After a successful International Women’s Day celebration earlier this month, we could have been forgiven for thinking all is well in our profession regarding gender issues. Powerful, successful women took the stage, newly appointed Government Architect Rebecca Moore, Immediate Past President Suzie Hunt, Director Tanya Jones, and Academic and Architect Lara Mackintosh, are women who have risen to the highest level of their chosen corners of the profession and shared their professional journeys to that point.
All four had stories of the casual and not-so-casual sexism they had confronted in their careers, not surprising considering just how male-dominated the construction industry has traditionally been – building sites are still overwhelmingly male – for example, I have never met a female site foreman. Women are still under-represented at the highest level of big-practice, and it is still not a stretch to say there are more male than female drafties. Female graduates are still often steered towards graphics and interiors. A generalisation perhaps, but we should examine our own practices, and do a bit of an audit of the skill sets that women occupy.
These stories were told with great humour and wisdom, with some great advice for the young women in the room – particularly, that careers can take many paths, can be unpredictable and nonlinear, and that there is plenty of time in architecture to achieve long term goals.
One of the few good things to come out of COVID-19 was the digital transformation of the workplace (the NBN rollout occurred in the nick of time). Work flexibility is now real, we can work from home, making childcare and family management easier to juggle, and in the absence of affordable childcare – this has made a huge difference.
I personally believe that our architectural education needs to become more vocational at a technical level, and particularly in the aspects of practice that have traditionally been considered the more “blokey” domains – the documentation and site administration aspects. This would not only assist all graduates but also provide female graduates the confidence to take on these aspects of practice earlier in their careers, as these are the skills required for registration, which so often gets cut short by parenthood.
The events in Canberra over the last few weeks has gripped the nation, surely these things are not possible anymore, but they are – they are still happening, and this time, I do not think women will (or should) be silenced.
It would be naïve to assume our profession, despite our well-meaning intentions, is immune to these issues – our progress in this regard must be sustained and remain a core focus.