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Spotlight - Women in Construction: Mel Ransom

“Women can often communicate in ways that are new for the construction industry. I find that people appreciate what you’re saying and take notice.”

As part of Anderselite’s campaign to celebrate women working in the construction industry, Business Development Manager Georgia Byrne recently spoke to Health & Safety Manager for The Co-Operative Group Mel Ransom. Read on for a day in the life, some industry advice and an inspirational husband:

G: How long have you been working in the construction industry?

Mel: I've been in the industry for about 15 years. Before that I worked in travel, which is very different to construction. Working as a travel manager in an airport, hours and shift patterns impinged on my life, especially with children. 

I liked having a job where you didn't know what was coming – you got to make decisions, help people and advise. I like that you can have an authoritative role, but it's also balanced by being an adviser, explaining and helping develop people's understanding to change their perceptions. My husband works in construction himself, so I've always been aware of the industry and now, I love what I do.

G: What is a typical day like in your role?

Mel: I work for the Co-Op group at present in their construction arm. That can involve looking at any refits that are taking place, or perhaps any acquisitions that the group have bought to turn into an Express store. The Co-Op is such a large corporation so there are lots of different things to be involved in through supporting the different arms of the business, from funeral care to logistics. 

The site visits can be fairly challenging as the programmes that the contractors work to are so time-limited. If it's an existing trading store, there is a reluctance to close for a long period of time – we would lose customers. So, there's a lot of pressure to get the balance right. When I go on site, I'm mindful that because I'm taking up the site manager's time, it's important to get stuck in and get people onside quickly to discuss any findings or improvements that you might have.

G: The perception of construction is that it is still a male dominated industry sector. Women make up just 11% of the workforce and just 1% of those that work on site.

Mel: Women are definitely still in the minority, although there are women now on site in labour roles – electricians or plumbers for example. But the advantage is that women can often communicate in ways that are new for the construction industry. I find that people appreciate what you’re saying and take notice – they can be wary at the start, but when you give some background to the issues you highlight, everyone really appreciates the effort that you take.

G: What piece of advice would you give to anyone looking to move into the construction industry?

: You need some form of foundational knowledge before you go in to it, an understanding of the role you want to pursue. When I left the travel industry, I knew a little bit about Health & Safety and thought that would be enough. But I very quickly learnt that people weren't prepared to give me the opportunity because I didn't have the foundation or the experience in that sector.
I took the initiative and went on courses myself because building that foundation is key. Then you can get the work experience, develop your strengths and continue to go on to wherever you want.

G: As a mother, have you discovered additional skills or qualities that you can translate into your role?

Mel: Absolutely – it's the ability to understand on different levels why people act in a certain way. By having children, you see their behaviour and get the perspective from the other side, compared to when you were a child. That has helped me in dealing with people, understanding their expectations and explaining things in ways they can understand. You should always speak to people in the way you would expect to be spoken to.

G: What is the best and worst thing about your job?

Mel: The best part is being out in the thick of it, face to face with people and changing their perceptions. Understanding people's behaviours and explaining best practice to individuals that may have the wrong ideas is key.
The other side of it is that you have to investigate accidents only find the majority of them could have been prevented. Perhaps something hasn't been planned for properly, or someone is working quickly so they can leave earlier, or there is a time pressure to get the job done sooner. No one ever intentionally seeks to cause an accident, it's mainly the circumstances.

G: What is your biggest career achievement to date?

Mel: When I worked with Kier, I was very involved in a behavioural safety programme, an area of health & safety that I'm personally very interested in. I learnt initially from a behavioural psychologist and safety expert – using that knowledge to train employees and promote behaviours within the business was key.
Behaviour is what we need to change, particularly from a safety perspective. 

A lot of companies have a Zero Harm policy, but I don't ultimately think that's achievable. We're human beings and we have private lives that can sometimes cross over into work without anyone knowing about them. You can train someone, give them all the right equipment and put in place all the right control measures, but the environment of male bravado makes it difficult to talk openly about behaviour.
With so many people in the organisation, to be the professional that trained our employees was very inspirational.

G: Who has inspired you to achieve the success you have in your career?

Mel: My husband – he's worked in the industry since he was eighteen and has progressed to a senior role. He really cares about what he does and has never let his passion or enthusiasm for the work be compromised. I've always watched him take pride in his work and that is what got me into the industry in the first place. You've got to get satisfaction out of your job.

At Anderselite, we are  looking at how we can help our clients by promoting diversity and targeting previously underutilised talent pools. We provide equal opportunities, treat all employees with respect and dignity and ensure to advertise vacancies to a diverse section of the labour market.

If you would like to read more spotlights on inspirational individuals that Anderselite have helped find their dream roles, please visit our website or contact Georgia Byrne for more information.

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