Is Sustainability Leadership in the Built Environment ‘Women’s Business'? This was the topic of the research work carried out by the winner of the 2020 NAWIC International Women’s Day Scholarship, Sarah Lawlor, the findings of which were shared with participants of the 2021 NAWIC NSW IWD Breakfast held in Sydney recently.

A proud NAWIC Member and Registered Senior Architect at fjmt studio, Lawlor utilised the scholarship funds to explore several facets of her timely research topic. Based on the premise that gender equity and diversity in leadership have been proven to improve business profitability, her research study explored whether this trend extended to sustainability related roles in the built environment.

Lawlor’s research paper also studied the diversity of the sector and whether diversity in leadership could be a mechanism to improve sustainability outcomes.

Overall, the study uncovered a diverse sustainability sector, in which women participated at higher levels than in other areas of the built environment.

“While I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity this study uncovered, I found that gendered perceptions still affect women, and men, operating in the industry,” Lawlor said.

“Sustainability has its own challenges in interacting with the established structures of the construction industry, where problematic and often gendered perceptions of the sustainability field are evident. Each of these perceptions is concerning, as they undermine and devalue the field, reducing the efficacy of sustainability outcomes in the built environment,” she noted.

Lawlor also made important recommendations including continuing efforts to improve gender equity and diversity in the built environment.

“Equity demands mutual respect, and pervasive cultural change is required in the broader built environment to break down negative perceptions of the sustainability field, and improve the integration and uptake of sustainability,” she said.

The NAWIC IWD scholarship awards $20,000 each year to a woman focused on contributing towards the enhancement of women’s careers in the construction industry.

“The IWD scholarship offered an opportunity for me to explore a nexus between gender equity and sustainability. The scholarship opened doors for me to have conversations with industry leaders, which broadened my mind to the scope of our impact, and reaffirmed to me the criticality of sustainability,” Lawlor concluded.