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A Harvard Business Review report states that women are driving the world economy, controlling approximately $28 trillion in annual consumer spending. However, the effect of this ‘Female Economy’ has not yet been seen in the general workforce including in the architecture industry.
Extensive research conducted by Parlour, Australia’s preeminent advocate for gender equity in architecture, into the lack of women representation in senior positions in the industry, found that there was a striking scarcity of women in senior leadership and management roles. This trend was mainly attributed to trained women leaving the profession by stepping sideways into aligned disciplines or not returning from a career break.
A few Australian firms, however, are looking to counter this by instilling a strong female presence among their ranks. Fulton Trotter Architects (FTA) for one have a 60 per cent female representation in their pool of Associates and 40 per cent representation among their Associate Directors. Female architects at the firm are also making their mark on a number of significant projects, with two of their largest aged care projects led by women.
Engineering and architecture firm GHD, which according to a recent IBIS report has the highest market share of architecture work in Australia, is also a renowned advocate for gender equality in the architecture profession. The practice was the only architecture firm to receive an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) in Australia in 2015 and 2014.
But despite these efforts from some, and these are only two of many, it is estimated that only 20 per cent of Australian architects are women and a far smaller percentage are in positions of senior leadership and management. And while even Fulton Trotter have an all-male board of Directors, according to Parlour legacy and inequality in the profession will only change when practices actively redesign themselves, as FTA is currently doing, to support diversity from the bottom up.
While Parlour suggests that gender inequality in Australian architecture indicates problems with policy, revruitment practices, salary structures and workplace conditions, they also believe that it is also just bad business.
“We need the best people to lead the profession (women and men) at both practice and industry levels,” reads their 2014- published The Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice.
“Women are significantly underrepresented at the senior levels of architectural practices and in leadership roles in the profession. Yet substantial research shows that companies and organisations with diverse leadership groups consistently outperform those without. The ethical and business cases for gender-diverse leadership are abundantly clear – architecture needs to catch up.”
Associate Director at Fulton Trotter Architects, Justine Ebzery also believes that a diverse and balanced team is important to the practice as it provides them with a range of opinions and attitudes that reflect and represent the community and clients, particularly in the Aged Care and Education sectors, which have traditionally had a strong female workforce.
Parlour predicts that leading architecture firms of the future will overcome the current day-to-day challenges impacting women in the industry by facilitating increased flexibility, meaningful part-time work, acceptable career breaks and reasonable hours.