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‘Radical action’ needed to boost gender diversity in construction

Women in Architecture winners talk 2015
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Leading women architects have called for more role models after a report found nearly a third of young women view the construction industry as ‘purely for men’

Research carried out by YouGov for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found 29 per cent of young women hold that view.

The survey, filled out by 1,000 13 to 22-year-olds, also found that 41 per cent of young women feel their gender will have a negative effect on their career – compared to 4 per cent of men.

Sean Tompkins, chief executive at RICS, said the survey results showed ‘radical action’ needed to be taken to improve gender diversity at work.

He said: ‘This survey reveals that the construction and property industries are still suffering from a reputational image crisis. We need to do more to encourage young women into these key sectors and smash the clear perception of a glass ceiling.’

However, the results suggest the rise of female leaders like Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon could improve gender equality at work. Nearly half (43 per cent) of female respondents said a female prime minister or president encourages gender diversity at work.

Nonetheless RIBA president Jane Duncan described the results as ‘disappointing’ for the next generation of young women entering working life and has pledged to continue her work to increase the understanding of diversity and equality in the workplace.

She said: ‘No one should expect to be discriminated against during their career because of their gender, race, sexuality or religion. It’s not just wrong and counterproductive to running a successful business, it’s illegal. We need to do more to reassure our younger generations that there are hard-fought-for laws and processes in place so that they don’t have to suffer discrimination.’

In addition, 73 per cent of those surveyed said that the attitudes and behaviour of directors and senior leaders are important in encouraging equal numbers of men and women in the workplace.

Last year’s Woman Architect of the Year, Teresa Borsuk, enior partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards, suggested that having more role models could improve gender diversity in the workplace. 

She said: ‘We need to continue to challenge conventional career models to effect the necessary change. A balanced work environment benefits everyone.

Women in leadership roles will inevitably encourage more women and so help promote equality

‘Women in positions of leadership are automatically role models. Women in leadership roles will inevitably encourage more women and so help promote equality. It is obvious, but it is a long, slow process.

‘Even Theresa May as prime minister is no quick fix. Above all, perceptions need to change; more engagement and support from men is crucial in raising the momentum.’

Fionn Stevenson, head of the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield, said that, although female role models could be a ‘great help’, not all women in senior positions have promoted gender quality, citing former prime minister Margaret Thatcher as an example.

But Wright and Wright Architects’ founding director Clare Wright described Theresa May as a ‘powerful role model’, and credited her for promoting women in her cabinet.

While role models have been suggested as a way to promote equality for young women, some leading architects have said that better support for women having children could encourage gender equality later in working life. 

‘Having Teresa May in power is yet another example of how having a woman in a position of leadership doesn’t always mean a step forward for women,’ said Harriet Harris, an architect and senior tutor at the Royal College of Art in London. 

She added: ‘As long as childcare remains unaffordable, a two-tier career prospects system will persist in the architectural profession, with female parent architects on average salaries perpetually held back.’

Angela Brady, director at Brady Mallalieu Architects, agreed. She said: ‘We need to give support to women when they take time off to have kids, which is still the biggest obstacle to career. Women need to also support other women and be their mentors and men have an equal role here.

‘Theresa May needs to actively support diversity and gender in the workplace, as it is her duty to do so.’

According to the results of the AJ’s 2015 Women in Architecture survey, 62 per cent of women have experienced gender discrimination while in practice. 

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