Women in the architecture profession

CONGRATULATIONS to Parlour: women, equity, architecture for their recognition through the Bates Smart Award for Architecture in the Media, 2015. The “Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice” are a wonderful set of clearly written documents for (not only) women in architecture.

To my mind the elephant in the Parlour remains: employee productivity and principals’ performance amongst architects and architecture firms, compared by gender. But how can these be measured?

For many people the gender inequity debate is now passé ~ but research within the architecture profession paints a prehistoric picture? The extent of statistical evidence was presented in the seminal guest-edited Dossier published in Architecture Australia Sept/Oct 2014. Dr Naomi Stead and members of the project team have outlined the findings of three-years of research titled “Equity and Diversity in Australia Architecture Profession: Women, Work and Leadership.” The published results are disturbing but not surprising. The website expands eloquently.

My career in architecture spans 20 years employed, followed by (now) 26 years offering management advice to architecture firms throughout Australasia. As with the Dossier reported research, I have undertaken performance surveys on behalf of clients producing useful statistical evidence, but the real value is always in the text boxes and confidential interviews.

Anecdotal evidence is clear to me: the profession is blind to the capacity and capability of female members and eternally distracted by antiquated attitudes. These are so clearly encapsulated by Sandra Kaji-O’Grady in her samples of responses to the numerous open-ended questions. How can the profession not discipline the architecture registration board examiner for telling a candidate “… that if she made a mistake on site she could “ring daddy and cry and get him to pay for it”? The profession is the loser in both a lost demonstration of professionalism and increased disrespect. Do not think that the AEC and wider community is oblivious to the operational and business culture within architecture firms particularly, and the profession at large.

The eternal cliché of almost all firms is that they profess to be a “happy family” and when the firm’s values are listed, “family friendly” is inevitably included. But this study yet again exposes the contradiction: “… working in architecture often demands long hours with little reward or flexibility.”

On one issue, it is convenient and economic childcare, not paid maternity-leave that would be the real career friendly option. But whichever solution is provided it requires the male partner (both business and life) to acknowledge that it is not hours of attendance in the studio that measures productivity. Attitudes, focus, getting the job done on time are productivity attributes that matter irrespective of gender or methodology.

Karen Burns has identified a potential positive opportunity: “… architecture’s economic marginalization, its reduced role in leading change in the built environment and declining influence of professions has created a perfect storm for refashioning the roles, training and definition of architecture.” There is a huge challenge!

Call 0408 403 439 or email me to adopt the best strategy for you and your firm to adopt positive gender policies.

Project team integration

In March 2014 the Australian Construction Industry Forum (ACIF) and the Australian Procurement and Construction Council (APCC) released “… two important and valuable guides to help the construction industry improve productivity …” ~ see: Project Team Integration.

On 11 October ACIF announced the extension of their initiative: “How to gain benefit: BIM Framework and Other Guides” through their participation in two other working groups.

APCC is the peak body for government building and construction policy in Australia and New Zealand and ACIF is the meeting place for leaders of the construction industry in Australia. ACIF facilitates and supports an active dialogue between the key players in residential and non-residential building, and engineering construction, other industry groups, and government agencies.

As time passes it is appropriate to ask whether any project teams have taken up the recommended approach to “Project Team Integration”?

Noting so many EOI invitations for major project commissions (particularly from government) now include the requirement to describe team management methodology, perhaps this initiative by ACIF and APCC provides one opportunity to differentiate a submission and accord to the leadership espoused by government policy and industry.

APCC and ACIF also deserve some feedback: Call 0408 403 439 or email me if you have experience with the new “Project Team Integration” tools.

Planned succession ~ SOM case study

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is recognised throughout the AEC industry as one of the largest architecture and engineering firms in the world. On 3 September SOM managing partner, Richard F. Tomlinson II retired in accordance with their partnership agreement. His career retrospective provides more than an interesting insight into a major firm in transition. See (DesignIntelligence).

Richard Tomlinson includes a long and worthy list of principles that guided him through over 44 years at SOM and nearly 28 years as an elected partner. How many consulting firms can demonstrate not just years of success, but a sound set of guiding principles and adherence to a succession process?

Call 0408 403 439 or email me to adopt the best strategy for you and your firm.

The Future for Architects? Gratitude to the RIBA

Changes in the economy, project procurement methods, technology and even climate are confronting practitioners in their thoughts about the sustainability of their role as consultants to the built environment.

In 2013 the Building Futures team, based at the RIBA HQ in London produced a report that has generated much debate in the UK and elsewhere. It superbly summarises so many of the comments heard in discussions throughout the architecture profession in Australia. Despite growth in global population and consequent demand for built infrastructure, so many architects feel marginalised and their role threatened.

Every architect and firm will assess their own position against the predictions that the report postulates for the profession ~ it does outline a diverse range of options. The real challenge is to endeavour to take control of that positioning, recognise what it means for next year and those that follow.

The report with associated documents is highly recommended and can be found at the Building Futures website

Architects: do you value your title?

If you ask “the man in the street” what an architect does or what differentiates architects from other building designers or draftsmen, very few will have a clue. Even architects hesitate to mention their years of comprehensive education followed by requirement for experience and further examination before they can register under their State Architects Registration Act, nor what compliance to that Act requires.

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