March 28, 2024

The Rich History of Women in Construction: 4 Groundbreaking Leaders

The history of women in construction is an inspiring story of trailblazers and innovators who have paved the way for gender equality.

As far back as the 13th century in Spain, skilled tradeswomen have defied norms, taking part in impressive projects in a male-dominated field. And over the past 150 years, women have begun rising to the top—proving their expertise as they head firms and manage projects onsite. Thanks to the groundbreaking efforts of these leaders, the number of women in construction has increased by 60.5% since 2012.

Inequalities still exist. However, we can break stereotypes and welcome more women to the field by celebrating their impact in the past, present, and future. Here are four leaders who changed the course of construction history.

1. Emily Warren Roebling

The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge wouldn’t have been possible without Emily Warren Roebling. After the death of her father-in-law—the chief engineer—her husband took over, only to suffer from severe decompression sickness soon after.

Roebling stepped up. She reviewed construction plans with contractors and managed negotiations with city officials and key suppliers for over a decade. Her efforts led to the completion of the longest suspension bridge at the time.

2. Elsie Eaves

When Elsie Eaves graduated with a civil engineering degree, she became one of few women in the U.S. to achieve this feat. When she stepped up to lead the construction economics department at Engineering News-Record, she would break barriers yet again.

In a time with no computers, Eaves built a much-needed database of construction projects, keeping record of spending and trends in the industry. Her contributions drove construction progress during the Great Depression and still impacts the management of modern building projects.

3. Doris Efird

One of the biggest support systems for women in construction began right in our hometown of Dallas-Fort Worth. Its creation was led by Doris Efird.

In 1953, Efird collaborated with 15 peers to create the uplifting community she always wanted: Women in Construction of Fort Worth. As its first president, she crafted clear objectives, aiming to create more career opportunities for tradeswomen and other females in the industry. Today, the organization—now known as the National Association of Women in Construction—connects and supports women across the U.S.

4. Sheryl Palmer

Women still hold the vast minority of leadership roles in the construction field, but Sheryl Palmer is paving the way. Since taking the helm of Taylor Morrison, she has stood as the only female CEO of a public homebuilding company.

Palmer is opening doors for women in construction, too. She has helped Taylor Morrison achieve 46% female representation across the company’s workforce. Plus, she has helped increase the number of female employees in construction roles by 66% over the past three years.

Partner with Champions of Women in Construction

As the construction skills gap grows across the U.S., the role of tradeswomen and female leaders will continue to grow. At Skinner, we’re committed to building a culture that enables their success. Our woman-led construction recruiting firm provides equal access to resources—from safety training to continuing education opportunities—to give every skilled trade worker a chance to thrive.

Connect with Skinner to hire highly skilled construction workers or find careers that fit your goals—no matter your gender.