Happy International Women's Day to all the strong women around the world. Here at Bennetts Associates, we aim to support women in breaking through biases in the workplace and in the built environment sector. In celebration of this year's theme #BreakTheBias, we asked our colleagues to reply to this question:
How can we break the bias to support women in the built environment sector?
Read the answers below:
I believe the first step is to recognise the day-to-day challenges faced by women in the built environment sector. Generally, I feel there is a lack of encouragement from a young age for women to pursue a career in the industry, with many job advertisements targeted to the male audience. To break this bias, we urgently need to remove this intimidating stereotype and openly encourage women to take up careers in the sector and within professions such as architecture.
- Samir Masad
We need to work towards having a 50/50 ratio of females to males at a director level. The strongest way to combat bias would be to include more women at the highest decision-making levels, therefore setting an example and encouraging other women.
- Rebecca Sheead
The whole construction industry needs to look at how it engages with and supports youngsters to have a career in the industry, particularly in the building trade where male dominated sites are often unwelcoming for women. Unfortunately sites can still be places where gender bias can be prevalent – though thankfully it has improved massively in recent years. Educating children about how the construction industry is changing, with technological advances to create a more diverse range of opportunities and roles.
Offering different paths into architecture, engineering and the industry through apprenticeships could also break down the barriers to those put off or unable to afford university. Women generally have few senior role models in architectural studios – practices need to encourage and nurture their staff, offer compelling reasons why the practice is the place women in the profession are supported, nurtured, with genuine progress in your career and without having to choose between having a family (should you wish to) or a career.
- Jonathan Spratt
Whilst the number of women who are applying for architectural degrees is increasing, there remains a shortfall in the number of women becoming registered architects, this is nowhere near equal to the number of male registrations. I believe this is partly down to the intimidation of a deep-rooted male dominated industry, where women will feel they will not have equal access to opportunities. I feel there is certainly a lack of female role-models within architecture, this is something I noticed during my education where almost all recommended precedents were designed by men.
I see great importance in architectural practices encouraging greater equity within the workplace, this will allow women to find practices which will support them and their development appropriately.
- Emily Petty
There are so many things that need to be done collectively to break the cycle of bias not least acknowledging it exists! We need to be more open and honest with each other. Only then can we become more comfortable talking about issues and calling them out when you see them to help break historical behaviours that have existed within the construction industry.
- Alastair Bogle
To stub the outdated perception of the industry that many still have – an off-putting image of a male-dominated, macho environment focused largely on digging holes and pouring concrete. This can understandably dissuade young women and also young men, from considering studying construction-relevant subjects, or taking up apprenticeships. Educating young children about career options and encouraging interests in science, technology, maths and engineering, a responsibility not just down to teachers but everyone.
- Ying Conway
So much design is based around the assumption that the ‘typical, median man’ is the same thing as the ‘typical, median person’.
Most drugs are trialled on men then only extended to women if successful – missing out on drugs that may only work well in women. Car crash dummies are generally modelled on the typical man - so car safety features are better at protecting men. In MEP design air, temperature calculations are often based on the comfort of the typical man - without consideration that this isn’t the same for women. We as designers have a duty to challenge the assumptions that we and those around us have taken for granted – and where we find bias take action!
- Oliver Boaler
As a parent, I’ve become very aware of how gender stereotypes are reinforced from a young age in children’s books and TV – possibly even more so now than when I was a child. We need to address the way children view people who work in the built environment; encouraging girls to look at architecture and construction as a viable and attractive career opportunity and boys to view this as the norm.
- Alison Darvill
We have a collective responsibility to celebrate women's achievements, raise awareness against bias and to take action for equality - implementing effective ways to support and retain women in the workplace is key to this. This can continue to be addressed in our industry through the creation of opportunities, recognition of achievements, support for professional development at all stages (including around career breaks) and setting out visible career paths for women through to senior positions.
- James Allison
As Schools Outreach Co-ordinator for Central Scotland Women in Property, I know we need to increase opportunity and information about careers in property and construction for all young people, not just girls. Women in Property have split our schools outreach into two main areas of effort. Firstly, our own Central Scotland schools outreach programme, where we go into secondary schools to run our own eight week multi-disciplinary programme with pupils in S2 (aged about 13).
Critically this forms part of the maths curriculum before young people make their subject choices for S3. Secondly, encouraging our members to step up and become ambassadors for young people within their organisations. The more information, experience and role models we provide for young people the more likely we are to change the demographic of the built environment sector.
- Sally Mackay