Following from last year, Andra Antone spoke to a different group of women at Ryder to gauge their thoughts of inequality in the workplace and their hopes for the future.
Andra Antone, Senior Architect
At Ryder, we acknowledge that the status quo around gender equality is not good enough – that it is not enough to tell ourselves that we are not a part of the problem.
Gender bias is more than just about feeling guilty, but feeling responsible and empowered in a sexist world to take action to dismantle systemic inequality. To mark International Women’s Day, we have invited our people to share their personal or professional journeys, whether as a mother, daughter, son, mentor or colleague. We will continue to work to become allies against all forms of discrimination and abuse, and in doing so, become a positive role model for others.
Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right but the necessary foundation to achieve a thriving and sustainable world. The patriarchal system has historically placed utmost importance in masculine attributes. It is a system of society and governance in which men retain power and women are largely excluded from it. Gender inequality is a systemic and global social problem.
Unfortunately, there is a passiveness around engagement with gender inequality, which inadvertently implies that this is about women. This incorrect assumption assumes women are responsible for the work that needs to be done to bring about the change of culture and dissuades men from engaging with the conversation. Girls and women fundamentally need male allies to solve this problem. If we are serious about addressing this, it will require introspection and action on the part of men as well as women and others, not just as individuals, but as members of the society that are promoting a set of values and ideas about manhood, power, control and sexual entitlement.
Rizwana Osman, Senior Architect
I recognise that International Women’s Day is a day where we all can come together to celebrate and raise awareness of the issues that women face around the world daily.
The theme for this year focuses on breaking down the bias which coincidently connects with Ryder’s inclusivity group. The aim of the group is to enhance existing organisational protocols to better support our people in strengthening diversity and accessibility.
So how do we, as professionals, break down the bias within the industry? And encourage people of all diversities to help shape the built environment regardless of gender, religion, or ethnicity? I think the answer is to break down the barriers that divide society by showcasing that the quality of a design is much higher when a diverse team has worked on it. Only then are you able to design for everyone.
As an architect, I do not want to be identified by my gender, religion or ethnicity, but for the quality of work that I produce as benchmarked against the work of peers in the practice and the wider industry. I’ve personally never felt any bias, instead I’ve always felt encouraged by colleagues. All the projects that I have been involved in at Ryder and previous employers, have allowed me to develop and learn from the people around me, and shape the built environment regardless of my gender, religion, or ethnicity.
Dan Mossman, Architect
Reflecting on International Women’s Day is so important as we move towards greater equality, diversity and inclusion in today’s society. For men that believe in feminism and reducing discrimination, allyship and activism are our tools to benefit everyone.
A man’s voice is louder in certain environments, the construction industry being a great example. Speaking out against sexist acts and talk that portrays women in damaging ways is obvious and should be done at every opportunity. Our less obvious tool is to not use our voice, but to listen. I will never be able to understand what a woman’s career is like and the experiences they endure which set us apart, but the first step is to acknowledge my privilege and listen to those experiences without judgement. It is then that I can effectively develop my thinking and behaviour, adding a very small step towards a world where women have the same rights and opportunities as men.
Sophie Connor, Associate
Recently, I attended a site visit where a new female site manager had started. She excitedly listed off on one hand the women involved in the project, as if a handful of women from the wider design team and all the site operatives was impressive. Sadly, it still is!
I am proud to be part of the growing cohort of women at Ryder, and I am inspired by friends and colleagues who break the bias every day by simply doing a great job. I hope that I am a positive role model for other young women joining the industry.
Ruth French, Associate
Last year Ryder introduced optional pronouns as part of our email signatures. While as a cisgender woman I wholly support this as an important part of inclusion in business, I have to admit I had to do some soul searching as to whether in a professional context I wanted to shout about my gender in every email I send.
My upbringing was strongly about women’s empowerment, my parents promoted a culture that their two daughters should never feel that they can’t do anything because of their gender, but this stance perhaps made me very aloof to gender issues in a construction industry. Early in my career I actively shunned women focused events, would get angry that we had to have women only awards, and there have been instances where I brushed off sexist remarks as jovial office banter.
I realise now that this was a mistake and in fact equity is far more powerful than equality. I also sadly realised that my childhood experience is not one shared across globe, we just look at events in Afghanistan over the last year to recognise that women’s freedoms remain a luxury rather than right.
Today I stand before you a hopefully a more rounded role model to the several young women, who I am thrilled to mentor. Their passion and enthusiasm for the career opportunities in construction makes me extremely proud. I hope even to those who don’t personally know me, they see a confident businesswoman and may be inspired not to worry about barriers but look to shape their own successes.
