The theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is gender equity. 

“The campaign aims to encourage important conversations on why equal opportunities aren't enough and why equal isn't always fair. People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action.” (IWD 2023)

As well as an international day celebrating the achievements of women across the world, International Women’s Day 2023 looks to industries such as the construction sector (which we work very closely with as archaeologists) and asks how the sector can forge change and innovation, diversity, equity, and inclusion. We spoke to two members of MOLA staff, one early career archaeologist and one with over twenty years' experience in the sector, to find out about their careers and what it is like to be a woman working in commercial archaeology.  

Dr Sadie Watson

Dr Sadie Watson is a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, undertaking a four-year Fellowship ‘Measuring, maximising and transforming public benefit from UK Government infrastructure investment in archaeology’. From 2008-2019 she worked as a MOLA Project Officer, leading excavations across London.  

Q. Hello Sadie! Can you tell us about what you do at MOLA?

A. I have been a field archaeologist for over twenty years. From 2008-2019 I was a MOLA Project Officer and was responsible leading fieldwork for major sites, including excavations at Bloomberg London.

Currently I have a four-year grant from the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships, which is allowing me to find solutions to challenges which I have identified throughout my career. These come from interactions with both the construction sector and the public – how can we make sure these interactions are the best they can possibly be. 

My current research focuses on ensuring that public spending on archaeology for infrastructure projects leads to meaningful and relevant research and genuine community participation. 

Q. What it is like to be a woman working in commercial archaeology?

A. There are challenges, especially when it comes to fieldwork. Despite an awareness and effort from many companies in recent years to diversify their workforce, the construction sector is still very male-dominated, and many fieldwork jobs require you to stay away from home during the week. For people with children or other caring responsibilities this is just not possible – and women are most likely to be disadvantaged by this. I have been able to work in and around London during my career, which has allowed me to continue working in the field, but many women can’t.

We also know that a majority of women in archaeology are in junior positions. We need to map out all roles within the whole commercial archaeology sector so people can be promoted equitably – but the first step is getting that data together.

Q. How has the sector changed in the past twenty years?

A. There are still some of the same problems as when I started, especially with working away and, certain attitudes towards women persist in parts of the sector. But there has been a huge step forward in how we look at gender in the past, and that really does make a difference. What we have discovered during fieldwork has changed how we think about women in the past. A very recent example of that is the female burial at Harpole, but people are also researching things like the menopause in the past. Archaeology is becoming much more inclusive, because we’re not just relying on old ideas about gender and the past. 

Q. The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 is Equity. What developments would you like to see promoting gender equity in the sector over the next 5 years?

A. Flexible working, Trans inclusivity, and much more diversity. Women of colour in senior leadership positions across the sector. You don’t need to have a background in archaeology to lead in HR, Finance, and other departments. 

Q. What piece of advice would you give to women and young people starting out in archaeology? 

A. Make a network, talk to people, and share experiences – this is how we can make collective change (an overall theme of International Women’s Day).  


Ayesha Purcell:

Ayesha Purcell is MOLA’s Assistant Engagement Project Manager. An early career archaeologist, before joining MOLA earlier this year, she worked for York Archaeological Trust delivering the national award-winning Archaeology on Prescription project. 

Q. Hello Ayesha! Tell us about how your career in archaeology so far!

A. I’ve always been fascinated by history and archaeology since childhood (I loved Time Team!) but I didn’t really know it was a possible career path for me. I started university studying English, but after taking some archaeology modules, I ended up switching my degree to Medieval History and Archaeology. 

I was particularly interested in exploring the experiences of people in diverse communities, and how people navigate shared and distinct traditions and cultures. Throughout history people have found different ways of negotiating these cultural differences, and I believe this not only helps us understand people in the past, but also enriches our understanding of contemporary society. 

After finishing my postgraduate degree, I worked as a field archaeologist, but I’ve always been drawn to outreach and engagement, especially translating great ideas for engagement into practical events – and that’s what I get to do every day in my role at MOLA!

Q. What it is like to be a woman working in archaeology?

A. Complicated. As well as practical issues which affect people across the sector, such as the increasing cost of living, we also have to acknowledge that the development of archaeology as a discipline was heavily influenced by colonialism and imperialism.

There were several pioneering women in the early development of archaeology, but their contributions were often side-lined or not fully acknowledged. For some, we are only just uncovering their stories. That legacy a still plays a role today, especially in commercial archaeology, which is so closely tied to construction – a traditionally male-dominated industry. 

However, there are many positive elements too! Women in the sector care deeply about improving it for future generations, and there is a real comradery. 

Q. The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 is Equity. What developments would you like to see promoting gender equity in the sector over the next 5 years?

A. I would like to see more visibility, flexibility, and support, so that we can work towards making work in archaeology accessible for people of all genders, background, and accessibility requirements. 

I’d also like to see a change in mindset about what an archaeologist is. It is vital that archaeology becomes more representative of modern Britain – but, in order for that to happen, we all need to work together towards making the sector welcoming, inclusive, and accessible to all. 

Q. What piece of advice would you give to women and young people starting out in archaeology?

A. Ask questions and be engaged – you never stop learning in archaeology, and there are so many fantastic people in the industry to learn from! 

Q. What are your plans for future?

A. Learn more things, do more things! I’m excited to develop my career and keep sharing the archaeology of our diverse past, especially with communities currently underrepresented in heritage.