In such a male dominated industry, it’s not often that we step back and acknowledge the many women in construction that have overcome barriers to help advance the field. Dating back to the 1800’s, women have made groundbreaking contributions to the construction industry, with some paving the way for future women to do the same.
In recent years, the percentage of women in construction has grown steadily, with the trend appearing to continue in that fashion for years to come. This can be attributed to the lack of gender barriers within the industry and an increase in simplicity when it comes to getting certified.
In no particular order, we wanted to shed light on a few women throughout history have created a name for themselves in the construction industry, and empowered more women to follow in their footsteps.
Lillian Gilbreth (1878 – 1972)
Known as the woman of modern management and “First Lady of Engineering,” Lillian Gilbreth had great success in her education, career, and in raising her 12 children. Gilbreth along with her husband applied a scientific approach to workplace efficiency and management that management still use today.
She was also a government consultant during the Great Depression and WWII, and shown proficiency in coming up with creative solutions to complex problems. She invented shelving in refrigerator doors and the foot-pedal garbage can. Her application of science to the construction workplace streamlined many processes in the industry which led to rise in productivity.
Mary Kenney O’Sullivan (1864 – 1943)
This American labor leader worked tirelessly to improve factory conditions through the organization of unions. Starting out in the 1800’s as an apprentice dressmaker, she took her distaste for the bad conditions in factories to eventually become the founder of the Women’s Trade Union League.
Mary brought together professional, affluent, and working women to improve conditions for women in factories. She was a factory inspector in a government branch from 1914 until she retired in 1934. Her work in unions has helped women in construction to this day find support and representation.
Nora Stanton (1883 – 1971)
English-born engineer Nora Stanton would later become the first female member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Born in Basingstoke in 1883, she moved to the US at a young age and became the first woman to graduate from Cornell University. She worked alongside her husband, Lee de Forest, who invented the radio vacuum tube.
Later, she worked as an engineer and chief draftsman at the Radley Steel Construction Company and as an engineer for the New York Public Service Commission. Stanton passed her love of the industry to her daughter, Rhoda, who later became an architect.
Working her way through the ranks of the Associated General Contractors of America, Kris Young served as President in 2011. In her Iowa chapter, she started as Treasurer in 1992 and worked to become President of the chapter, a title which she held for many years. She was also the President and CEO of Miller the Driller in Des Moines, Iowa.
Young was one woman that we can say can juggle it all. She has a strong connection to her Church, engages in hobbies that included gardening and scrapbooking, and continues to push for employee rights with her work in many committees such as the Labor Policy Committee and the EEO/DBE Advisory Council. She has over 40 years of experience in the business.
Edith Clarke (1883 – 1959)
Edith Clarke was an important figure in the field of electrical engineering. In 1921, she patented a graphing calculator used to solve power transmission line problems, and she was later involved in offering electrical engineering solutions for dam building.
Edith was also the first woman to earn a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from MIT and went on to teach electrical engineering later in her career. Her inventions, including the graphing calculator, are still used today.
Frances Perkins (1880 – 1965)
Frances Perkins was FDR’s Secretary of Labor and first woman to serve as cabinet secretary. This self-made woman credits her grandmother for her power, and is quoted saying that “being a woman has only bothered me in climbing trees.”
Frances never let anything stop her from pushing for benefits for the construction industry. She defended the minimum wage and helped develop the Fair Labor Standards Act. Her work in government illustrated a determination not only break new ground, but excel at her endeavors.
Getting More Women Involved
Currently, only 9% of construction workers in the US are female. However, even industry experts believe that there could be more. The good thing in this era is that the women who do enter the industry, are likely doing so out of the personal joy and accomplishment they get from building.
OSHAcampus also believes that women should be able to follow their passion even in an industry that’s traditionally dominated by men. Check out these training courses to help you build on your career, become certified, and enter the construction business with all the basic knowledge and tools you’ll need to carve a successful career in the industry.