Roy Hewitt, Principal Designer
Of the ten core values that underpin International Women’s Day, respect is arguably the most poignant. The other nine being: justice, dignity, hope, equality, collaboration, tenacity and appreciation.
Working towards the eradication of gender bias and the continued endeavour towards gender parity, respect consolidates whilst permeating through all the guiding principles of International Women’s Day.
However, all too often, social reform movements throw up platitudes that are used so arbitrarily that over time they lose their significance and become nothing more than misappropriated maxims. This year’s campaign theme break the bias speaks directly to a system that has facilitated the cultural denigration of the value and roles that women play not only as matriarchs within society, but also as leaders within the workplace. Unfortunately, this denigration has become an established facet to our social norms. It is my hope that the break the bias theme engenders a profound sense of recognition that elicits a sense of principled respect for what our female counterparts have accomplished in the fight for gender parity not just for this day, but future days ahead.
Constance Ho, Senior Interior Designer
Being a woman to me means being powerful, supportive and valuable. Different aspects of my life make me proud of who I am. I am a mother and a worker like many others nowadays. From my ten years plus work experience in Hong Kong, my employers would not discriminate to employ someone just because they are female. As a work mom, I feel lucky at Ryder with its flexible work arrangement especially during this pandemic situation… numerous hectic mornings with my daughter, getting her ready for Zoom classes, picking up homework from her school before going to office. Somehow that makes me even more productive as all I am focused on is getting things done so I can go home to see my daughter before she goes to bed.
It might be a cultural thing that some people still think women belong in the kitchen. That gives women here even more responsibility. I have seen a colleague finish her lunch in ten minutes just so she can head out to get ingredients for cooking dinner after her long day at work. What I always see is the ability over responsibility. I believe in today’s business environment, there are no tasks that only men or women could do. Recently, my colleague asked if anyone in the office knew how to reload paper into the big plotter and I did it! I did not think that it was a man’s job, instead I believed in my ability. Some say women are emotional, I would say women are more expressive. Women are fun, intelligent and wonderful. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all women to be yourself unapologetically and live your life beautifully.
Hannah Bryan, Senior Architect
Gender inclusivity is the tip of an iceberg in creating a profession with equal opportunity. It’s insufficient to solely champion this aspect, but my understanding empowers me to challenge it with dogged determination.
I was nurtured in a way no different from my brother. Being a year older was the only difference that gave one of us an advantage. I could run faster, reach higher branches when climbing trees and I knew more times tables than him. We’ve now matured and navigate the professional environment as equals, but I’m saddened that this a privilege. It makes me determined to continue as an equal, along with you all, setting positive examples and reaching out a hand to anyone if they come up against people whose power and existence depends on misuse.
Nyangu Bakare, Receptionist
On this International Women’s Day, I would like to honour a woman who has had a strong influence upon my life and has been my greatest inspiration, my mother. In the early years of my life, I was raised by my grandmother in Zambia, after my mother had decided to relocate to the UK to seek out a better life for us. I joined her as soon as I was able to.
As a migrant and working single mother with a limited support network, she navigated life one day at a time, whilst also dealing with financial and legal struggles of a new country. Despite her challenges, she succeeded in acquiring British citizenship, buying a house and becoming mortgage free all on her own.
Having just become a mother myself, I now truly understand and appreciate all her sacrifice. So, this year, I celebrate my mother and all working mothers – selfless, devoted, loving, courageous, strong, and persevering.
Mark Thompson, Managing Partner
Reflecting on the strong influences in my life, my mum, sister, and wife undoubtedly keep my feet on the ground.
Professionally, I have been fortunate enough to receive advice and mentorship from several business women. I will always remember the help I received from Lorna Moran, founder and chairman of Northern Recruitment Group, and Sarah Green, chief executive at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, during the financial crisis. During a period of severe hardship and uncertainty, these two women, over everyone else helped me remain positive and focused on planning a route through for Ryder and myself personally. Heidi Mottram, CEO at Northumbria Water, is another leading figure who I look up to.
Unfortunately, the construction industry has traditionally been imbalanced. Men have been seen to be on building site and women absent from senior roles. I believe this is changing, however. Thinking back to Ryder’s leadership programme four years ago, only one woman was included in the group of 12. This year, eight women have been selected, not because we needed to fulfil a quota, but because of their merit and the values they instil. This I believe, is testament to the change we are seeing within our practice and the construction industry.
My hope for the future is that the inequality in our industry and around the world is eradicated, to the point that there is no such thing as International Women’s Day. To arrive at this point, everyone should take personable responsibility to foster equality and welcome different perspectives into every facet of life.
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.
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