Digicon 2024
CIF International Women’s Day Conference 2023: Female leadership in the Construction Industry Federation

Leading by example

Chair: Jean Winters, Director of Industrial Relations
Panellists: Meabh Smith, Director of Communications; Joanne Treacy, Head of Southern Region Services; Maeve Kearns, Director of Corporate Affairs and Jeanette Mair, Head of Economic & Policy Research

The CIF’s leadership panel formation itself spoke to the breadth of opportunities within the sector. From Director of Communications Meabh Smith to Corporate Affairs Director Maeve Kearns, both described joining the industry with transferable professional skills gained elsewhere.

While Head of Region Services Joanne Treacy, alongside Head of Economic & Policy Research Jeanette Mair, each brought well over 15 years of experiences from within the industry to the table.

The importance of mentoring, earnest communication with educators, and leading by example were all themes the panel explored. As an example of the longevity of careers within the industry, the proof was, quite literally, in the panel.

Jean Winters, CIF Director of Industrial Relations

“First and foremost, International Women’s Day is a celebration of the women in the construction industry,” said panel host Jean Winters, CIF Director of Industrial Relations, in her the opening remarks as she chaired the discussion featuring female members of the Construction Industry Federation’s leadership team.

“It’s a serious event too to get across the message that there are opportunities for women in the construction sector,” she added. On the panel were members of the CIF team who hold a diverse range of roles that demonstrates the breadth of potential for women in the sector as a whole. Communications Director Meabh Smith, exemplifying the skills that those from outside the industry can bring to the benefit of construction in Ireland with previous experience as Head of Communications for the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA).

, shared her insight with over 17 years’ working in the industry in Ireland. CIF Director of Corporate Affairs Maeve Kearns offered another example of the transferable expertise from other industries that can benefit construction companies.

Jeanette Mair, Head of Economic & Policy Research at CIF, spoke to the longevity of a career within the industry and the supportive environment that can see women prosper in construction.

‘To have someone on your side and support you is a huge thing’ “I’ve always worked in diverse environments,” said Meabh Smith, speaking to the benefits that diversity brings.

She recalled the supports and flexibility the IWA had made for an employee to train to compete for the Paralympics, an inspiring example of how supportive a workplace can be.

That support is important too in the early days of a career as she described “a wonderful mentor when I started in communications”.

She also spoke of a manager who pushed her to pursue ambitious goals and realise her aspirations. “Giving people in your team responsibilities and trusting them was a huge thing for me,” she added.

CIF Communications Director Meabh Smith

Joanne Treacy said: “Believe and don’t be afraid. Really it needs to go back to education, to open channels of communication at primary level and explain to young girls today that there is a career with loads of opportunity in this industry, more than they are probably taught about.”

She also spoke to the question of career and family. “We don’t need to be put into little compartments in order to be successful, we can have a family and a career,” she said.

She then explained how “early in my career I would have had moments of self-doubt, where I didn’t believe I had the confidence, but if you reach that point where you do feel self-doubt seek the coaching to invest in yourself.”

Having originally worked outside the construction sector, Maeve Kearns described how her role within the CIF has “really opened my eyes to the opportunities for women in the industry”.

She discussed how “mentoring is definitely something that’s incredibly important to get more women into the industry”.

“It’s about having role models to show girls that they can be successful,” she added. Offering advice to young women considering a career in construction she said: “I’ve had a long career from industry to industry. If a door opens, go through it. Take on these challenges and don’t be afraid. Don’t fear failure, give yourself a chance and take the opportunity.”

“I think everyone has that story of balancing personal and professional life,” said Jeanette Mair. “And it can feel a bit muddled at times but that’s part of the experience of building your career.”

Once more the reality that a supportive workplace is crucial to retaining the skills and expertise women bring to the industry was on show.

“I’m very thankful to the CIF, which has supported me through both work and building my family. We are always stronger if we surround ourselves with people who support us,” Jeanette Mair added.

Speaking to the change needed within the industry to make the work environment more appealing to women, she said: “If you are lucky to have had amazing mentors through your career, I think we should aim to be that for our colleagues. Sometimes you can’t see the value in yourself that others might see. That’s a huge support, one that we could share with one another together.”


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