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#WorkWomenWisdom event – my speech

Last year I hosted about 150 women architects at my home, as a way of starting a conversation about how to achieve gender equity in our profession. Here’s my speech from that momentous night! 

Thank you all for coming tonight I really appreciate your interest and attendance. A bit of housekeeping, although this house needs a lot more than a bit. Toilets, dogs and help yourself to drink / nibbles. Tonight is about sharing stories, meeting other amazing women architects, learning and celebrating our diversity.

After I have finished we will take a few questions and then I will hand over to Jen Ehlers who will talk about the art of networking. I know personal that I am great at connecting people but am terrible at networking at functions or even worse ant school events. Jen and Kate are consultants at EY where there are strong gender initiatives including how to network getting the best of your opportunities and understanding that you have permission to leave the conversation (rather than say I need to go to the loo). I hope that you learn something and can practice tonight. I strongly encourage you to seek out people that you don’t know and be forward asking them about their experiences. If you don’t have business cards, please ask Kim Burges as she has some.

Some people have questioned why we chose to kick off with a women-only event. sons who are teenagers and young adults have questioned my motives and accused me of peddling double standards, because they know how fiercely I object to male only clubs.

But it may make sense when you understand the trigger for the event. I was having a couple of drinks with friends that happen also to be two amazing women who trained as architects but are now working in allied feels Rebecca Moore now I see you’re sitting sat member and Tanya Trevison, COO of TRG Developments and the first woman president of Property Council. They told me that they wanted to be members now I was there bracket probably alive) but they couldn’t find a category that met their needs and the other was the very concerning problem at the ABC W.A. have a policy which states that after two years of parental leave / non-practicing status, if you don’t return in year three and complete your full complement of CPDs you are de-registered.  I was outraged. It made me realise that we don’t have a forum to share this news or any news that is relevant to us stop I went on the war path with ABWA… more of that later.

I do of course acknowledge that it’s essential that we include men in any discussion about how to achieve gender equity at work and I know that we won’t agree on a consensus position here about what it means to be a female architect in 2017. We have about 145 women attending today ranging in age from 24 to 71, all with varied experiences and diverse career paths; these all have a bearing on how we see our place in the profession. But I’m hoping that by bringing women together at this forum we can establish a network to support each other going forward and share information.

And I can only conclude there is an appetite for change, because look how many of you are here!

Of course, as President of the Institute’s WA Chapter, I want to ensure that our professional organisation continues to serve as a strong voice and a noisy advocate for architecture going forward. As the first women president, I’m keen to find ways to encourage women who may not currently be members to join or rejoin the Institute.

To say the Institute is changing we have a dynamic female CEO Jennifer Cunich and gender parity around the National Council table. The median age range is around 45. I have advocated strongly for a new membership structure and website. I was advised today that this will be completed by end of 2018 I have advocated for the fact that we need a membership category for those of you that I’m working in allied fields. I have made some traction with this (I hope).

Our WA chapter is young active and diverse.  We are engaged agitators in the policy arena. I have taken up the mantle willingly and enthusiastically representing our collective meeting with new government ministers including Peter Tinley, Bill Johnston, Wayne Cary, Rita Saffioti’s team, among others. Today at the NAWIC breakfast I spoke to the Minister for women’s interests Simone McGurk and Shadow Minister Liza Harvey who both want to be aligned with the Institute and attend future events like this. We are collaborating with allied membership associations and the universities, writing policy papers to present to government present in government submission such as procurement paper for the Langoulant review and liaising with media outlets for more traction

Heading for diversity in our profession as with this event, we are also hosting the first Parlour session at Brickworks on 8 November, and a members forum. We are looking to hold a localized architectural conference with a Asia with those in our time zone: this opportunity came to our attention when I met with the CEO of Tourism to advocate for local architectural tourism. If you would like to be involved we do have an election of half of our Council, so please put your names down, speak to Kim tonight to find out how.

We all know the statistics for women in our profession: 50% of graduates are women they are often in the top 25%; 55% of all architectural graduates will not practice architecture. Women represent 21% of the 1333 registered architects and only 21% of the Institute membership, and they are not the same women.

Part of this can be explained by the fact that as architects women often have non-linear career paths, but I believe that there are many more women working in architecture in WA than the stats represent: you are working at home or in small practices without the support that registration, CPD, and the Institute can give. You are teaching architecture in universities – I know who you are!

But I want to suggest to you that if all of you that are not members here tonight joined we could increase our female representation to 32%, but more importantly you would be part of the conversation, receiving e-news, notification of CPD events – you don’t need to be registered to join – and networking invites and professional support etc.

This event is the start of the Institute’s bid be more inclusive and broadening our reach, to be honest. We are all important in improving the built environment, regardless of our membership, registration, or work situation.

I want to increase our collective voice and bring you back into the conversation about what it means to be an architect today, and how we might all work to push for career diversity as well as gender equity.

