It’s a maelstrom out there. Women are few and far between in senior leadership and management roles in the architecture profession, says gender equality advocate Parlour.

Even in Sydney practices that are members of the Male Champions of Change (MCC) program, there is still a way to go. BVN, who hosted an upbeat, friendly and dare I say it collaborative gathering of women architects from MCC firms, has nowhere near the number of women principals and practice directors to reflect women’s 48 per cent of BVN staff.

Another firm, Fulton Trotter, promotes its over 60 per cent associates and 40 per cent associate directors who are women.

We still focus on this type of promising signal and efforts to increase board representation alongside the contrasting grim news about pay gaps and static boards. A Curtin University and Workplace Gender Equality Agency study found that top women managers earn $100,000 less per year than men in similar positions, though having more women on boards reduced the gender pay gap by around 6 per cent. Also gender pay gaps were smaller in male-dominated industries than in female-dominated industries.

Soberingly, the National Women in Construction in Australia has supplied US Bureau of Labour Statistics that show women earn on average 82.1. per cent of male earnings with the gap, mirroring the US, narrowing in the construction industry, where women earn 93.4 per cent of the male income. And we still have a stubborn national pay gap here of around 17/18 per cent between the earnings of men and women.

Yet frustratingly a La Trobe Business school study of 300 of Australia’s top 500 listed companies from 2005 to 2011 found that firms with more women on the boards of companies make more money, so the firms benefit but do the women and, if so, women throughout the companies or only a select few? 

It has all gone even more political. Minister for Women and Minister for Employment Senator Michaelia Cash, wants the Coalition to raise the target of women holding federal government board positions from 40 per cent to 50 per cent. The minimum target for industrial boards will be 40 percent. (Cash, disappointed, indeed angered, many by her ABC television statement on Monday March 7’s Q and A, that despite her staunch support of gender quality she could not, and would not, call herself a feminist.)

Meanwhile, other signs are:

  • within the NRL (national Rugby League) most members have a female member in their executive team;
  • NSW Premier Mike Baird announces a 100 per cent flexible public service to help more women and men achieve work/life balance
  • women from BVN’s gathering of MCC architects, including Bates Smart, Cox Richardson, Crone, PTW and SJB architects, spoke of an inspiring range of projects and accounts of supportive men in their firms and within their projects and mentors (several mentioned fathers but no mothers); and
  • Hilti human resources head, Sophie Brown, had talked about steps the power tools and construction company takes to eliminate pay disparity.

For all this, we need to be ever-vigilant about inequality and discrimination. Time of our Lives?, a report commissioned by Melbourne's Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, looked at the feminisation of poverty and employment disadvantage. It found that already 1.6 million women aged over 65 and three in 10 (34 per cent) aged over 60 live in permanent income poverty compared to 27 per cent of single older men and 24 per cent of couples. In the income environment ahead of us, more work opportunities are needed to make sure this pattern is changed.

Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing, proofing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment and community. @deborahsingerma