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Women need more confidence in the workplace, leading practices say

Members of the AJ Women in Architecture partner’s programme have highlighted confidence as a key issue for women in practice

Issues associated with poor confidence levels, such as reluctance in presentations and networking, are said to be holding women back, according to members of the AJ Women in Architecture Steering Committee, which held its first meeting last week.

Joanna Bacon of Allies and Morrison, said: ‘Women lack confidence in the workplace’.

‘Confidence is an industry wide problem. Women are reluctant to put themselves forward in the profession. It is ingrained and part of our make-up’, commented Darling Associates’ Liz Moran.

Suzette Vela Burkett of Aukett Swanke described what the practice had been doing to increase its women’s confidence levels: ‘We have run vocal coaching to help increase women’s confidence and presentation skills.’

She added: ‘If more women were in practice then perhaps confidence levels would improve.’

Allies and Morrison has also introduced mentorship and training to help its female employees. Bacon said: ‘We have begun a drawing class – more women signed up than men. There is a hunger for skills amongst women.’

She added: ‘We also run presentation skills training – again more women asked for this than men. It is helpful for confidence.’

Marks Barfield’s Gemma Collins said on site was where women lack confidence. ‘It is a very male environment’, she said. This reflected the results of the AJ’s Women in Architecture survey which showed a shocking lack of respect for female architects. Two thirds of the 710 women respondents felt the building industry hadn’t fully accepted the authority of the female architect

While Kate Moore of Darling Associates said the problem was more significant in young people: ‘Our practice used to have a 60:40 split – female:male. We didn’t have any problems with women’s confidence – it seemed to be a problem among young people.’

Readers' comments (3)

  • The real key is that at least some practices are talking, thinking and doing something about it. It is not just confidence that women need however, but empowerment from their peers and practice managers especially on site.

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  • Recent news of the 25% pay gap is hardly confidence enabling. Whilst the 'quick win' is to attribute womens workplace underperformance to their own lack of confidence, its worth considering that working within a professional context with entrenched inequality wholly and interminably corrodes confidence of even the most talented women architects. We need to move beyond a blame game - in either direction - and instead commit to a set of transparent and universal principles regarding equitable employment for everyone (not just women) if we want to become a fair and ethical profession.

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  • J Burden

    In theory, the foundation for mentoring and structured practical training already exists as part of Part III.

    However, the RIBA practical training guidelines merely call for an experienced architect to be assigned to 'supervise' PIII trainees without much further direction. The log book is a tick-box exercise unless the practice schedules regular time to explain overarching principles of running a project and also go into detail about why things have gone right/ wrong.

    The RIBA should have better guidance and incentives to help practices bring on trainee architects during this key stage so that they feel confident on site and in the office. IMO, the difference will be more noticeable in women who start off less confident in these areas as ... (a) They start off acutely aware of the oddity of being a woman walking onto a building site and (b) may feel a little left out of the boys' superclub so will be more keen to absorb advice from their supervisor / mentor that bridges the gap between textbooks and practical experience and that will help them level up.

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