When Desta Ascento was promoted to assistant director of engineering at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club in September, she couldn’t help feel the buzz of satisfaction.
“It was one of those moments when you just look deep within yourself and smile,” the 37-year-old said.
Ever since she first entered the male-dominated field of facilities management, she’s been hearing ‘excuse me, are you in the right place?’
During her first year at Seneca College in Toronto, she was the only female in the building systems programme; in the second year, she was one of two.
After graduation in 2007, she came home to look for a job in her field. Potential employers had lots of positive feedback but no job offers.
“One just came out and said, are you sure you’re in the right field,” Ms Ascento said.
To stay even remotely near her field, she took jobs in bookkeeping in construction, for several years, then worked as a government policy intern at the Department of Energy, honing her passion for renewable energy.
“That was incredible, because at that time they were putting out their energy white paper,” she said.
She started at the hotel in 2015 as an administrator in the engineering department, and was appointed to maintenance manager in 2018. Finally she was working in her field, doing what she was trained to do.
“Within the hotel, I have a team of all men,” she said. “Most of them encouraged me and were very supportive. There were a few who were resistant.”
She said occasionally, the job involves heavy lifting, but she can handle it.
“I haven’t experienced much that would require me to be hands on, because we have a full team of technicians,” she said. “Wherever I can, I will definitely fit in, especially in our emergency response. One of my guys said ‘you come to work in high heels. I’m going to give you a pink jump suit and a painting brush and see what you can do’. It has always been what can you physically get done. But now they appreciate what I have done for the department while I have been here. The nature of our department is to repair the hotel. We are an expense department. In order for everyone to be satisfied we have to ensure we maintain our budget and operate within those constraints.”
Her grandfather, Andrew Ascento, was a plumber at the hotel 50 years ago.
“I think he is my worst critic, but my best cheerleader,” Ms Ascento laughed. “He was integral in always ensuring that if something broke, we have to figure out a way to fix it. When I told him that I became maintenance manager, he said are you sure you know what you’re doing? I said ‘I think so Grandpa’. I did not tell him about the recent promotion. It came really fast. He saw it on the news. He said Desta, I guess you do know what you’re doing. It is those things that make me smile.”
She grew up helping in the family business Ascento Brothers Auto.
“It was very hands on,” she said.
But it was architecture that fascinated her.
“I loved buildings, but didn’t want to become an architect,” she said. “So I thought, how can I go into this field? That is when I came across the building systems programme at Seneca. It seemed like a good fit for me at the time.”
Now, despite the promotion she still feels she has to prove herself every day. She said there will always be people giving her the side eye, questioning what she’s doing there.
“That keeps me at the top of my game,” she said. “It is something that challenges me personally. I love the challenge.”
Ms Ascento is particularly passionate about the hotel’s sustainability programmes.
“We started in [the hotel’s restaurant] Marcus’ Bermuda by measuring our food waste in 2018,” she said. “For this year we have to measure every quarter the amount of food waste for a two-week period. We have to ensure we reduce packaging. The chefs have incorporated some menus that will reuse some of the orange peels to make it into stocks and broths. They are basically giving products a second life.”
Ms Ascento said one day she might like to start her own business, probably focused on getting hotels and airbnbs across the island to operate in a more sustainable fashion.
She’d also like to provide more networking opportunities for women in Bermuda in traditionally male-dominated fields.
“I have a younger cousin who is studying civil engineering,” she said. “She has worked with Belco, the Bermuda Government and other interns. She is doing really well in it. There aren’t many avenues to networking for females specifically within the industry. There is the next generation of women coming along and they need that encouragement.
“After a newspaper article about me appeared, a young lady reached out to me because she is now doing the facilities management programme at the Bermuda College. She wants someone to network with and to mentor and encourage and guide. There is a need, apparently. I certainly didn’t have that, I didn’t know where to go to get that help.”