And that leads me to the ABWA policy. I have spoken to some ABWA board members, the building commission and the Minister for Finance, Bill Johnston, about my concerns around the systemic discrimination of this policy. The building commission are concerned. The  minister has asked me to write him a letter and an ABWA subcommittee is now considering this issue, however, the average age of the board is about 57 and the youngest is 50. The only women are lawyers, there are no women architects, the male architects range from about 55 to 60 and are lovely but have no idea about the difficulty of looking after children home, work etc.

To help them, I have connected them with the New South Wales board policy, which is fair and gives you five years before being interviewed and encouraged to attend some PALS courses. I am concerned that there is a total disconnection with the profession, and no understanding of our non-linear career path around caring commitments or other commitments. I urge you to look out for the next wave of board elections, and put your name forward. You do get paid!

There has been some press about my career path, but in a nutshell it has been wrapped around family. My career typifies what is typical for many of you: diverse, non-linear jobs with alternative roles and sometimes crazy, but, without taking a breath – in  case you haven’t heard it, and  I only tell you this to put the reasons for my zeal into context and explain why I want to change for all of us:

I was conceived by accident to my newly married Australian parents in London, the pregnancy realised in Alvar Aalto’s office with mum vomiting in the office to dad’s disgust, lived and schooled in Perth, graduated in 1986 from Curtin, worked in London looking for fun and women architects, found tons, registered in London, came back to Perth with fiancé, had to register again, married in my 20s, worked in BMI in the 80s when blatant sexism was rife, had four kids including twins in my 30s, was disillusioned when there was no way anyone would employ me because I was a working woman with kids and I watched men who were not nearly as good as me at uni steamroll past me on the career path.

Divorced at 40 with my kids 2 to 7 had to start again financially and I mean really start again start new practice take on whatever architectural work I could get learn to be insistent and demanding because I had to put food on the table grow and practice diversify my career and earning power with boards advisory roles learn to date again break up date new relationship stepchildren phew.  Kids finally teenagers oh how wrong was I was then told was managed death of father dementia diagnosis of mother, turn 50 – yay. I think: bit more time to breathe, grow practice, deal with three uni students a 15-year-old and a stepdaughter, run for president role because I couldn’t stand looking at the old men’s portraits on the wall of the Institute. well oh yeah here I am.

My life has always been pretty crazy but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Diversity in our careers is just so important so I encourage you to please consider how you can become involved in your community school LGA the Institute etc particularly if you are at home going to bit stir crazy.

As architects, we are known for our unique problem-solving skill set, and our ability to think outside the box, and many of us share a strong desire to improve the lives of others through our work, so I urge all of you to consider what non-profit or government advisory boards you might like to serve on, and then take appropriate steps to get yourself appointed.

So, we have established a group on LinkedIn called #WorkWomenWisdom, and we encourage you all to join the group so that you can continue to contribute to and benefit from this ongoing conversation.

We plan to post links to relevant articles and books that discuss the challenges that women face at work; to update you about progress and changes at the Institute; to highlight individual success stories of women architects who have made great strides in their careers; and to tap into the wisdom of the extremely valuable older members of our community.

To start with I encourage you to consider the following:

  1. We will post links on how to register for Boards, via the Onboard WA website. The Premier aims to deliver on an election commitment to increase the total number of women appointed to Government boards and committees to 50% by 2019 (it’s currently at 44%). So there is a huge opportunity right now for professional women like us to step forward and take a leadership role.
  2. Then, while you’re updating your CV and your LinkedIn profile, please add your details to Marion’s List if you haven’t done so already. That’s the list of women architects across Australia compiled by Parlour, which provides the option to register your interest for new roles, such as teaching, juries and public speaking. I’m very keen for women architects to raise their collective profile, and plugging into these networks and structures is a great way for us to achieve that.
  3. If, like me, you would like to put your professional skills to good use to help others, Margot Matthews has established COLAB – the Community Linked to Architects & Builders – to connect built environment professionals with community organisations in need of specialist pro bono services.
  4. Some of you may be aware that I was a presenter on a new television series this year – Australia By Design – which aired in the Ten Network over 10 weeks in the middle of the year. It was a great showcase for fantastic local architecture, and I’m pleased to announce that the show has been commissioned for a second series. While my role has not yet been confirmed going forward, I’m keen to drum up some great projects by women architects to showcase to the national audience, so if you have a recently completed building that you’d like to nominate for inclusion, please be sure to let me know.
  5. Please post your thoughts about the changes to the institute on the drawing boards.

So, before I take a few questions I would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for their pro bono help today – I couldn’t do it without you all. I would like to thank Rachael Bernstone and Jody D’Arcy, both working tonight in a pro bono capacity. Rachael, a journalist and a saint, has been helping me with my EDM (because I am hopeless). Rachael will be roaming around having a chat and recording your thoughts and concerns. Rachael has set up the LinkedIn group for us to share and network and a social media hashtag #workwomenwisdom. Jody D’Arcy an amazing architectural photographer will be taking photos of this inaugural event. I would also like to thank Nikki Brenan, Ruby Van Been who are both nurses. Sarah and Gladys, Kristin and Greta, architecture students from Curtin and Kim Burges from the Institute.

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