Ballymore wants to attract more women into its workforce. One of its ‘ambassadors’, Donna Keogh, explains why negotiating skills are now more sought after than strength if you want to work on site.
“There’s no job on site that women can’t do”, said Donna Keogh from her office at Embassy Gardens where she works as Construction Completions Manager. “And when it comes to banter I’m probably worse than some of the lads!”
Donna’s approach to her work has earned her the title of one of Ballymore’s ‘ambassador’ for Women in Construction, a national initiative actively promoted by the company, currently committed to increasing the already high proportion of women working on its construction sites - 71 out of 326.
“We have got there through a positive policy of attracting women into our workforce,” said Rachel Hawley, Ballymore’s Head of Talent. “We hope our policy achieving a mixed gender balance will help us become an employer of choice.”
Throughout her life Donna has always defied stereotypes. “I wanted to be a policewoman when I was growing up - but I was a foot too short,” explained Donna, from Dublin and one of seven siblings.
Instead at 16, she stretched her age to land a job as an au pair in London with a big showbiz family. “I wanted something more than the prospect of just being a mum. I wanted a career and a life. The move to London was a breakout”.
She went on to join home improvements retailer Wickes - “selling bricks and blocks” – eventually crowned the Face of Women in Retail and Store Manager of the Year out of 180 stores before moving to Willmott Dixon as a Senior Customer Service Manager. “I wanted to see what they did with the bricks and blocks,” explained an ever-restless Donna.
“Then I joined Ballymore in January 2015 as a Handover Manager, checking finished apartments before passing them to sales - and I loved it straightaway. It’s a very welcoming company, with so many jobs and paths you can take - and freedom to learn,” said Donna, who has just completed her NVQ Level 6 in record time – four months instead of a year.
“One minute you can be on your hands and knees inspecting a site, the next in the boardroom talking to directors of the client company.”
An average day for Donna starts at 7.30 and finishes around 6 or after. “I set up my team of four finishing managers, all men yes - poor men! Only joking. And no, I don’t boss them about. ‘Coax them about’ perhaps!
“I think it’s all about how you treat people. If you talk to people disrespectfully, you are going to get it back. And I wouldn’t ask people to do something I wouldn’t do myself – and they know and respect that.”
Her job chiefly involves picking up ‘snags’ - faults and imperfections - in apartments as the blocks gradually come on stream before they are handed over to sales. She is currently working at Embassy Gardens blocks B and C, comprising 80 affordable housing units, and then in block A, with 179 larger residential units.
Our interview takes place in her small site office, dominated by huge flow charts. Twice anxious young men in hardhats interrupt us. She agreed that “calm negotiating skills” were key to the job. “And because I have worked before in customer services, I can do it. I try to prevent a problem before it gets to after care”.
On women in construction, Donna said: “There’s no bar to women. It’s not a question of strength anymore because there’s no heavy lifting for anyone now with all the Health and Safety rules. It’s more a case that women have stopped themselves – but there’s nothing a woman can’t do on a construction site.”