The AJ’s Women in Architecture partners explain how they are making their practices supportive places in which to work
The AJ’s Women in Architecture partner programme helps you to maintain staff, raise awareness of issues within your practice and provides general support to women in the workplace.
In the past year, partner events have included talks by RIBA president Stephen Hodder, Heneghan Peng director Róisín Heneghan, Maggie’s founder Laura Lee, and last year’s Emerging Woman Architect of the Year, Julia King.
A breakfast seminar tackling confidence issues and a mentoring scheme also formed part of the programme. For more information, or to find out how your practice can support the AJ’s Women in Architecture campaign, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The AJ Women in Architecture partner practices
- Allies and Morrison
- Aukett Swanke
- Buckley Gray Yeoman
- Darling Associates
- EPR Architects
- Pollard Thomas Edwards
- Simpson Haugh and Partners
- Stride Treglown
- Walters and Cohen
Maternity leave and childcare
We think it is important to support those at the end of a period of maternity or paternity leave so that they can feel encouraged to return to work in a way that is mutually beneficial. We have found that the time when staff with childcare responsibilities most need support is when returning from maternity or paternity leave, and the few months afterwards. They will have been through significant life changes and are dealing with different day-to-day challenges and responsibilities. Being sympathetic and supportive at this time, including in some circumstances offering a staged return to work, can make this transition achievable. We offer childcare vouchers as a small way of helping with the costs, and we do understand that some people’s time commitments are not always flexible.
We actively support our staff during maternity and paternity leave, both financially and through keeping-in-touch days to ensure a smooth transition upon return to work. We offer term-time working (where a parent takes paid/unpaid leave during school holidays). All parents are given the choice of an early or late working option, to facilitate taking children to or collecting them from care or school. Reduced hours and homeworking options are offered to returning mothers, depending on the particular circumstances of the individual and their workload. Where parents are taking a long-term career break, their job will be left open with an option to return. All ARB/RIBA memberships and other benefits (a work iPhone, for example) are retained during an employee’s maternity leave.
Walters & Cohen
We try to be flexible and understand how important it is to some people, so that they can meaningfully balance home/work life and other things that may be important to them. However, we need to recognise that part of our job is that we have to collaborate effectively, both within our office and also with others in the industry who keep recognised working hours. As long as we can find an accepted solution that allows the job to be done well, then we are happy.
Pollard Thomas Edwards
Our work ethos contrasts with the prevailing competitive, full-time or nothing assumption, where long hours are wired into
office culture. Project resourcing is focused on the needs of the business but makes sure staff do not have to work excessive hours over long periods of time. Childcare is not the only reason people can negotiate flexible working. Travel, study, or a pressing community activity are all considered. In return, careful planning is essential to ensure that one person’s flexibility doesn’t become another’s burden, and that client needs and deadlines can always be met.
Walters & Cohen
When we have staff reviews, one of the things we discuss is what people would like to be doing in the next year and beyond. People talk about wanting to gain a qualification; to work on a different type or scale of project; take on more responsibility; plan a long trip; or even work towards a new venture, such as working for Architecture for Humanity or setting up their own practice. I don’t think there is any difference in scale of ambition between our male and female employees. I hope this is because our staff see men and women being treated equally and fairly, so they know they will be considered on their merit and supported in practical ways. This commonly includes mentoring, time and financial contributions towards study, and careful consideration of requests for flexible working.
Allies and Morrison
Equality of opportunity is at the core of our practice ethos, and we have set up systems to facilitate and evaluate career progression. All our staff are supported with a formal mentoring programme where a senior, more experienced staff member helps to guide and nurture the potential of each individual with the intention of promoting personal and professional growth. The mentoring partnership enables career development and leadership development, allowing mentor and mentee to develop new skills as well as encouraging engagement throughout the practice. In addition to training, we also offer professional study support, professional contract seminars for internationally qualified architectural staff, and at least weekly professional development seminars.
Buckley Gray Yeoman
Design is not a top-down activity as all levels of staff are encouraged to input their ideas throughout all stages of the design process. We regularly have in-house presentations where new staff are given the opportunity to present their previous workplace experience, while younger staff present their university experience.
