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.

Make CPD meaningful

All members of a profession are duty bound to ensure proper service standards are maintained. Similarly a code of professional conduct is worthless if not applied and seen to be applied to all activities of the members.

During the first week of May I was privileged to join two NZIA members in the 2015 NZIA Practice Series presentations in five cities. Our brief was to address “… concerns held about complaints received from clients about the poor service they have been receiving from their architect. From not designing to budget to documentation that is insufficient for the contractor to build from, to little communication and poor relationships.”

While attendance was the highest recorded for a Practice Series there was evidently denial that the problem concerned some of those present. Was this true or was it “a shoot the messenger” syndrome? Such denial also incites the question: to whom is continuous professional development (CPD) directed? Some might argue that senior professionals be exempt. No. Apparently representatives of all levels were defaulters so any claim that further training should focus on “newer graduates” would not suffice.

The participation generated reflection on the value of CPD in Australia and in any profession. How do professions demonstrate to their members, their clients, co-professionals, industry partners and the public that they take CPD seriously and that the quality of their services improves? Surely feedback and some form of measurement is required.

CPD opportunities for consultants to the built environment range from evening sessions (with refreshments) to annual conferences to endorsed academic courses. They are offered by internal and external CPD providers and vary with respect to the philosophy, content, and format. Attendees to annual conventions no doubt gain inspiration from presentations by leading thinkers. Does this generate change and improvement back in the studio and how is this measured?

CPD points may justifiably be awarded to presenters and to members who donate time to committees or councils of their professional bodies. Skills are certainly developed in such roles but what feedback is given. The free encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, provides some examples of approaches to professional development:[2]

  • Case Study Method ~ the case method is a teaching approach that consists in presenting the students with a case, putting them in the role of a decision maker facing a problem (Hammond 1976) ~ see also Case method.
  • Consultation ~ to assist an individual or group of individuals to clarify and address immediate concerns by following a systematic problem-solving process.
  • Coaching ~ to enhance a person’s competencies in a specific skill area by providing a process of observation, reflection, and action.
  • Communities of Practice ~ to improve professional practice by engaging in shared inquiry and learning with people who have a common goal.
  • Lesson Study ~ to solve practical dilemmas related to intervention or instruction through participation with other professionals in systematically examining practice
  • Mentoring ~ to promote an individual’s awareness and refinement of his or her own professional development by providing and recommending structured opportunities for reflection and observation
  • Reflective Supervision ~ to support, develop, and ultimately evaluate the performance of employees through a process of inquiry that encourages their understanding and articulation of the rationale for their own practices
  • Technical Assistance ~ to assist individuals and their organization to improve by offering resources and information, supporting networking and change efforts.

At the heart of professional development is the individual’s interest in lifelong learning and increasing their own skills and knowledge.

To achieve a genuine step improvement in service standards perhaps consultants to the built environment need to consider replacing CPD with CPR ~ continuous professional review. Would the standard of service be improved with a mentoring program involving visits to each member’s office by certified members? The task could be to spend say, a whole day assisting members “over the shoulder” with all and any normal practice activities, actually helping positively in quasi-tutorial processes aimed at lifting the standard of processes, documentation and services generally. The idea is active support with real problems by an appropriately experienced co-professional, not simply checking pre-compiled evidence, files, documents, etc. as in a QA audit.

Payment of the certified mentors could be funded by an annual charge instead of fees for CPD seminars. Firms may like to “advertise” the fact they had participated and consequently improved their in-house processes for the benefit of their clients. The mentors could even nominate participants for Awards. The mentors would be required to provide feedback both to the member and the professional body.

CPD has questionable value without feedback on the consequence to service delivery.

From The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary

Professional ~ belonging to a profession, following occupation as a means of livelihood; maintaining proper standard, not amateurish.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

A professional is a member of a profession. The term also describes the standards of education and training that prepare members of the profession with the particular knowledge and skills necessary to perform the role of that profession. In addition, most professionals are subject to strict codes of conduct enshrining rigorous ethical obligations. Professional standards of practice and ethics for a particular field are typically agreed upon and maintained through widely recognized professional associations.

New Privacy Compliance

From 12th March this year [2014] new Australian Privacy Principles Guidelines came into force. They apply to business as well as government and individuals. While design firms are unlikely to knowingly contravene the guidelines is would be prudent to be aware of potential risks and to take care to avoid them.

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