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    Construction awards and design future – how do women fare?

    Deborah Singerman

    It was an impressive rollcall of projects from which the NSW National Association of Women drew their award winners and merit commendations including Tower Three at Barangaroo South, Barangaroo South itself, 400 George Street, Blacktown Hospital, Sydney Metro City and Southwest, and the Westpac national retail rollout.

    The overwhelming corporate presence at the event is a sign too that NAWIC has some loyal sponsors many of whom have strongly supported this event for a number of years. This is gratifying within an industry still stubbornly male dominated. They are well-known: Probuild, Master Builders Association and Clinton Recruitment, Brookfield, Stockland, CBRE, Hassell, Acoustic Logic, MPA, Built, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff (for Laura Durkan’s steering of Richard Crookes from small family firm to much larger competitive entity as Business Woman of the Year) and Lendlease (for Hilti Australia’s inclusion and diversity strategies to win the Crystal Vision Award for Advancing the Interests of Women in the Construction Industry).

    It is always hard at these events to gauge how many of the lively crowd (almost 1000 people, the biggest gathering yet for this NSW night-of-nights) are from small businesses and practices, but the mix of rising stars and recognised leaders provides an insight into where we have been and where we are headed.

    Several of the winners thanked their supportive partners and companies. Davina Rooney, winner of the contribution to sustainability award, mentioned that she was promoted while pregnant and then again when on maternity leave (showing sustainability in a different guise). The auction of the chair from Cult for the NAWIC scholarship was fast and furious, and singing from the Moorambilla Voices, which draws from an arts development program from North-West NSW, was uplifting. They were also accompanied by Japanese Taiko drums and hope to promote the chances of having such a drum made in Australia.

    Natalie Galea, a student at UNSW won the CBRE University Scholarship and is completing a PhD on “why women construction professionals, struggle to be appointed, promoted and retained in the construction sector” including why there are so few women in senior operational roles. The judges of the ProBuild Tradesperson scholarship, noted that the winner Bonnie Marcus from Ferris Building, has launched a “campaign to implement more hygienic port-a-loos on site”.

    The ACT awards have been. Others coming up are: Victoria/TAS – 2 September, QLD – 21 October, NT – 7 October, SA – 13 October, and WA 17 November.

    A PICTURE FROM ANOTHER SIDE OF THE PROFESSION

    Meanwhile, the Gender Bender Debate was held as part of the Worklife Seminar Series for Melbourne Indesign at ChairBiz. Moderator was Simone LeAmon, Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture at the NGV and Indesign Ambassador 2016. The varied panel members were Emilio Fuscaldo of Nest Architects; Gavin Harris of Futurespace; Laurice Temple former CEO NAWIC and Melonie Bayl-Smith of Bijl Architects.

    LeAmon wondered why in the year 2016 are we still programming talks (like this one) on gender equality in the workplace and specifically in the design and architecture sector?

    The session showed why. “Statistics reveal that women simply disappear from the architectural profession as they age – and we have to ask ourselves why?  I am surrounded by extraordinary female professionals in design and architecture – they may not all have their names on the doors of the practices for which they work (but many do)– and yes, they are all not receiving the Pritzker Prize – but so what?”

    Attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, leadership and productivity, parenthood and work, and changing attitudes and other proactive approaches, were targeted including if we were to build “new systems which support women’s movement up through the ranks and into leadership positions, what would that look like? What can we do today to take steps towards that?”

    A report in indesignlive had a sobering conclusion. “We like to believe that we’ve come a long way in redressing the chronic imbalance in gender disparity in the A+D disciplines and professions. And while we’ve certainly made some progress, the seminar speakers proved that we are by no means close to where we should be. What is worrying is that there is a persisting underrepresentation of women in leadership roles across all the professions intrinsic to A+D in Asia Pacific. Unfortunately the mentality of the Old Boys’ Club which we’ve been battling for generations now, continues to plague the gap between men and women’s representation in an industry that likes to flatter itself with unachieved pretensions. Well, unachieved, thus far.”

    One panel member though disappointed that the same questions still need to be asked saw a glimmer of hope. “I think change is starting to occur, and that in 100 years from now they will be thanking us for our efforts …but not sure it will be before then.”

    Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing, proofing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment, workspaces and community. @deborahsingerma; [email protected]

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