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Image / Agenda / Business

Ashleigh Grant-MacNamara on life as a female construction worker

Maygen Bazemore chats to Ashleigh Grant-MacNamara about life as a female construction worker.

I was always kind of boyish. A picture came up on Facebook the other day of a project I did in sixth class; it was on what we wanted to be when we grew up. I had “builder” written down. I couldn’t believe that I actually had that written down – and here I am. I’m a general operator, so I could be doing carpentry one day, digging foundations the next. I could be putting a roof on a house, hanging doors, putting down floors – no day is the same.

I INHERITED A LOT OF TRAITS FROM MY DAD. When I was young, my dad owned a building company, so I grew up around various sites. I was always a bit of a tomboy and so was my mum. My parents built their own house, and my mum was every bit as involved in the construction work – she was up there on the roof, helping the whole way.

I’M THE MIDDLE CHILD. I have an older sister, who is 28, and my brother is 20. They are very different to me. My sister is in marketing and my brother is in college studying aircraft engineering. You couldn’t pay my sister a million euro to work on a building site! I think my brother would probably say the same, but everyone’s different.

TWO MONTHS INTO SIXTH YEAR, I LEFT SCHOOL. It just wasn’t for me. I told my dad I hated it and just wanted to work on site. I didn’t have any skills going into it, but I’m a fast learner and my dad knew how determined I was. For my 21st birthday, he bought me my first proper tool bag, and I couldn’t have been happier.

AS A YOUNG WOMAN, I THINK IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A LOT HARDER TO GET THIS JOB IF IT WASN’T FOR MY DAD. When I was starting out and my dad recommended me to a fellow builder for a job, he was asked if I was good looking. They thought that I’d distract the lads from their work if I was. I think it’s an outrageous question to ask.

I MAY LOOK SMALL, BUT I’M STRONG. Over the years, I’ve really built my strength up. The more you do something, the better you get at it. I wouldn’t say there is anything on site I can’t do.

I DON’T WEAR MAKE-UP, HEELS OR DRESSES. Outside of work, it’s jeans, jumper and always Dr Martens for me. I like to be comfortable.

I’M LIVING THE DREAM. I’m happy and I’m not stressed at all. When I go to work, it’s very straight-forward; I’m told, “this is what you have to do today” and I get it done. Working about a 45-hour week, it’s physically strenuous, but I love it. It keeps me fit. My friends always ask me how I stay so skinny…Because I’m on my feet all day. I could never sit at a desk.

I’D LOVE TO SEE MORE YOUNG WOMEN JOIN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY. My dad has been in the building game for 30 years and he says he’s never once worked with a female labourer or carpenter. Female electricians and painters, yes, but no labourers yet… except me!

GROUPS LIKE THE WOMEN IN TRADES NETWORK IRELAND (WITNI.IE) ARE A BRILLIANT RESOURCE supporting women in trade careers across Ireland. For any other woman interested in working in construction, I would say, don’t let any man think that he’s better or stronger than you are. Just do everything to the best of your ability, build your strength, and go for it.

Portrait by Marlene Wessels. 

This article originally appeared in IMAGE Magazine.