Women working in traditionally male-dominated industries have never had it easy. In 2016, you wouldn’t expect to find that women still combat misconceptions and archaic attitudes about their strength, their abilities and their education within the building and construction industry ― a place where they are still underrepresented and considered a minority. But the stats speak for themselves: out of the 305,000 people employed in NSW’s building and construction industry, only 10 per cent are female.
Fortunately, attitudes are changing. With initiatives such as the Parlour community ― a forum which focuses on the contribution of women to the field of architecture — we’re seeing more and more women embrace careers in construction trades, engineering, architecture and design — and recognised for their skills. So with International Women’s Day approaching on March 8, let’s celebrate some examples of women who are excelling in their field, and paving the way forward for young Australian women in architecture.
Changing construction industry culture
In the past, many young graduates and trainees were discouraged by the slow career progression, low pay and minimal opportunities often reported by women working within the building and construction industry. The gender-wage gap, combined with outdated attitudes, acted to deter talented, upcoming female architects from participating the industry.
University of Queensland academic Naomi Stead ― who was involved in the initiation of Parlour ― was one of the first to highlight the alarming lack of diversity and equity in our domestic architecture profession. The results were shocking: research uncovered that, despite the fact that around 40% of architecture graduates were female, only 20% of those actually working in the architectural field were women. Fortunately, it’s statistics like these which have prompted the industry to take notice, and really set about making a positive change.
The emergence of new role models
In recent years, one of the biggest industry changes we’ve noticed is the increased representation of strong female role models in the architectural field. Female architects such as Dame Zaha Hadid have made great progress in changing industry perceptions on a worldwide scale ― and provided Australian women in architecture with inspiration, motivation and support to pursue their dream careers.
At a time when we’re witnessing such innovative architectural projects throughout the globe, it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to nurture some of the remarkable talent we have on our own doorstep. Here’s some Australian women who are promoting excellence in the field, and carving out a new workplace culture on the way.
Melinda Dodson - Melinda Dodson Architects
Melinda has played a key role in recognising Australian women in architecture with her contribution to the local industry. She has won a suite of industry awards during her career so far, including the New Experimental Architectural Typologies award (2014), NAWIC Outstanding Achievement in Construction Award ACT (2013), University of Canberra PhD scholarship (2012), Instyle Design Award (2010), and the Australian Institute of Architects ACT Young Architect Prize (2005).
Ingrid Bakker - Hassel
As a Principal at Melbourne’s award-winning architectural firm Hassell, Ingrid has over 20 years of experience in the fields of architecture and interior design. In an interview for Parlour, she let slip what might just be a major secret to her success ― particularly for woman forging ahead in an industry which has been traditionally characterised by men.
“In this competitive industry it’s necessary to have that desire to win, but I also recognise the need for resilience given that you can’t win everything. You have to roll with the punches a little bit and dust yourself off and keep going when things don’t quite go your way.”
Madeleine Blanchfield - Madeleine Blanchfield Architects
After 10 years as Associate Director at a leading Sydney architecture and design firm, Madeline branched out into her own business. Some of the most recent awards for her firm’s work include the 2015 Randwick Urban Design Awards (Alterations and Additions; Adaptive Reuse Commendation), the 2013 Australian Institute of Architects New Houses award and the 2013 House & Garden Room of the Year.
Continuing to build a better industry
Since Florence Taylor became our first practising female architect in Australia (and a registered member of the Institute of Architects of New South Wales in 1920), we’ve been making progress in recognising Australian women in architecture. The creation of new scholarships targeting women who wish to pursue the profession in architecture has helped, as well as the increasing number of awards specifically aimed at promoting and celebrating the achievements of women. What’s better, however, is seeing an increasing number of women being taking home awards which simply recognise exceptional architects, regardless of gender.
For more insights into the Australian building and construction industry, workplace issues and statistics regarding the state of the industry, download Lathams 2016 Global Construction Trends update.