International Women’s Day


As part of International Women’s Day, we’d like to shine the light on the significant contributions from our Female ACT Leaders.

Architecture has been an intensely male-dominated industry. However, we are seeing a change here in the ACT, and it’s being driven by the presence of females in leading roles. There are a growing number of female directors in large and medium sized practices, with some practices being entirely female owned and managed.

The Australian Institute of Architects, a membership organisation that promotes the profession of architecture, and has been working hard to support and promote a more diverse and inclusive industry. It is acutely aware that we need to encourage and assist a more diverse mix of people into leading roles, and we are now seeing the benefits.

Female ACT Chapter Presidents | Annabelle Pegrum, Catherine Townsend, Melinda Dodson, Sheila Hughes, Shannon Battisson, Jane Cassidy and Shoba Cole

It was 30 years ago when the Institute’s ACT Chapter saw its first female Chapter President, with Annabelle Pegrum taking on the role in 1993-1994. Annabelle’s strength in character was a turning point for our Chapter and she became, and still is, a role model for many female architects in our region.

It took over 60 years to see our first female ACT Chapter President, and from then, 7 of the last 15 Chapter Presidents have been female. With Catherine Townsend (current ACT Government Architect) taking on two terms from 2002-2006, we have maintained an equal balance of female/male representation in the role since 1993.

Furthermore, three of the ACT’s female Chapter Presidents have been elevated to National President, with Melinda Dodson (2009-2010), Shannon Battisson (2022-2023) and current President Elect Jane Cassidy (2024-2025). It is an astonishing achievement when you reflect on the fact that of the last 84 National Presidents, only 8 have been female. Those figures are confronting, but we can be inspired by the change the Australian Institute of Architects has taken in recent years, with 5 of the last 7 National Presidents being female.

Following Melinda’s leadership in the national role was Sheila Hughes who in her term from 2010-2011 strongly advocated for planning reform and a sustainable cities future for our region and has continued to hold government accountable since. Both Shannon and Jane reinforced Sheila’s position in their terms.

Acting as another strong role model for diversity in the built-environment industry is our current female ACT Chapter President Shoba Cole who, as a migrant to Australia, deliberately took on the position to drive positive change for cultural diversity. Her platform, and her passion, also extends to improving our focus on first-nations people. Shoba advocates for both the support for first-nations people through architectural education and the support for all architects to incorporate practices in the design process that embed first-nations cultural awareness, so we sensitively respond to our Ngunnawal Country and the first-nations communities that call this place home.

Whilst diversity and equality in the profession of architecture, and indeed our broader built-environment industry, should not even be a question, it sometimes requires the work of a few strong individuals to encourage change. It’s so delightful to have seen this take place in our community and lead to so many exciting initiatives going forward. With architects reflecting the diversity of society, we will also see architecture that is inclusive.

We congratulate all women in our membership, and indeed our profession, for their dedication, resilience and strength in breaking down the pillars of our past and ensuring the ACT Chapter is a diverse, welcoming, and vibrant community. Happy International Women’s Day to you all.

Written by Rob Henry, Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Architects ACT Chapter, and former ACT Chapter President.


ACT Chapter President National President
Annabelle Pegrum 1993-1994
Catherine Townsend 2002-2006
Melinda Dodson 2006-2007 2009-2010
Sheila Hughes 2010-2011
Shannon Battisson 2020-2021 2022-2023
Jane Cassidy 2021-2023 2024-2025
Shoba Cole 2023-2025

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