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Women in construction week: The history, importance, and how to celebrate it

Women in Construction Week: The History, Importance, and How to Celebrate It

Published By : Rebecca Scott

As a building materials store, we at Yvon Building Supply always remember to mark Women in Construction Week on our March calendars in appreciation for our female employees and customers. It provides the opportunity to acknowledge the meaningful contributions that women have made in the industry.

In this article, we will look at the importance of Women in Construction Week with tips to help celebrate.

What is Women in Construction Week?

Women in Construction Week is sponsored by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). The NAWIC was founded in 1953 in Fort Worth, Texas, by the 16 women working in the industry at that time.

In 1960, the association launched the first Women in Construction Week to honour and support women in the industry, helping to set the groundwork for finding opportunities in construction.

Today, the association continues to help women overcome the boundaries of construction, with approximately 155 chapters and expansion to countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Their focus is “strengthening and amplifying the success of women in the construction industry.”

The Barriers for Women in Construction

The stigma of women working in the industry called for change not only regarding pay gaps between men and women, but also the accessibility of job opportunities.

Women in Construction Week has helped drastically change attitudes and overcome common hurdles, resulting in growth for women in the industry. Since the early 2000s, 13% of construction firms have been owned by women, and 44% of top U.S. contracting companies have women filling executive roles.

A History of Women in the Construction Industry

Historically, it was single and very poor married women who were found working in the construction industry. This included both low-paid day labourers often hired in gangs and enslaved workers who were tasked with performing unskilled jobs such as:

  • Carrying water
  • Digging ditches for foundation walls
  • Thatching roofs
  • Mixing mortar

In Byzantine and Muslim civilizations, aristocratic and noblewomen were often the primary patrons of household construction projects, which put them in roles very similar to that of contractors and designers.

However, women also found themselves working in the building trades as part of the family business, where they apprenticed for husbands, brothers, or fathers. In fact, women of this status between the 13th and 15th centuries worked as masons, carpenters, doormakers, and other craftswomen in France, Spain, and Germany.

The economic crises of the 16th and 17th centuries, however, made it more difficult for women to find work, and those with family businesses saw inheritance laws transfer inheritance through the male line.

Most Influential Women in Construction History

We also see the important role that women played in construction history through the prominent female figures who carved out a niche for themselves in higher-level construction positions, including architecture and engineering. The most influential women in construction history include the following:

  • Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham: Lady Wilbraham is considered the first woman architect who not only drew up designs for her own home, but also the homes of her extended family. In the late 1600s, she was involved in hundreds of other projects, including London churches, incorrectly attributed to renowned architect Christopher Wren.
  • Emily Roebling: In 1872, Emily Roebling’s husband’s illness forced her to take over as chief engineer, working on one of the U.S.’s most notable landmarks—the Brooklyn Bridge. As a result, she is believed to be one of the first documented women in engineering. She held the position of chief engineer for 11 years to see the project through to completion.
  • Ethel Charles: Ms. Charles was the first woman architect to gain full professional recognition in 1898 when she was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects. Her greatest contribution was improving the condition of labourers’ cottages, which influenced the garden city concept, in which greenbelts formed the surrounding communities.
  • Julia Morgan: Ms. Morgan held a degree in civil engineering from the University of California and was the first woman admitted to École de Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1898. Once back in California, she also became known for outstanding arts-and-crafts residential designs and her crowning glory: the Hearst Castle.
  • Lillan Gilbreth: Ms. Gilbreth has more than one first under her belt, including designing household appliances and kitchens, membership in the Society of Mechanical Engineers, earning her Ph.D. in engineering, and election to the National Academy of Engineering. With a career spanning four decades between 1926 and 1965, she is considered a pioneer in the industry who understood the importance of the human side of design, including ergonomics.
  • Elsie Eaves: In 1927, Elsie Eaves was the first woman inducted as a full member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. She invented databases (pre-computer age) to help track and report trends for improving construction project budgeting practices.

The Importance of Celebrating Women in the Construction Industry

Diversity and equality aside, women bring a new perspective to the construction industry to drive innovation in key areas, including sustainability, safety, an improved sense of aesthetics in design, and a holistic approach to the construction process that enhances efficiency, saves money, and strengthens outcomes.

How to Celebrate Women in Construction Week

The week presents an opportunity to help young women see the diverse career opportunities and growing demand for jobs in the trades. This opens possibilities they might not have otherwise considered.

Volunteering at local schools to talk to young women about these opportunities could provide the information they need to pursue a career in the industry. Other ways to celebrate include the following:

  • Developing a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy for your construction company.
  • Speaking to young women and people with daughters about the possibilities presented in the construction industry.
  • Creating a network for women you work within the industry to make meaningful connections with fellow trades, engineers, architects, and designers.
  • Women should also share their experiences on social media using the hashtag #WomeninConstructionWeek to open discussions or to help keep the industry accountable for ongoing inequalities.

The goal is to draw attention to the education, support, and networking opportunities available to help empower women to achieve success in construction. As a building materials store, the Yvon Building Supply team is honoured to serve, support, and celebrate the women in the construction industry.

For more information about our services, call 905-635-8700 or contact us here.

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