In honour of International Women's Day, we spoke with four individual women in various roles within the design and built environment industry for their take on the importance of supporting and celebrating women, and how we can embrace equity, particularly within the workplace.
Read on for our interview with Lead Interior Designer at Manna Made, Nikki Chappell.
Celebrated annually on March 8, International Women’s Day brings attention to issues such as gender equality, particularly within the workplace. This year's theme is #EmbraceEquity with an emphasis on the difference between equity and equality. This International Women's Day aims to drive a worldwide understanding as to why equal opportunities are not enough.
The design and built environment has been traditionally male-dominated. This balance has improved drastically over the years, with more improvement being made on an ongoing basis. One of the most prevalent concerns is the gender pay gap, which still needs work to ensure equity with salaries. Nikki Chappell has first-hand experience with the gender pay gap, and is an enthusiastic cheerleader for the women in her industry.
We sat down with Nikki to hear how she tackled the gender pay gap, how we can support other women in their careers, and continue to embrace equity within the workplace.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Nikki. I am a Lead Interior Designer for interior design and construction company Manna Made that is based on the Victorian Peninsula. I have been working within the high-end residential sector of interior design for the better part of 10 years.
Outside of my obsession with design, I live my best nerdy life reading fantasy novels, playing board games with friends and video games with my hubby.
Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?
It’s important we celebrate IWD as it provides an opportunity to highlight ongoing struggles for gender equality, to recognise women’s contributions within the community and advocate for change. It’s a time to celebrate achievements of women across the globe and in your community, while also acknowledging the work that still needs to be done to achieve gender parity.
This year's International Women's Day theme is #EmbraceEquity – what does that mean to you?
Embracing equity to me means addressing the root causes of gender inequality, and actively working to eliminate discrimination, bias, and prejudice. Advocating for policies and practices that promote equal rights and opportunities for all individuals and challenging societal norms that reinforce gender-based stereotypes and biases.
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?
When I was younger, I found myself in a situation where I was being paid much less than a male colleague who had less responsibility and experience than I did, but had the confidence to directly ask for more pay.
As women I feel we have learnt to undervalue and undersell our abilities and don’t always ask for things we deserve for fear of being ‘difficult or bossy’.
The way I overcame this problem was firstly, learning to acknowledge my own capabilities, expertise, and contributions (this is a skill I’m still working on) and secondly beginning to unlearn this behaviour of being detrimentally agreeable. I scheduled the difficult meeting with my employer, who to my surprise was very receptive to my concerns and agreed to increase my salary to better reflect my contributions.
Are you taking any steps within Manna Made to help improve equity for women?
I like to think so. I’m an enthusiastic cheerleader for the women around me. I celebrate their successes, offer encouragement and support wherever I can, and work to create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming to all. I openly share design knowledge with those who ask and feel this helps to break down barriers to access and opportunity that can prevent women from fully participating and advancing in our field.
How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship or senior leadership roles in their career?
I think that providing more mentorship and support would make the biggest difference. If women with successful careers share their experiences and provide guidance they can help to build confidence and skills for women who are just starting out in their careers.
How can our male colleagues help support women in the industry?
Men have an important role to play in promoting equity for women in our industry, and one of the most impactful ways they can do this is by being an advocate for women outside of the workplace as well. This means speaking up when they see situations that are unfair or unequal, even if it’s uncomfortable or difficult.
Are there women who inspire you in your career?
There are so many women around me that inspire me. My boss Dani is an absolute force who constantly pushes me to new heights, fearlessly jumps into things, supports and trusts me in a very special way.
An architect colleague and friend Rhi, who I have spent hours, maybe days, discussing all things design with, who has endless patience for my architectural related questions and has a problem-solving brain that is an absolute wonder.
Many of my RMIT interior design friends who not only provide a creative sounding board but also push me to keep growing within our industry.
What is the most important piece of advice you have been given?
Advocate for yourself, you are worth it.
What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?
Believe in yourself, ask for help and trust in your abilities. You are capable of achieving great things – don’t let societal pressures impact your thoughts.
If you could have dinner with three inspirational women, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Lizzo – Her work in challenging traditional beauty standards, advocating for body positivity and social justice issues of racial inequality and LGBTQ+ rights are inspirational to say the least. She radiates authenticity and uses her platform to promote messages of acceptance and inclusivity.
Kelly Wearstler – American interior designer. Her work is inspirational and innovative. I love her eclectic style and ability to mix different textures, colours, and patterns to create totally unique and memorable spaces.
Vivian Westwood – Punk and alternative fashion icon. Her designs have challenged traditional gender roles and social norms. I love her bold, innovative design style and how she mixes different styles and influences to create something truly unique. She was also a massive advocate for environmental and social causes.