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PTEa: ‘The more women in leadership, the more you will attract’

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Pollard Thomas Edwards Architects give their top tips for achieving equality in practice

Pollard Thomas Edwards is one of a small number of practices in the UK to have achieved an equal number of women and men employees - including at director level. With this in mind, four members of staff - Teresa Borsuk, executive director; Dominique Oliver, director; Tricia Patel, director; and Gabriella Gullberg, general manager - have put together tips on how to achieve equality in practice.

Create an office culture that reflects your ethos, and real life

We didn’t make a deliberate attempt to create a gender process focuses on skills and attributes only. We set out to create a family ethos, with a more humane, balanced and more women to the practice. There can be a macho work ethic in architecture, with beers and pizza at 6 o’clock and design meetings going on into the evening, which can be both hugely competitive and unproductive. That doesn’t happen here. Our founding directors acknowledged that since we spend a lot of time at work, it should feel more like home - from the domestic fit-out of the bathrooms to the weekly whole-office lunch. We have created a culture that reflects real life - and our gender balance mirrors this.

Make flexibility available to everyone…

A balanced working environment is good for everybody. We offer flexibility to all staff in order to create an environment where people can develop and achieve their own work/life balance. This includes childcare - for men and women - but also sabbaticals for travel, cycling trips or study. Because people don’t only leave early due to parental commitments, you don’t get a ‘them and us’ culture dividing those with children and those without. Everybody should benefit from equality in the workplace.

…but it needs to be well managed

Our practice is underpinned by a strong team approach. It’s important that one person’s flexibility never becomes somebody else’s burden. We are very focused on the business, and manage flexibility within project resourcing to make sure that nobody is working excessive hours over a long period of time. It takes a bit of extra effort, but it is absolutely worth it. Investment in people pays off: if you look after people they work harder. We keep faith with our staff and in return enjoy their loyalty and commitment.

Support your staff during their family years

In your early thirties, when you are just establishing yourself, many people start a family. We say to women going on maternity leave: ‘Come back - we will manage it!’ It’s a challenge when, even for directors, childcare can equate to 50 per cent of salary. One of our female architects came back three days a week after having children, moved to five short days during their school years, then increased her hours again as her children became older. That’s a 22-year commitment, and she is now a full-time director. It may be worth saying that flexible working is different to part-time working. We have four women directors and that level of seniority demands full-time working, even if that might be flexible.

Be thorough about salary appraisals and equal pay

It’s possible that many women in architecture are located at the lower end of the pay scale, as many bail out before they have reached the higher-paid levels of seniority. Our experience is also that women are less likely to ask for a pay rise. In self-appraisals we routinely see men grade their skills higher than the really are, and women grade themselves lower. It is an issue of confidence. We are thorough about our appraisal process and make sure that pay is commensurate with skills and performance across the board.

Put your women forward as role models

One of our directors worked in three practices before she encountered another female colleague. The best boost to gender balance is seeing other women in practice who are powerful, dynamic and vocal. We aim to be visible, mentoring students and getting involved in school projects to show that architecture is a career for girls as well as boys. Seeing other women in positions of seniority makes you stop questioning whether or not you can do it, and just get on with it.

Balance begets balance

The more women you have in your practice and in leadership roles, the more women you will attract. Once you have a critical mass it stops being an issue at all, and balance begets balance. Our approach is in the DNA of the practice - it’s just what we do.

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