Review: 2024 International Women’s Day Luncheon

Review by Nikita Bhopti

Hosted by the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, architects, planners and built environment professionals celebrated an afternoon filled with critical dialogue around facilitating womens’ economic empowerment in our current professional landscape.

Director of City Design at the City of Melbourne (CoM), Jocelyn Chiew, to open the conversation always comes with a welcome invitation for a series of hard-hitting facts from Melbourne’s history – and in this case, the women who mattered. Taking the audience through the minute number of female statues across Melbourne’s CBD, Chiew culminated her contribution to the International Women’s Day (IWD) event by revealing that the CoM’s City Design practice have achieved a gender pay gap of -0.1%, planting a truly inspirational seed at the very beginning of the IWD event.

Aligning with the United Nations IWD theme, Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress, a diverse panel of women, steered by moderator and associate editor at Architecture Media, Georgia Birks, delved into discussing the value of women throughout various career stages within the architectural profession. Bringing a refreshing approach, there was increasingly minimal dialogue around the impact that having a baby can have on a woman’s career trajectory – a conversation many would be privy to, especially on days such as International Women’s Day. Instead, the women with microphones in their hands chose to also talk about life in their careers before babies ever came into the picture, and life well after.

From managing director of NH Architecture, Felicity Douglas, the audience received a set of provocations around questioning your own value, regardless of what career stage you may be in. Encouraging professionals to question and clearly define their value to themselves, Douglas shared the strengths in “talking to the whole leadership team.  Often, workplaces “may only see one dimension of you”, so it is important to “make sure everybody knows your value within the practice,” she says. When it comes to negotiating pay or promotions at work, Douglas encouraged the audience to “open [their] own doors”.

With the event being guided by the insights of the Parlour Census Report, titled Gender & Diversity in Australian Architecture, many were keen to hear from senior lecturer at Monash University, Dr Gillian Mathewson. Playing a leading role in Palour’s census report, it was through Mathewson that the audience received insights into the various parameters around the data and future aspirations for this survey. While this information is still being developed and refined, having it “is power. Information is knowledge, and if you have knowledge, you have the power to have the hard conversations”, shared Anne Michaels, founder and director at She Builds, Together, Mathewson and Michaels encouraged the audience to not only take a look at the Parlour Census Report but utilise it as a key tool in their career progression.

When asked why some of the panellists wanted to start their own practices, Michaels defined her career as being “split in two halves. [She] always asked for what she wanted and climbed the corporate ladder.” However, it was only after the loss of her son that she shared her realisation of “wanting to have children but wanting [her] cake too.” In this instance, having her own practice enabled her to “do all the things parents do,” all while working in an industry she was passionate about. For director of Andever, Sonia Sarangi, her desire to start her own practice was fuelled by “a moment of red-hot rage which helped [her] have the clarity to seize a golden opportunity when it emerged.” Describing her return-to-work experience as a “toxic ex-boyfriend”, her journey was honest and relatable by many in the audience.

It was through Sonia Sarangi and a few other brave panellists that the conversations were catapulted away from just pure statistics, and instead, lined with anecdotes of the hard life lessons they experienced. Among many previous IWD events, this one felt the most personal, and the most honest. Acknowledging herself as a migrant woman, mother and architect, Sarangi presented many complex difficulties that numerous women practising architecture face daily. “So many migrant women are not being counted in,” she shares, highlighting the rich cultural value they can bring into our projects. Instead, she encourages the industry to “make them visible, see them not singularly, but as a cohort, and bring value and dignity to the lived cultures they have been a part of. We want to count them in, and with all our might, hold the door open and let change continue,” she says, ending the event by arming the audience with an empowering incentive.

Felicity Douglas – Managing director at NHArchitecture
Dr Gillian Mathewson – Senior lecturer, department of design, Monashada @monasharchitecture
Sonia Sarangi – Director at Andever Architecture
Anne Michaels – Founder and director at She Builds
Host – Georgia Birks – Associate editor architecture_media
MC – Stephanie Bullock – Founding director Kosloff Architecture

Sponsors City of Melbourne  Total Synergy Fielders  Lysaght Australia and supporting partners Stylecraft and Collective futures

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