes and has worked in the construction industry for 25 years

“Construction is not just about building sites, hard hats and steel toe capped boots. There are so many avenues to explore,” says Nancy Sweeney, Glenveagh Homes’ BCAR Manager.

Nancy follows her own advice, having navigated an experienced and varied professional path since she first joined the industry. Construction is rewarding both financially and academically, she says.

“Get out there early and get experience. Don’t give up. Remember not all construction roles are site based and you really can have the best of both worlds.”

Career unsure as a teenager, it was a school trip to the Giant’s Causeway during her Leaving Cert years that stirred Nancy’s passions. “I absolutely loved it, loved the outdoors, the geology of it, knowing how the rocks were formed,” she says.

This eventually gave rise to a career in the industry when first, aged 18, she left for Cornwall, England to complete a diploma in Industrial Geology. This led to her first job working as a materials technician on the Dunleer Bypass in 1992 and eventually a degree in Geotechnical Engineering.

As BCAR (Building Control (Amendement) Regulations) Manager for Glenveagh Homes, Nancy is responsible for ensuring the company, both as a developer and builder, fulfils its obligations under building regulations from the submission of the commencement notices right through to completion and handover.

“I currently lead a team of 10 coordinators and administrators who help setup, implement and fulfil our requirements,” she
says. “Each project starts with our own internal design teams identifying design responsibilities right through to sign-off with our external engineers, architects and legal teams.”

Nancy describes her role as ever-evolving and despite sector challenges along the way, she has grown and evolved successfully within the industry over the past 25 years – something she puts down to embracing an adaptable approach.

“I was never the type of person to stay in one place doing the same job forever. I had a thirst for knowledge and loved the outdoors and travelling, so I was going to use these traits in my professional career as well,” she says. Nancy has also worked as a Site Civil Engineer, Senior Engineer, Concrete Technical Advisor and Quality Manager.

One of her biggest challenges right now is keeping up-to-date with the new type of builds the industry is exposed to. “With the current housing crisis, builders and designers are trying to come up with better and more efficient ways to provide homes for our ever-increasing population,” she says.

“As developers and builders we must ensure the quality and compliance of our product meets the standards expected of not just the customer but also the building control authority, thus requiring more knowledge around changes to regulations and design.”

Housing shortages are another critical area. Last year Glenveagh delivered 1,350 homes – a number that will need to double, at least,  in the next two years as the industry as a whole works to keep up with demand.

Taking control of the supply chain and nurturing specialised skillsets in people from Ireland and internationally will be key to this. In  September 2022, for example, Glenveagh acquired timber frame housing manufacturer Harmony Timber Solution as part of an ongoing output strategy.

Finding “innovative ways of producing homes in a fast and efficient manner that complies with all the requirements of the building regulations in particular those related to energy efficiency and fire” is the goal, Nancy adds.

The industry must also be mindful of its approach to sustainability and net zero targets required by 2050. “A1 rated houses being the primary target for most new builds in order to achieve part of the net zero requirement,” she says.

Always being open to new ideas and solutions is a mantra Nancy abides by in the course of her management style, especially when it comes to the younger members of her team.

“Just because you are the manager, it doesn’t mean you know everything,” she says.

Her team is made up of a global melting pot of talent and people from places like Bulgaria to Nigeria and Brazil. Smart and innovative is how she describes them.

“To contribute and come up with ideas, that’s what makes a team click and it clicks really well,” she says. “Always remember anybody could have a better idea than you or I.

“This was a quote that my dad said to me when I started getting into management. It was a valuable lesson in how to listen to people no matter what level you or they are at.”

Construction runs in the family. Before he retired, her dad Jim was a qualified carpenter who went on to build a career in site and contracts management.

Nancy’s proudest moment to date had somewhat poignant beginnings. With the Celtic Tiger era coming to an end and having been made redundant, in 2009 she felt she had no choice but to leave for Australia, the country she had been born in 39 years prior.

Her parent had emigrated in the late 60s returning to Ireland with a two-year-old Nancy. Fast forward to February 2010 and she found herself back in the land of her birth once more.

“I was one of the lucky ones as I held Australian citizenship making the transition a lot easier,” she says of the move. “I spent six and a half years there working on four different projects with John Holland and Thiess.

“It’s a move that I will be forever be grateful for as it gave me great exposure to the diverse type of civil and engineering projects Australia had to offer from a Dam upgrade, to a 19km pipeline project, elevated motorway project to finally one that I am most proud of the Gorgon Project.

“I worked mainly as a Quality Engineer on the first three projects until I moved to Western Australia where I was offered the position of Quality Manager working on one of the largest projects ever undertaken in western Australia – the $50billion plus Gorgon LNG Plant.”

Work life in Australia exposed Nancy to a range of exciting and complex civil and construction projects. She loved “being in the thick of it” but was also delighted to return to Ireland in 2016 when the economy had picked up again.

“In the last six years I’ve been back the learning curve for me has been huge but I’ve the best of both worlds now,” she says of being able to balance working on site with time in the office and at home.

“For me now, that’s perfect.”

Take three …

What big change would benefit women in the industry?

“Removing the stigma around the trades being a male-dominated career. Promoting and exposing more women in leadership roles through media releases, school programmes and seminars. Glenveagh has a clear policy around Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

As soon as I joined, I felt part of a team and treated as an equal. As the business has grown over the last five years so has our team and I am proud to say that the balance within my team is almost 50/50 male to female with female being the majority.

Also 60 per cent of the team are from a nonethnic background resulting in many ways different ideas and perspectives on what we are trying to achieve.”

Most surprising thing you’ve heard as a woman working in construction?

Working as a senior engineer on site once, I had a disagreement with a subcontractor about the proper use of materials on site. It was quite a heated exchange, however I was approached later by my contracts manager to say “well you can certainly hold your ground” when it comes to making your point known.

I guess this surprised me as I really didn’t think I was any different to the guys when it came to standing up for myself or ensuring  that things were done right.

Biggest myth about women working in the industry?

Most women seen on site are safety officers or architects.

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