Launched twelve months ago by Elizabeth Broderick, Champions of Change is the first initiative of the AIA NSW Gender Equity Taskforce, a program that promotes advocacy at a leadership level within the architecture profession. Nine Champions from large practice began the last year by signing a charter demonstrating their commitment to equity in composition, leadership and pay, as well as making active steps towards a flexible and consultative workplace.
Women contribute in so many ways, but it is still about power. Women still face a lot of hurdles that men won’t have to face. If you ensure that female talent stays – it will have a positive economic outcome and the outcome will be superior in design. Elizabeth Broderick
The signing Champions were Joe Agius (COX), Michael Banak (Crone), Ray Brown (Architectus), Gerard Cocoran (Hassell), Bill Dowzer (BVN, now replaced by Brian Clohessy), Adam Haddow (SJB), Gary Power (Woods Bagot), Troy Uleman (PTW) and Philip Vivian (Bates Smart).
Under the guidance of facilitator, Dr Jess Murphy with the support of the NSW Chapter President, Shaun Carter, the Champions started the year with sessions focused on:
– listening to understand the facts on gender issues within their practice
– learning through engagement with peers of both genders; and
– leading through small but impactful actions.
Through these sessions, the Champions were encouraged to own the problem, developing a detailed and targeted understanding of what the issues and barriers currently are, and then developing a series of initiatives that all practices involved have committed to. The ten action items are:
1. Mainstream flexibility: understand existing flexible work patterns in their practice, list what tasks cannot be performed flexibly and move towards implementing a workplace where all roles are flexible.
2. Modify culture of being always available: survey and share existing work patterns to understand average work day and uncover hidden expectations and barriers to flexibility; draw up a template for change.
3. Plan careers early: commence monthly career development discussions with one woman; Champions collectively implement quarterly group mentoring, and six-monthly career reviews to track development and status of progression.
4. Enabling successful career breaks and part-time work (on and off ramp): support parental leave through two-year career breaks and contact program; better understand the reasons why some staff will choose not to return post parental leave.
5. Reflect on personal leadership style using leadership shadow model: seek feedback from at least three women and set two to three goals, to be shared amongst the group, based on feedback and reflection.
6. Launch a panel pledge campaign within the architectural and construction industry: commit to promoting the inclusion of women in speaking engagement and industry panels.
7. Plus one: senior management to invite a female colleague to every industry event they attend.
8. Submissions ratio: include at least one female staff member in each submission and subsequent interview; analyse gender representation across submissions.
9. Networking calendar: collectively prepare a transparent calendar of networking events to be shared; chart networking attendance on a quarterly basis for a twelve-month period.
10. Activate networking: include networking and business development as part of the job function for every employee and to monitor and provide support to develop networking skills; host one annual networking event.
Champions were invited to share their insight on the program:
Why did you agree to be a Champion?
Troy Uleman I’ve been pursuing these ideas for many years and it is certainly something my wife and I constantly discuss. I see people struggling in our practice trying to balance parental or care responsibilities or students who are trying to manage university, work and life. I think there is a broad need in the industry to deal with this issue of a balanced life.
Brian Clohessy The opportunity to participate in a process that will have such a fundamental impact on our industry was an exciting prospect. My personal understanding of the difficulties of juggling work with the demands of a young family heightened my awareness of the problems faced by many of our colleagues. Every day we solve problems for our clients and create environments that have a huge cultural impact and here was something we can do for our people.
Michael Banak I felt my participation in the Champions of Change would have a number of positive effects on the office culture. It would show that Crone encourages women to progress equally with men in management positions. It would help reduce staff attrition and encourage new talent to the company. We want to create an environment where females can thrive and know their opportunities for career development are limitless.
Through your participation in the program, what have you discovered on the status of gender equity in your practice?
Brian Clohessy This is not about any individual practice but about our responsibility to the collective culture of architecture. When considering equality from this perspective I found it confronting that no studies clearly evidenced with supporting data why we lose so many experienced female architects from our industry. How did we collectively find ourselves in a situation where highly skilled women who contribute enormously to what we do just disappear?
Philip Vivian In the last ten years, Bates Smart has been very encouraging of women coming back to the workplace after having children. However, under the previous arrangement, it was very hard to come back and be a team leader. Our challenge now is to show that people can work successfully in a part-time role as a team leader. Troy Uleman I thought that it would be easier than it is. I thought that buy-in would be simple. We all agree on how important and valuable gender equity is to address, but the detail of how we get there at times meets speed bumps. We have two female directors who are well regarded and experienced within the industry. Now it’s a matter of trying to get exposure for younger people in the office, to let them have a voice in the industry.
The ten action items signed by the Champions have the potential to have a concrete impact on gender equity. Which action will have the greatest impact?
Joe Agius I think the Submissions ratio will have the greatest impact on our industry. It’s an affirmative action that asks practices to put their money where their mouth is. In requiring a practice to meet a target of one female candidate per submission, each practice must ensure the pipeline of talented female staff is supported to be the best candidate for a project. As a single item, it will have an enormous, tangible impact on our practice and the public face we show the industry.
Michael Banak Mainstream flexibility and modify culture of being always available. To be sustainable, the future of the profession needs to promote flexible hours. Our current technology allows this to easily happen. To work in different environments. Sometimes working in a new environment can be even more productive than working in the office, particularly for the design profession where we take pride in being creative. Crone provides a daily ‘staff whereabouts’ email that shows all our staffs flexible working arrangements, thereby promoting the companies stance on flexible hours. We work through these arrangements with individuals to tailor their flexible working arrangement’s with their needs and the needs of the company.
Brian Clohessy I don’t think any one action will have a huge impact independently. I believe that the acknowledgement of gender equity within our industry will be the greatest catalyst for change. What’s really refreshing about the Champion programme is that we are all collaborating as a team to tackle the issues with the power of the collective. I am hoping that we can build on these relationships, allowing our industry to come together more often to explore the challenges we face, rather than look at them individually.
Natalie Lane-Rose is studio director at Bates Smart and Monica Edwards is an associate at Cox. Both are founding members of the Gender Equity Taskforce that initiated the Champions of Change program