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Breaking Barriers: Pioneering Women in the Construction Industry

Updated: Apr 2

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Despite construction and engineering being male dominated industries, there have been many women throughout history who have challenged this stereotype. These women didn’t only work in the industries but they also excelled, and will be remembered for their impressive achievements.

Historical women in construction

Portrait of Lady Anne Clifford

Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1679)

After spending 40 years fighting for her right to inherit her father’s estates, Lady Anne Clifford devoted her life to restoring and enhancing her castles.

According to English Heritage, it had been suggested to Oliver Cromwell that he might stop her building, as she was a Royalist, but he is said to have replied ‘Let her build what she will, she shall not be hindered by me.’ Cromwell realised that Lady Anne’s intent was not to create fortresses, as she had no soldiers, instead it was 'converting castles into country mansions, on a scale appropriate to her dignity.'

Lady Anne Clifford took painstaking efforts to restore her estates in keeping with their original style and was said to have taken great pleasure when receiving visits from her family, especially when sending them off to admire one of her castles. It is thought that she was a feminist in her time because she sought to gain her inheritance which, despite being rightfully hers, many in society at the time didn’t believe she deserved.

The Daily Art Magazine suggests that Lady Anne not only restored her own castles but also built homes for poor widows, suggesting her care and consideration for women of different classes. Lady Anne Clifford’s story demonstrates grit and determination. She went against society's expectations and opinions regarding what a woman is entitled to.

Photograph of Amy Johnson with her aeroplane

Amy Johnson (1903-1941)

Dubbed the ‘Queen of the Air’ by the British press, Amy Johnson became the first female ground engineer. She was taught by Jack Humphreys, the London Aeroplane Club’s Chief Engineer. According to Historic England, Humphreys said she was a 'born engineer.'

Amy was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia and her father supported her ambition and drive for success in aviation and engineering. Amy's flight wasn’t easy but, with her second-hand aircraft, she faced her fears of flying over open water, loneliness and exhaustion. Amy remains an inspiration for woman working in male dominated industries.

View of the @ladies Bridge', Waterloo, London at sunrise

The ‘Ladies Bridge’ – Waterloo (World War II)

According to the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE), the ‘Ladies Bridge’ was an almost forgotten history, until historian Christine Wall and film-makers Karen Livesey and Jo Wiser uncovered archived photographs and eye-witness statements revealing the truth behind the bridge.

It wasn’t uncommon for woman to contribute to the war effort. According to Wall, nearly 25,000 woman worked in construction in 1944. It is thought that 65% of the workers responsible for the bridge were women. However, at the opening of Waterloo Bridge in December 1945, politician Herbert Morrison said 'The men who built Waterloo Bridge are fortunate men. They know that although their names may be forgotten, their work will be a pride and use to London for many generations to come.' This massively diminished the work and efforts produced by women. Thankfully, the work these woman did was uncovered and can now be appreciated.

View of the Heydar Aliyev Centre, Azerbaijan, designed by Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)

Many architects are called on to create new projects that stand as symbols of social progress – but none delivered as regularly, as unexpectedly and as spectacularly as Zaha Hadid.Zaha Hadid Architects.

A pioneer in 21st century architecture, Zaha Hadid was the first woman to receive the prestigious Pritzker Architecture prize in 2004.  She was known for pushing the boundaries of architecture and urban design and her legacy continues today. Her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, mentioned above, is currently one of the top architecture firms in the world.

According to an article written by Architectural Digest, Zaha Hadid was the first woman to be awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal since the award was established in 1848. Her work can be seen around the world and some of her most striking designs are:

  • Galaxy Soho, Beijing, China (2012)

  • One Thousand Museum, Miami, Florida, USA (2019)

  • Pierres Vives, Montpellier, France (2012)

Not only did Zaha Hadid pioneer futuristic and innovative designs around the globe, but she also carved the way for future female architects and woman in the construction industry.


It’s important to remember and celebrate the woman who went against the grain and succeeded the traditionally male-dominated construction industry. Women are still under-represented in the industry but the successes of these woman have inspired and paved the way to increasing gender equality.

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Rachel Hounsell Roberts

Rachel is one of our Trainee Project Managers. She completed her A-levels in Business, Geography and Drama before taking a year out to travel, visiting Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.


She is looking forward to learning more about project management and is excited to see where this apprenticeship will take her!

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