Purpose This paper aims to explore and investigate the career success of professional women in the UK construction industry. Design/methodology/approach The aim of the research was set following the literature review and synthesis, after which a multiple case study approach is adopted to conduct exploratory case studies among professional women in the UK construction industry. A mixed method design was used for data collection, whereby qualitative data were collected in the first study and quantitative data were collected in the second study. The researcher adopted this sequence in order to gather qualitative data and analysis of a relatively unexplored area of career success factors of professional women in the UK construction industry. The results from the qualitative method were used, along with a relevant literature review, to develop the focus and questions in the quantitative phase of the study. The individuals in the first stage of data collection were not the same participants as those in the second stage, because the purpose of the quantitative study was to generalise the results to a population. Findings The results indicated that soft skills are very important for career success, while hard skills are essential thereafter for professional women in the UK construction industry. Accordingly, it is necessary to develop soft skills in order to advance the women’s professional careers. Further, the results indicated that age and gender are the least important career success factors for women in construction. The ability to work with people, taking opportunities, confidence, adaptability, communication skills, dedication, competence, focus, supportive line management, integrity, leadership skills, ability to bring teams together, good mix of skills, honesty, networking, intelligence and logically approaching business problems identified as the critical career success factors. Research limitations/implications The construction industry is limited to organisations that construct buildings and infrastructure, and those involved in property development. These organisations comprise client, contractor and consultancy organisations. Practical implications The findings of the paper are useful to human resource development managers to understand and improve organisational training and development plans, which help to advance the career of professional women. By doing so, organisations could recruit and retain more professional women in the construction industry. Therefore, recruiting and retaining more professional women in the organisation helps to enhance productivity in the industry and to enhance their health and well being in society at large. Originality/value The value of this paper is twofold. First, this study contributes to fill the knowledge gap in career success factors of professional women in the UK construction industry. Second, this empirical research will have implications in the identification of different training and development activities to advance the careers of women in the UK construction industry.