Andra Antone took International Women's Day as an opportunity to ask some of the inspiring women at Ryder to share their thoughts and journeys.
Introduction: Andra Antone, senior architect
The past year has undoubtedly been one of the greatest challenges that many of us have ever had to face. Research by UN Women suggests the burden has not been shared equally, and has shown that COVID-19 has exacerbated pre existing gender inequalities and reinforced social and cultural gender norms. Restrictions on daily life, school closures, disruption to businesses, and working from home have increased women’s domestic workload and job loss.
The pandemic could be a moment to rebuild more equal and inclusive societies. Putting women and girls at the forefront of policies will support a more rapid recovery. At Ryder, we are proud to be making our own contribution by applying progressive childcare and maternity practices in addition to flexible working and study patterns. All of this lets us work towards positive change within the construction sector. Speaking to some of the talented women within our practice, I am reminded how truly supportive and resilient people can be during hard times. The inspiration from them, albeit through a digital screen, has kept me motivated and given me the strength to support others.
Laura Robson, communications coordinator
I feel incredibly privileged that inequality has been rare in both my education and career. As I write this, I do wonder if that’s partly because I’ve always taken an empowered approach to all aspects of life. At home, my parents were, and still are, considered equals. Both my grandmothers led challenging but hugely fulfilling careers – even at a time when this wasn’t considered the norm – and remain strong influences on me to this day. In this sense, I’ve known no differently.
At Ryder, I’m surrounded by inspirational, supportive women and as someone who has succeeded in their career by feeling I should never settle for less, I believe I have a responsibility to shout about that and the women that I work with. The landscape of equality is slowly changing in construction, and working for a practice such as Ryder gives me hope that this change is for the better!
Emma Carpenter, design assistant
This past year has shown us that only committed work and unlearning can undo centuries of inequality. In architecture, great progress has given women in the profession almost as much value as men – this progress is worth celebrating on International Women’s Day. Although I am at the beginning of my architectural journey, I can see the tangible impact that female activism has had on architectural education. Female students are beginning to tip the scales in traditionally male dominated schools and later, in workplaces. Being part of the next generation of female architects is an honour, but a greater honour is that we will be better representatives for our communities.
Despite the steady growth of women in architecture and the built environment, attention must shift towards empowering individuals of black and brown heritage and disadvantaged backgrounds, such as myself, to have agency in our profession. It is insufficient to solely champion gender inclusivity in today’s profession, the future of architecture should embrace people and practice from all cultures. I will continue to dedicate myself to diversifying architecture for those who follow.
Karen Leightley, personal assistant
Despite the changes we’ve seen in the last 50 years, there is still a way to go for equality and representation internationally. According to the World Economic Forum, “gender parity will not be attained for almost a century,” which means it’s likely none of us will see gender equality in our lifetimes. So, how do we speed things up? Empowering people to challenge bias and inequality, making sure women’s voices are heard, sparking debate and ideas from different perspectives and experiences?
I have luckily not encountered much gender inequality in my career. At Ryder, I have had the benefit of flexibility and support to be able to have a good home life balance as a working mum. This year has been particularly difficult with the added challenges of home schooling, keeping two children happy and entertained while working, and also missing the daily contact with my own mum, who is my hero! It has reinforced the importance of having amazing friends, colleagues and family and a mindset that anything is possible!
On this International Women’s Day, I recognise and celebrate the achievements of all amazing women #ChooseToChallenge.
Zahra Said, architect
Equality and diversity are topics that are extremely relevant for all workplaces, and employees regardless of the size or industry. As a professional female the aims of equality and diversity are quite simple, to ensure that everyone, regardless of their background, gender, sexuality, or faith has access to the same opportunities and fair treatment.
My professional journey in architecture early on profoundly highlighted the lack of diversity within the profession. I started at a time where the focus was very much on lifting the glass ceiling for women. Although improvements were being made it was extremely slow. When you throw race, religion and sexuality in the mix, improvements were non existent or even slower – I could count on one hand the number of black female and Muslim students in my year group. This significantly dropped after a gruelling first year where the realities of the financial and mental strain of architecture became known.
If you got through education, finding a job was the next battle. I painstakingly stuck it out, often doing jobs for free to network and gain experience alongside a part time job to make money. It was pure grit to get to where I am. My persistence, my mother and strong female and male influences throughout my education have kept me afloat on this journey.
Now as a fully qualified, black, Muslim, female architect, and mother, I am part of an extremely small percentage within the architecture industry. I know there will be many times where I am the only woman, person of colour or Muslim in a room when in a project meeting but I hope to continue being in these rooms to provide the opportunity for others like me to join. International Women’s Day is a call for these opportunities, a day to celebrate women and their achievements. A day to create platforms for future women.
