My visit to Downing Street served as a reminder of the power of our industry campaigns and coverage to win the ear of government, says Christine Murray
A surreal morning last week - I had breakfast at 11 Downing Street, hosted by George Osborne and Maria Miller MP, minister for women and equalities, as well as secretary of state for culture, media and sport.
The AJ was one of only eight press titles invited, and the only construction industry publication. The AJ Women in Architecture campaign caught the eye of government last year, which has led to invitations from Miller’s office to events including a roundtable discussion on creative women in the workplace with Cindy Walters of Walters & Cohen (winner of AJ Woman Architect of the Year 2012) and Amanda Levete.
The guest list for this breakfast included cultural leaders and chief executives from the FTSE 250, such as James Jordan, CEO of Taylor Wimpey; Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre; Andrew McNaugton, CEO of Balfour Beatty; and Fiona Woolf, Lord Mayor elect of the City of London.
Osborne kicked off the event, entitled Women in the Workplace, with a welcome to his home, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer has lived for 250 years - ‘and not one of them a woman, which is proof that barriers still remain’.
But it was Miller, speaking next, who would share the most uncomfortable truths - that, despite women now outperforming men in education and making up a majority of university graduates, the gender pay gap in the UK remains too high by international standards - the country is ranked 21st in Europe. The findings are echoed in our annual Women in Architecture survey, which has shown an endemic gender pay gap in UK practices, especially at partner and director level.
Also speaking, Karren Brady, vice-chairman of West Ham United, and the government’s new small business adviser, said unequal pay can be addressed by businesses through performance-related corrections over time. In other words, giving pay rises to staff who perform well at annual reviews - not the old system of giving pay rises to staff only when they ask for it.
‘Research shows that men are twice as likely as women to ask for pay rises,’ said Brady. ‘So, if you wait for people to ask, you may end up paying men more.’
The purpose of the breakfast was to provide an official government response to the Women’s Business Council report, entitled Maximising Women’s Contribution to Future Economic Growth, which claims that, by equalising the labour force participation rates of men and women, the UK could further increase GDP per capita growth by 0.5 percentage points per year, with potential gains of 10 per cent of GDP by 2030.
Talking to Brady about the Women in Architecture campaign, she claimed she was aware of the lack of top women in the profession because, when she sought a woman architect to design a forthcoming development, she ‘couldn’t find one’.
My visit to Downing Street not only strengthened the AJ’s resolve to raise the profile of women in this profession, it also served as a reminder to the whole AJ team of the power of our industry campaigns and coverage to win the ear of government. Thank you for empowering us to represent you through your subscriptions to the AJ. We are honoured to advocate for this profession, and will do you proud.