Niall Durney (Crone), John Prentice (Woods Bagot), Shaun Carter (Carter Williamson), Brian Clohessy (BVN), Philip Vivian (Bates Smart), Dr. Jess Murphy, John Pradel (SJB), Gerard Corcoran (HASSELL), Joe Agius (COX), Troy Uleman (PTW)

The Architects Male Champions of Change has released its first progress report on improving gender equity in the architecture industry.

Established in 2015 by the Australian Institute of Architects’ NSW Chapter, the group of 10 men comprises CEOs and directors from some of the largest Australian firms – including Bates Smart, BVN, Cox, HASSELL and Crone.

A major challenge in Australian architecture is the lack of women in senior positions, with the group questioning the ability of the profession to succeed and grow if it is structurally forcing almost half of its talent out of the workplace.

“Gender equality in architecture will mean a more successful, balanced, insightful, caring, family orientated and profitable workplace. Our challenge is to make this happen,” AIA NSW immediate past president and founder of the group Shaun Carter said.

“What we need is cultural change. We don’t need any more talking; we need action.”

The group said the system needed to be fixed, not the women.

In 2015, each “champion” led a total of 31 focus groups to hold “listening and learning” sessions to identify formal policies, structures and cultures that support women in senior positions, identify barriers that impede advancement and generate new ideas to fix the problems.

Together with surveys and listening sessions, the group found eight actions that could be taken to acknowledge and address systematic biases, recognising that advances for women are advances for men too.

The actions include:

  • encouraging flexible working arrangements
  • tackling the “always available” culture
  • helping women plan their careers early on
  • enable successful parental leave
  • recognise Champions’ actions that may unintentionally exclude women
  • ensure women are represented as panel speakers
  • offer authentic engagement with women to encourage networking with decision makers
  • address gender parity in teams assembled for future tender and bid submissions

“In lots of ways we might have been ignorant of some of the challenges that people faced and some of the obstacles that people felt because we haven’t had to deal with them,” BVN senior practice director and Champion Brian Clohessy said.

“So, what was really refreshing is understanding that we do have a problem and that we are addressing it now as best we can.”

Women in the field mentioned issues like, “women are given the left-over jobs”, “flexibility is seen as a luxury the industry can’t afford” and “clients are sometimes unreceptive to women in leadership roles without male support”.

The report named initiatives taken this year to tackle some of women’s biggest concerns and obstacles. A select few include:

  • co-hosting an Australian Institute of Architects (NSW Chapter) Domestic and Family Violence event to raise awareness as to why this is a workplace responsibility
  • providing a tracking template for those participating in career support discussions
  • developed a “Best Practice Parental Leave Entitlement Guide” for organisations where paid parental leave is offered
  • developing a “Best Practice Parental Leave Contact Program” to ensure a smooth transition back to the workplace and to establish a discussion for future work arrangements and ongoing career goals
  • developed an “Exit Interview Questionnaire” to understand why employees choose to leave their practice or the industry
  • ensure that women speakers are represented at panels before committing to be a panel speaker
  • set targets for at least one woman on every tender and bid

The report said the group was still recognising the extent of the work that has to be done in order to create a “truly equitable architectural profession”.

“Architecture is a challenging industry to be in,” SJB senior associate and implementation leader Gabrielle Suhr said. “As a female, it’s even more challenging to be in a male-dominated industry. As a mother, there’s a whole other level of challenges that are added.

“I need people to understand that those challenges exist; come up with ideas about how we are going to deal with it; and appreciate that my contribution as a female – bringing that balance – can be a positive for our industry.”

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  1. If it’s the system that needs change then Donella Meadows ‘12 Leverage Points in a System’ should be required reading for this all male group of architects. It will take more than a paradigm shift to realise the change being sought. Changing regulations etc is just twiddling the knobs. It’s not the cause of the problem nor will it address the fundamental issue – the nature of the ‘boss’. An archaic education system that teaches children to measure success by individual performance and subsequently working in a world that equate success with money is the paradigm that must change. Architects are the original system thinkers. Forget the ‘boss’. Systems are based on relationships. Good relationships underpin all good things. Women are fundamental to good relationships. Building good relationships is the key to building the creative confidence needed to build good buildings. Women are fundamental therefore to producing good architecture. Knowing one is fundamental to good architecture by just being oneself is how women will gain the confidence needed to participate fully in forging the new paradigm.