Justine Clark has observed a huge shift in the way the architectural profession approaches gender equality since she cofounded Parlour seven years ago.
As cofounder and editor of the gender equality advocacy association, Clark says the success of Parlour took her and her colleagues by surprise and the organisation is now at the forefront of what she describes as a “very public conversation” internationally about the experience of women in the profession.
She says gender inequality problems are not reserved to the architecture industry but that the profession is challenged by a handful of unique issues within architecture that tend to disproportionately affect women, such as a culture of long hours and unsustainable business models.
Another important area of work is providing access to opportunity and making sure women are on appointment panels and award juries – “not because women make better decisions, but we those making decisions need to draw on greater mix of skills, experience and knowledge. Gender is one dimension of the diversity required.”
Clark says that Parlour’s work is grounded in research on gender equity but “we know that’s not where the story ends”.
Increasingly, the association is widening its scope and investigating the intersections between gender and cultural background, sex and class.
Finding opportunities at the edges of architecture
Clark’s journey to Parlour was “a total accident.”
She graduated with an architecture degree in Auckland in a time when no one was hiring architects. This led her to seek opportunities on the fringes of the industry, including an early stint in an architectural library, a masters degree and a research fellowship at the National Library of New Zealand.
She’s a firm advocate for “putting your feelers out”, keeping an open mind and making the most of the opportunities that come your way. This mentality allowed her to take an editorial assistant job in 2000 in an architectural magazine, and she went on to become editor of Architecture Australia.
Clark says she was fortunate enough to go to architecture school in a country and at a time when student fees were low, which made it a little easier to make these kinds of career shifts – “we needed to feed ourselves and pay our rent, but we were not saddled with big student loans.”
Clark is now juggling her work with Parlour alongside consulting work and editing the website for architectural employee body Association of Consulting Architects. She says that although it’s “great to have fingers in a few pies”, if she had to choose her “heart is with Parlour”.
Bringing gender equality advocates together
Clark plans to keep pursuing tantalising opportunities as they arise without being too prescriptive about her trajectory going forward.
One thing she and her colleagues are particularly interested to do is to bring together the growing and “interesting” network of people working in gender activism and advocacy for an international summit.
What’s happening at Parlour?
With the loss of women from architecture’s senior levels still one of the core issues, Parlour is starting to profile women in leadership positions within academia and the profession.
The organisation also set up Marion’s List in 2016, an online register of women active in the built environment professions in Australia in a bid to shake up speaker line ups at events, and to ensure the all-male panel is a thing of the past.
Parlour has also been running events across the country with the support of partners that present an informal conversation between two women at different stages of their career, and provide a convivial environment for building networks and connections.
An initiative that’s “snowballed” is Parlour’s rotation Instagram account, where someone new takes over the account every week. Clark says it’s grown exponentially and the account now has over 11,000 followers.
She also says the team has consolidated the statistical analysis of women’s participation in the architectural profession undertaken by colleague Gill Matthewson. This has been published as the Parlour Census Report and a series of events is underway to “encourage people to pick up the data and activate in it their own circumstances”.
“A lot of what we do is put tools and resources and information and approaches into the hands of the community so that they can put that stuff to work, and to create a platform for sharing that information.”
The association grew organically out of a university-based research project led by Dr Naomi Stead. When the research funding ended the team realised there was still a lot of work to do and Parlour became an incorporated association supported by sponsors and donations.
The pursuit of a future free from gender washing and greenwashing
Although Clark stresses that sustainability is not her area of expertise, she’s observed a shift in thinking, with sustainability now perceived as core to building design.
But as sustainability has entered the mainstream, there’s been an increase in greenwash and marketing hype. Gender equality in the workplace gets a similar treatment and is used for PR rather than real cultural change. Clark says.
Although this can undermine the hard work done by people working in sustainability and gender equality for a long time, “on the other hand it can be positive when a company perceives equity as something worth blowing their trumpet about.
“The fact that people are chasing green star and celebrating the presence of have women in senior positions is a step in the right direction.”
Clark also hopes that one day, we’ll no longer talk about sustainability in architecture in the same way she hopes we won’t talk about women in architecture. These terms will hopefully become redundant, she says.