Francesca Tafi, architect
2021 International Women’s Day celebration comes to me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Everyone is aware of the unprecedent challenges all of humanity has been facing this past year, regardless of age, gender, and country. Now, a year after its breakout, I come across articles from multiple European countries regarding how the pandemic has disproportionally affected women. Domestic abuse escalated during lockdown. Both in the UK and US more women have become unemployed than men since the start of the pandemic. With children’s care facilities being closed down, it has predominantly been down to mothers to care for their children.
Change is a long progress, that requires unity, confidence, and perseverance. The events of this year highlighted that there is still a long journey that stands ahead of us, however they also unearthed values, possibilities, and passions that will sustain and empower us on the way.
Emma Weeden, interior designer
I am very lucky to have parents who have never believed my gender should stop me from achieving anything. This applied as equally to my choice to work in the construction industry as it did to my sister’s inclination towards any sport that resulted in being caked in mud. My parents both reached equally senior positions in teaching and balanced high pressure jobs with home life. The daughter of an electrician, Mum was the first in her family to go to university. She worked difficult, long hours as a head of department because she had such passion for her students and for supporting us.
It is certainly becoming more common to not be the only female in the room. Progress continues to be made. As women of my generation, who’s role models teach them that the doors are open, get older and more experienced the levelling gets ever closer.
Prianca Dattani, architect
Without a doubt, I am who I am today because of the incredibly strong women I have been surrounded by. Growing up, I noticed how the women in my family were in the kitchen and the men were sat chatting in the living room. I could never decide which room I wanted to be in. Partly because I didn’t want to do any work but also because I didn’t want to be part of the stereotype. Then I realised, the kitchen is where the women in my family dominated. They created an energy of hard work, fun and laughter whilst they prepare and organise dishes, strategise the order of the different meals and their timings, working together as a cohesive unit. The theatrics of seeing them work and move together still pulls me in a moment of awe, so I ended up in the kitchen too.
Once I started working in practice, I realised how important it is to have women in the workplace. To feel inspired, heard and supported as we go through our day. To be part of a group of people who are continuously strengthening themselves and pushing the status quo.
To push design and the places we inhabit, it makes sense to cast the net as wide as possible and have a strong mix of men and women from diverse backgrounds and upbringings to join the conversation and work together as a cohesive unit.
Shirley Wong, architect
Having lived in Hong Kong for the past four years, I have noticed some differences between this city and the UK. This includes the topic of maternity leave, a matter which generally drives the inequality in the gender pay gap across most, if not all sectors.
In Hong Kong, new mothers currently get 14 weeks of maternity leave (it was 10 weeks prior to December 2020), compared to the eligible statutory allowance of 52 weeks in the UK, a 38 week difference! It has opened my eyes to the city’s inequality, despite its cosmopolitan veneer. There is a long way for Hong Kong to go in addressing its gender equality issues. However, satisfactory or not, these are still changes for the better.
Having said this, I have been fortunate to be part of Ryder’s open and welcoming office in Hong Kong in which the ratio of female to male is generally 50:50 and, in some years, women outnumbered men.
We can use International Women’s Day to highlight these issues and hopefully inspire progress towards gender parity.
Alison Walker, technologist
When I was 11 years old, my family went to “the city” (Vancouver) to visit my grandma. We drove past the Marine Building – said to be one of the most influential Art Deco buildings of all time, towering over Hastings Street in the heart of the downtown core, adorned with a patina copper roof.
As we drove past my father said, “Your great grandfather was an architect and worked on that building”.
“What’s an architect?”, I asked.
“They design what buildings look like”, he responded.
That was it for me – I knew what I was going to do when I grew up. I never once questioned my ability or potential success, especially not when it came to my gender. I was a little girl, with a big dream and not a single fear was going to get in my way. Every time I heard, “It’s harder for women to be successful in this field”, it just made me want to work even harder to prove them all wrong.
Since starting in the field, I was taken aback at how true that sentiment was. It WAS harder. Not because I wasn’t given opportunities, or because I wasn’t happy with my career, but because I experienced sexism in the workplace on a daily basis. I was touched without consent, received inappropriate comments frequently about my appearance, and had my knowledge questioned on a regular basis.
Although the inner work continues on my behalf, there is still much work needed to be done in our profession.
I am grateful to be working in a business that values and celebrates equality. It truly gave me hope again to continue in the field I have been in love with since I was a child.
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.