Ex-beautician thrives in man’s world

DIFFERENT WORLD: Master Builders' Association safety adviser Diona Vermaak looks over the Aspen building site. Picture: MIKE HOLMES
DIFFERENT WORLD: Master Builders’ Association safety adviser Diona Vermaak looks over the Aspen building site. Picture: MIKE HOLMES

DIONA Vermaak spends much of her day inspecting dusty construction sites in what is predominantly a man’s world. But underneath the overalls and hard hat is a dynamic young mother who enjoys lipstick and pretty shoes as much as the next woman.

Vermaak, 29, of Sherwood in Port Elizabeth, is the safety adviser for the Eastern Cape Master Builders’ Association.

She conducts safety audits on buildings and hosts health and safety workshops for business owners. But when the job is done, she kicks off her safety boots, slaps on some makeup and enjoys being a wife, and mother to 20-month-old Ava Calista. She is expecting her second child soon.

While Vermaak has been in the building inspection industry for the past five years, her career started out far from where she is now. A qualified cosmetologist, Vermaak went from a women-dominated industry to becoming one of the boys.

“I decided I needed to earn a decent living, as beauty therapists don’t earn much. I applied for a receptionist job and the owner told me he was also looking for a safety officer. I didn’t even know what that was at that stage but decided to go for it,” she said.

“He sent me on a few courses and that’s where it all began. I worked for him for a year and was approached by Coega to work on one of their projects. This gave me great experience and a boost to my career.”

Vermaak said while more and more women were infiltrating the industry, clients were often taken aback when meeting her.

“In the beginning some clients even refused to deal with me,” she said. “But construction companies are slowly realising women are the best for the position because they are so observant and responsible.”

She said women were also often more caring when dealing with the clients.

“I find that a lot of on-site staff respect me a lot more than I expected. I was intimidated at first, but once I started doing audits I found it to be very rewarding.”

She said when going to a construction site she dressed in jeans, safety boots and a hard hat, because anything revealing could result in unwanted attention.

“I once had to do an audit at a prison and my manager gave me a pair of overalls to wear over my clothes just in case.”

She said she would definitely encourage other women to seek a career in the building inspection field because it was exciting and different. – Kathryn Kimberley

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