Soo Darcy discusses the benefits of stepping back to view the project life cycle through the eyes of the client.
Andra Antone, architect
There are opportunities within this unprecedented gender equality movement that architectural culture is embracing. As the faces of women start to fill the walls of leadership portraiture, can they open up so many opportunities and alternative solutions? It has never seemed more urgent in the global context that we find other ways of solving problems. Offering recognition to the ones once rendered invisible to history offers us access to ways of thinking differently.
Philosopher Isabelle Stengers offers a powerful argument in her essay about geneticist Barbara McClintock, exploring the fact that McClintock was a woman, a Nobel prize winning scientist and considered “an incomprehensible nut case by most of her colleagues”. Her persona was integral to her discoveries. But is gender relevant? Being born and raised in a different part of the world has shown me first hand the ways sexism, racism and violence can divide and suppress. I am grateful to the architectural profession, the people I have met in the process, and how I have come to appreciate the world differently. I think discussion is not about making us more comfortable with issues around gender, it is about creating a better society, encouraging potential, seeking alternative practices and finding different solutions.
Dawn Coward, architectural director
International Women’s Day is potentially more about reflection and consideration than celebration. An unconscious bias still exists which comes from the days when people had jobs for life, greater security and limited financial needs – the man as the bread winner and the wife that looked after the children.
This old fashioned perception is slowly changing, and it needs to – women are 50 percent of the workforce, after all. In addition, we are highly skilled – leaving school with good exam results, or universities with degrees, or apprenticeships. We are great multi taskers and are so good at problem solving. We look at things differently – with compassion – and we can control our egos. Lastly, we want fulfilling careers that pay well and enable us to contribute to our families and our communities.
We women need more confidence in ourselves and our abilities. The story goes – a man looks at a job description and thinks, ‘I can do 20 percent of that role, I’ll apply for that job!’ A woman looks at the same role and thinks ‘I can only do 80 percent of that role, perhaps I’ll skip it’. We should be more forceful – our opinions are valuable.
Women should consider an employer that has genuine credibility around diversity and meritocracy. Change can also happen through good employers, such as Ryder. For example, Ryder takes the time to understand your strengths and then creates a platform for employees to succeed, to get involved with new initiatives and represent the business. The leadership and fellow directors work closely to support colleagues on a day to day basis.
Ultimately it is about you… do not expect to make it to the top if you are not prepared to put in the effort. It takes determination. Have a voice.
Evy Vreven, project coordinator
I’ve been called a ‘bloody independent woman’, ironically enough by a rather uncommitted man. In the heat of the argument he was probably looking for something more along the lines of ‘stubborn’ – 100 percent agreed.
I could never take the ‘independent’ label as an insult, but rather as a massive compliment. It is exactly what I’ve been raised to be and counts as a victory for my mum, whose independence was a lot harder fought than mine. Fifty years ago, my grandmothers could have only dreamed of the liberties of the life I lead now (and probably take for granted).
This relatively recently gained independence has opened up all sorts of possibilities to find direction in life and means no one else can be held accountable or credited for your mistakes and successes along the way.
The women in my life, past and present, lift me up, make me laugh until I cry, give me new perspectives and listen without judgement. I will mark the day to say thanks to those fellow bloody independent women, whether at work, at home or in heart.
Stefania Chalakatevaki, architect
It is all about openness to learn from past experiences, accept change, challenge ourselves and think differently. There is a natural need to interact, unite and collaborate with individuals, exchange ideas, talent and services. This is what makes people stronger and innovative. Should it make a difference if, behind a great idea, there is a female or male leader? Equal opportunities allow for the greatest and most diverse thoughts to come forward – isn’t that what a company or the world would want?
I think past stereotypes still create inequality today, creating a barrier to exploring the full spectrum of the gender gap. It is a combined effort. Men should reflect and reconsider why this is still present and women should feel empowered to voice, chase and achieve their goals. Times have changed.
Adriana Oliveros Blanco, senior landscape architect
Every time International Women’s Day comes around, it brings back memories of my university time back in Colombia. This was when a simple gesture of a former classmate acknowledging the presence of female classmates felt, at the time (1996), a step forward in recognising equality when young girls were pursuing a career in the construction industry. Upon my graduation, I was still living in Colombia and fortunately met and worked with a leading South American landscape architect, Diana Wiesner. She influenced my choice to focus my skills in landscape architecture and, since then, every decision, workplace and people I have met have valued and recognised the presence of women working in the landscape architecture industry. Nevertheless, there have been occasions when I must raise my voice and make myself heard.
Nowadays, words like perseverance, determination and self discipline are always in my mind if I want to achieve something. On occasion, stepping out of your comfort zone brings new windows where you can prove and reaffirm yourself, consolidate and pass on the knowledge to inspire the next generation of females.
Next time you are sitting in a meeting, let’s count how many women there are… fortunately, this number is changing gradually.
Julie Hutchinson, architect
I have been surrounded by strong people throughout my life. My mum is an incredibly talented woman who has fostered equality throughout my upbringing so I have always had the mindset that anything is possible. Professionally, I am surrounded by many inspirational role models who empower each other daily.
The future is bright, there is no place for inequality in the industry anymore, we are each as individuals capable of incredible things and we should continue to celebrate that.
Elly Williams, associate
I was very lucky growing up – fortunate to have parents who believed I could do anything, who told me so, and who wouldn’t let me settle for less. Not everyone is that lucky.
My wife and I met an amazing young woman at the weekend (while judging a 24 hour hackathon back at the university where we met). Despite very little sleep, she was very excited to meet us – two women with careers. Having been told her career choices were ‘housewife or marry rich’, she decided that wasn’t for her and was getting on with forging her own path.
When we think about women role models, there is often an assumption that they need to be perfect and that we could never measure up. But more often there is value enough in just being ourselves and simply being honest about the journeys we have taken to get where we are. Not everyone is lucky enough to grow up with the support and belief to do anything – those of us who are already following our dreams perhaps have a responsibility to show what is possible.
Soo Darcy, interim communications director
I am lucky enough to have avoided inequality for the most part – as a working mother for the past 17 years, I have found supportive employers who have enabled all kinds of flexible working when I needed it most… and my husband has done the same. Between us, we have raised three girls and a boy who see this way of life as normal.
It hasn’t been easy, but strong mothers on both sides of the family taught me I could have a rewarding career if I wanted one, and taught my husband that it should be normal for fathers to contribute equally to family life. We’ve never done it any other way, and long may it continue!
Alexandra Blaylock, architect
Coming from a background of an all girls school, where we all left with a pretty empowered view on equality, it had never really crossed our minds that, in the twenty first century, we would ever face any challenges based on gender moving into our professional careers.
I think I have been very lucky in that, for me, inequality has been rare. Although there are still occasional challenging moments, usually on site, these are becoming fewer and advice on handling these situations has come from both men and women. It does feel like the landscape of the construction industry is changing for the better, although slower than other industries.
It is important to find inspirational people you can empathise with. For me, one person who was particularly inspiring and relatable happened to be the female managing director at a practice I worked at in London. She was incredibly calm natured and kind, even in the most difficult situations, yet remained savvy whilst running a successful business.
The practice was ranked tenth place in the Sunday Times 100 Best Small Companies to Work For at the awards ceremony held at Battersea Evolution.