Over the course of 2015, architecture practice Atelier Red+Black established a trial mentorship program for women in their final year of university studies. There were a few reasons for initiating this program – including a desire to give back to the profession and also pay forward the guidance we are receiving from our own mentors. Ultimately the purpose of the program was to address, even in a small way, a problem well articulated by Dr. Karen Burns on the Parlour website.
“Approximately 40 percent of women architectural graduates are not entering or being retained long-term in the industry. Surprisingly women begin to leave very early, including straight after finishing university, where their industry participation rate is 1–2 percentage points lower than graduation numbers”
- Give the students a ‘real world’ understanding of the architecture profession.
- Highlight the importance of registration and a longer term career strategy.
- Facilitate an expansion of their professional network through events and social media.
- Provide general support and advice during the transition from university student to practicing professional.
The program consisted of three group sessions and three individual sessions. The topics covered in the 2 hour long group sessions were
- Communication skills + Social Media
- Introduction to the Planning + Building regulatory framework
- Employment + Career planning
These sessions were complemented with three individual mentoring sessions, the final of which was a practice job interview.
Selecting the participants
The program was advertised entirely via online media. The Victorian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects assisted greatly in this through their student group SONA (Student Organised Network of Architects). This enabled the program to be advertised on the Facebook pages of all four Victorian architecture schools.
There were 21 applications for the program, however we noted these were primarily from two of the universities – Deakin University and the University of Melbourne. The applicants were asked to complete a short online survey- style application form. They were asked if they had worked previously in an architecture practice and also why they wanted to be a part of the program. The answers to these two questions were the key selection criteria. Those who had less Australian work experience were given priority, as we felt they had more to gain from the program.
Six mentees were chosen for the program which allowed a ratio of 3 students per mentor.
The first task given to the students was to set up professional social media accounts. The benefit to the students in undertaking this is in a broadening of their network, gaining a greater awareness of what is happening in the profession, as well as being presented with greater employment opportunities. Instagram in particular is becoming the platform of choice for small and medium size firms to advertise job positions. Whilst initially sceptical, many of the mentees later commented that they found the social media advice to be one of the most useful aspects of the program.
Another project given to the students was a written assignment. The mentees were asked to write a piece for an online publication on the topic of their choice. The objective here was to facilitate engagement with an architectural issue, whilst simultaneously increasing their exposure as a soon-to-be graduate of architecture.
Whilst the social media task was highly successful, the writing task was not. Perhaps it was due to the fact that final year architecture students are already giving their 100% towards university studies. Also we had no way to enforce deadlines. On the other hand several of the mentees did take up the option to write reviews of the Melbourne Open House for The Red + Black Architect. Take a look at their efforts here and here.
The Second lesson was not to attempt to schedule anything from September to November. Although we had asked well in advance, this is clearly too difficult a time to expect a 100% attendance rate. Consequently we will be adjusting the program schedule for this years program.
Perhaps the most unexpected lesson was that there are also substantial benefits to the mentors. In undertaking the practice job interviews we were able to formulate our own views about what we would value in a potential employee. This program also enforced reflection about our own paths in architecture and future goals. Finally we also got to know six fantastic, hardworking and ambitious individuals whom we hope dearly will go on to achieve great things in the world of architecture.
What were the most useful parts of the program?
Firstly, making us aware of how social media can benefit in engaging with the architecture profession and in growing one’s network. Secondly the practice interview and reviewing our CVs and folios. Finally the encouragement, motivation and time given by both mentors was extremely valuable.
Atelier Red+Black 2015 mentee
As an undergrad, I found the interview really helpful as it taught me how to approach interview questions with ease and confidence.
Atelier Red+Black 2015 mentee
You have not only enlightened me in what it takes to be an architect, but most importantly you have helped me discover myself. I remember during one of our group sessions, you asked us “Where do you see yourself 30 years from now?” it has struck me since then, and it made me aware of how oblivious I was on what I wanted to do afterwards.
Atelier Red+Black 2015 mentee
Call to action
If you are an architect reading this, we would encourage that you take up the opportunity to undertake a similar program in your practice. It only takes around 20 hours across the working year and is immensely rewarding and beneficial for both the mentee and mentor. Ideally we would like to see many of these type of programs established across Australia – such that collectively we can start making a meaningful impact into the 40% of women graduates who leave the profession.
If you would like further advice in setting up such a program please get in touch.
There is now also a Preparing for Practice Mentorship Program website which can be found here
Progress of the program can be followed on Instagram and Twitter under the hashtag #ateliermentorship
Architecture is for Everyone.