As part of the #BuildingEquality 2018 Campaign, Julie Currid, Co-Founder and COO of GoContractor, shares her story as a woman in construction.
I always wanted to start my own business. After working in marketing and sales in a number of Irish companies and multinationals, I returned to Ireland after a stint in London and started GoContractor with my business partner Sean Fennell in 2012.
GoContractor is a software as a service (SaaS) company that provides online contractor management to companies in the hard hat industries. Construction was suffering in Ireland at the time, but it was continuing to grow in UK and North America so we could see a strong opportunity. Trends were also indicating more positive attitudes towards workplace safety and innovation – so that suited GoContractor perfectly.
When targeting a traditional industry like construction, there’s loads of room to develop exciting technology and software which is specifically geared towards solving their very unique needs such as high risk environments, lots of workers coming and going all the time and a workplace which changes on a daily basis.
I’ve also been lucky enough to have had a number of strong mentors throughout my career, both female and male. In my mid 20s I was marketing Manager for a Belgian food company and I was lucky enough to be seated beside Mary-Ann O’ Brien of Lily O’ Briens chocolates. She was certainly an influencer in my desire to open my own company at some point in the future.
There have been internal colleagues as well as appointed advisors through programs such as Going for Growth and IEMP. When Enterprise Ireland, classified us as a High Potential Start-Up (HPSU), we had a huge amount of support from our Development Advisor and the various EI offices, particularly NY and Toronto. As a result of this support, and coupled with lots of hard work and a steep learning curve, the business has grown really quickly, especially in the past couple of years.
We employ 30 people and have offices in London, New York, Toronto and Houston, to go along with our Dublin headquarters. North America has been huge for us and most of our business now comes from the US and Canada, with some of the largest US construction companies using GoContractor for their inductions, or orientations as they call them over there.
One thing that I’m really proud of is how – even as the company has grown – we’ve kept the business really gender balanced. It’s pretty much 50/50 in terms of employees as well as our board (which is pretty unheard of in a construction focused company!).
As a software company the challenges we face are different to those faced by many other other companies in the construction and hard-hat industries, but a gender balanced workplace doesn’t happen by accident. We have a commitment to gender diversity throughout the company and it’s important to us that this doesn’t change, even as we continue to grow the business.
I think the construction industry as whole can do a lot more to improve levels of female representation, which are frankly not acceptable at present. This question is especially critical when you consider all the projects Ireland needs delivered in the coming years, and that the industry is already suffering through a severe skills shortage.
Getting more women into the workforce would go a long way to ensuring that the projects the country needs can be delivered. There’s no doubt construction has a negative image that is preventing many women from entering the industry. There is a real need for modernisation – both culturally and in terms of technology – to help change how construction is viewed by the public.
There needs to be an industry-wide focus on the cutting edge digital technology used in construction, as well as emphasizing how construction is a huge part of building a sustainable future for everyone. These are the things that can attract young women into the industry and construction companies need to do a better job communicating all the positive aspects that make construction such a great industry to be a part of.
Of course, there needs to be more apprenticeships and the government can always do more but there is a real onus on employers. There are a number of practical solutions that employers can implement right now to attract more female workers. Maternity policies and more flexible working hours can really help make companies more attractive destinations for female workers. Women also need to see that they have a career path within an industry and having more female workers at high level positions shows that career progression is achievable.
An industry-wide consensus is what’s needed to attract more female workers. I know how great a career in construction can be. I’ve been able to travel, meet amazing people and start my own business. I just want more women to be able to do the same. Creating a gender-balanced industry won’t happen overnight but steps have to be taken now to build a better and more diverse construction industry in the future.
To learn more about the #BuildingEquality campaign and to share your own story, please visit our dedicated page here