Pollard Thomas Edwards
Our women are highly visible, vocal and successful, providing natural role models for the younger team. With women making up half the management - including one of three senior partners - women in charge are seen as the norm. The team approach means everyone is encouraged to speak up, and everyone has an equal voice. ‘Younger women in the practice are encouraged to lead programmes such as graduate mentoring or Open City, promoting the idea of architecture as a career to students and new graduates.
We promote the attendance of networking events for our staff to help meet like-minded people within the industry. A number of our female staff are key members of groups such as Women in Property and Women in Construction.
We believe leadership skills need to be nurtured and developed. We have a longterm succession planning programme to actively identify potential new associates and directors, to recognise talent and create opportunities for career progression for all staff. In particular this programme is aimed at supporting the development of our junior female staff to address a gender imbalance at management team and board level, as well as encouraging them to develop their own authentic styles of leadership. At the same time we acknowledge that individuals’ measures of success take many forms, and not all architects aspire to leadership positions. We aim to support different forms of career progression to ensure these architects also have a fulfilling and rewarding career with us.
The practice’s leadership programme teaches staff how to be effective leaders and provides a forum to allow individuals to share experience and learn from others. The opportunity is open to a wide range of staff, both full and part time, whether currently in a leadership role or with the potential to succeed in a leadership role. The ratio of attendees is 50:50. We believe that our leadership programme will help address some of the issues in architecture generally, and help us be leaders by example in promoting the best people for leadership roles.
Leadership is something the practice takes seriously at all levels of the studio, with the best people selected for specific roles regardless of gender. Equality is fundamental to our studio culture and the practice is committed to providing both opportunity and example for women architects in developing their careers and their skills. Two of the three managing directors of the UK studios are women, as is our group finance director. We have a dedicated head of career development who directs a comprehensive training and mentoring programme, which includes networking training and vocal coaching. The studio actively encourages a wide variety of activities alongside project work, such as internal design reviews and presentations, as well as fundraising and other group activities that build confidence and provide leadership opportunities for all staff members.
We are passionate about helping our employees achieve a better work/life balance. As part of this, we have introduced flexible start and finish times for all staff, not just parents. This flexibility gives our employees more control over organising their day, including timetabling out-of-work activities. We offer full and varied social activities, including a monthly cultural outing, a summer day out, a Christmas party, film club, football team, netball team, cake time and Friday beer o’clock. We also support staff taking part in charity sports events. We are constantly working to develop better, more efficient ways of working, to ensure overtime is kept to a minimum.
To create a harmonious balance between work and life, there has to be a respect of the employee as an individual and their requirements in and out of work. As a result of this, the quality of work increases and the atmosphere is in the office is positive. Our directors actively manage workload and discourage late working. When there are deadlines, we meet them and work late if required, but fundamentally we encourage our staff to have a life outside of work. This fosters energy and enthusiasm in our team members and a low staff turnover. Many of our employees joined in the first years of the practice’s founding, and they have found the perfect place to develop and further themselves as architects.
Simpson Haugh and Partners
We have tried to remove the expectation that good work can only be produced by spending long, antisocial hours at an office desk. We regularly review resourcing in relation to constantly varying workloads to ensure projects are responded to in an appropriate manner. Obviously, on occasion specific deadlines demand specific responses, and on these occasions food and transport home are provided. In addition to practice-led social activities - which have included evening events, days out and city break weekends away together - we have an active social group which arranges regular activities financed by the practice. They try to arrange the activities to suit all, including those with families - recent invitations to an indoor ski slope were extended to staff’s children.
Allies and Morrison
We want our teams to achieve a good balance between work and life outside work. We have a strong work ethic but we do not encourage evening and weekend working unless absolutely necessary. Where this does happen, we operate a time-off-in-lieu system to recover that balance. Wherever possible, the need to work outside normal hours is avoided through planning resources properly. We also have an employee assistance programme including a helpline giving staff access to confidential telephone and face to face counselling on issues such as stress or financial worries.