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Practices Present at David Chipperfield Architects

DCA managing director Harriet Miller speaks at the inaugural session of Practices Present as part of the W Programme on September 17 2019

‘The future is exciting… and everyone has a role to play,’ Harriett Miller, managing director at David Chipperfield Architects, asserts in the first of the W Programme’s new Practices Present series, an opportunity for W Programme partner practices to share their internal discussions about moving towards gender equality in the built environment.

Held as part of the W Programme 2018/19 (formerly known as the Women in Architecture programme), Miller asked how we can create better office work environments and better ways to practice, arguing that improving the way we practice isn’t specifically an issue of gender, but should also include a more general enquiry into how we make better working environments in the profession for all employees, bringing to the fore the importance of the inclusion of office managers and HR staff in these discussions.

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Harriet Miller speaks to members of the W Programme partner practices on September 17

Miller revealed recent changes that DCA has implemented, including enhanced maternity pay, a benefits review, compressed hours and the appointment of Amy Stein as Head of People Operations, highlighting the importance of maintaining knowledge about employees’ rights and regulations internally within the practice. Others added their voice to the conversation, enforcing that a focus on the wellbeing and work-life balance of employees is a benefit to any practice.

Gender inequality isn’t only seen in employment rates and salary, but also in the pension pay gap, which is currently at 40% as revealed by the Women in the Workplace 2018 study. Although one of the obvious solutions to the unequal numbers of men and women working in architecture practices is to hire more women, as well as making sure that the women employed want to stay, practice partners suggested that financial planning advice could be provided internally to address the pension pay gap.

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Key to the Practices Present series is the opportunity to learn from other W Programme practice partners, a chance to share experiences among people from different practices at different stages in their professional careers. Using the lessons posed by DCA’s introduction as its starting point, practice partners tackled three key factors in inequality in the workplace: relationships with senior members of staff, minorities in work scenarios, and flexible working.

Centred on the relationships between management, directors and employees, the first discussion considered the ways in which we can install more confidence in junior members of staff and create informal interactions and better relations across practices. ‘What does confidence look like?’ one participant asked, questioning whether we need to change the way we perceive confidence in a professional environment. The conversation, which engaged both senior members of staff and junior employees, reinforced that practices thrive by listening to and learning from all members of its staff, an environment nurtured and provided by the W Programme and forums such as these.

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The second topic proposed a shift in the experience of being a minority – or the ‘only’ – in the room or a meeting, which can be uncomfortable and require a good deal of confidence, aided by bringing junior members of staff into meetings, and making it clear that all voices and opinions are of value.

Thirdly, practice partners shared their experiences of flexible hours, reduced hours and working from home, arguing that different models suit different practices and people, part-time employees can offer a lot to a practice, and having working hours that fit different members of staff ultimately creates a better working environment for everyone.

The inaugural Practices Present was sandwiched between two speed mentoring sessions: one-on-one conversations between junior and senior members of staff from different partner practices. The conversations are informal and allow for a sharing of experiences and questions among women in different places in their careers. The series of events that form the W Programme are a unique and invaluable opportunity for practices and individuals to share with each other their knowledge and frameworks that work to create better and more inclusive work environments in architecture practices.

The W Programme promotes equality and diversity in architectural practice. To become a W Programme practice partner and join us in building a sustainable future for the profession, contact james.priest@emap.com

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