The Parlour Guidelines to Equitable Practice in Architecture were launched at the Australian Institute of Architects’ (AIA) National Conference in Perth last Friday.

Formulated in response to a study that shows only 20 per cent of Australian architects are women, the guidelines aim to help the industry move towards a more equitable profession that offers opportunities for all, and is better positioned to meet contemporary challenges.

The research project, ‘Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architecture Profession: Women, Work and Leadership’, began in mid-2011 and looked at patterns of women participation, progression and representation in architecture. Particular attention was paid to the under-representation of women in senior management roles.

The results show that women make up almost half of all Australian architecture graduates, but just one in five registered architects are female.

Workplace structures and practices are among the main explanations for this exodus, with researcher Justine Clark saying that many women are leaving the industry after graduation, or as they move into their 30’s.

“Unfortunately many architects work incredibly long hours and flexibility and part-time work is not yet an industry norm. This makes it difficult for women to balance work and family commitments,” says Clark, curator of Palour and a Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.

“The guidelines address the key challenges facing women in architecture. They advise employers on how to make changes to policy, recruitment practices, salary structures and workplace conditions to better support gender equity.”

However, the study acknowledges that there is no standard set of reasons for these trends.

The guides identify 11 workplace issues that may impede or slow women’s careers, and provide strategies to develop different, more equitable work practices. They are:

  • Pay equity: moving towards equal pay for women and men in architecture by avoiding paying under-Award wages; unpaid ‘internship’ arrangements that are not part of an approved educational program; doing an annual pay equity audit; and establishing a transparent pay system
  • Long hours: challenging long-hours cultures in architecture, including building a resilient office that can accommodate both planned and unexpected absences; setting reasonable workloads for employees; and ensuring senior members lead by example
  • Part-time work: creating and promoting meaningful part-time work in architecture by exploring permanent part-time work arrangements; considering job-share arrangements; and having the right processes and technology in place to support business efficiency and facilitate improved internal and external communications
  • Flexibility: making flexible working arrangements work in architecture. This involves a creative rethinking of the conditions and processes of work, developing a flexible work policy, and training senior staff to transit strongly to a flexible workplace
  • Recruitment: achieving equitable recruitment in architecture through established firm policies and strategies; including women in the decision-making process; running quick gender audits across recent applications; and ensuring that a diverse range of candidates with the right skills are being sought
  • Career progression: navigating diverse architectural careers by valuing alternative career models including flexible careers; using performance reviews effectively; having fair and equitable promotion practices; and setting clear, transparent criteria for success
  • Negotiation: negotiating effectively in architecture by creating an environment that fosters constructive interaction; clearly defining what is up for negotiation; understanding the different modes of negotiation; and training staff in negotiation
  • Career break: managing career breaks by recognising the benefits of life experience; developing a family-friendly work policy; negotiating breaks in advance; and considering a paid parental leave scheme and ‘return to work’ mentoring schemes
  • Leadership: promoting and supporting women to senior roles in architecture by defining the leadership model that works for the practice; visibly valuing difference; being aware of unconscious bias; and offering flexibility at senior levels
  • Mentoring: establish the importance of mentors in architecture by linking mentoring to the firm’s business strategy; devoting adequate but not onerous resources to the program; and securing support from senior staff
  • Registration: supporting women who choose to register by identifying practical ways to help, including considering paying for registration courses and examination fees if the employee is successful, and allowing employees to use meeting rooms for study groups

Researcher Dr Karen Burns believes other industries could benefit from these guidelines, noting that many of “the challenges facing women architects are the same across all professions.”

“Architects - male and female - are now pushing for change. We have had lots of consultation from the industry and we expect them to have real impact,” says Dr Burns.

Led by Dr Naomi Stead, the research is funded through the Australian Research Council, and involves nine scholars from four universities, along with five linkage partners.

Download the full Parlour guides here.