Women’s History Month: Women in Construction

Historically, construction has always been a male-dominated field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022 10.9% of construction industry employees, or about 1,285,000 workers, were women. With societal changes in gender role perceptions and a critical shortage of construction workers, efforts are growing to support and promote the participation of young women in the industry. To wrap up Women’s History Month, we celebrate the powerful women who have paved the way in construction, architecture, design, and engineering.

Elizabeth Wilbraham was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1632. Historians believe Elizabeth could be the first know woman architect. During the seventeenth century, it was impossible for a woman to pursue a profession of any kind. To get around this Lady Wilbraham used male architects to supervise construction in her place. And even though she completed much of her work behind closed doors and credit was given elsewhere, her legacy as a major patroness of architecture remains.

Emily Warren Roebling was born in Cold Spring, New York, in 1843. Her husband Washington Roebling was assigned as chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge’s construction. He developed Caisson disease and became bedridden. Emily began taking down notes on what her husband said needed to be completed on the bridge. She immersed herself in studying engineering by researching technical issues, learning about the strength of materials, stress analysis, cable construction, and calculation of catenary curves. For the decade after Washington was confined to his sick bed, she was dedicated to the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge. She took over many of the chief engineer’s duties, including day-to-day supervision and project management. Emily and her husband jointly planned the bridge’s continued construction. She dealt with politicians, competing engineers, and all those associated with work on the bridge, to the point where people believed she was behind the bridge’s design. The Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883. At the opening ceremony, Roebling was honored in a speech by Abram Hewitt, who said that the bridge was “an everlasting monument to the sacrificing devotion of a woman and of her capacity for that higher education from which she has been too long disbarred.”

Lillian Gilbreth was born in 1878 in Oakland, California. She was a psychologist, industrial engineer, and an early innovator in applying psychology to time-and-motion studies.  Gilbreth and her husband owned an engineering and management consulting firm. The Gilbreths developed a new technique for their studies that used a motion-picture camera to record work processes. Their observations enabled them to redesign machinery to better suit workers’ movements to improve efficiency and reduce fatigue. This research became a forerunner to ergonomics. Lillian Gilbreth was one of the first scientists to recognize stress generated in the work environment can negatively affect the mind and body, therefore the workplace needs to make improvements. Lillian was also an inventor and was best known for adding shelves to the refrigerator and adding foot pedals to the kitchen trash can. She also created kitchen designs for individuals with disabilities.

Women bring a valuable perspective that only they can bring to the work environment. Glenn Llopis, workforce development and business strategy expert told Forbes: “A woman’s instincts and emotional intelligence can be off the charts. Women seamlessly manage crisis and change and are turnaround experts – sensing and neutralizing any signs of danger well before it invades our path.” As a woman-owned business and supporter of women entrepreneurs, IDO is building a legacy for women to move the construction (and design) industries forward with dedication, innovation, and inspiration.

Ashley Hotz
Written by Ashley Hotz