Women in the architecture profession

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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.

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