Turning the ship around

2017 marks five years of substantial and sustained cultural change within the Australian Architecture profession. On this International Women’s Day it is timely to reflect on how far we have come towards a diverse profession, as well as how far we have still to go.

In May 2012 the website Parlour: Women, Equity Architecture burst onto the scene. Armed with a potent mix of rigorous scientific data and digital media savvy, it demanded attention from all levels of architectural practice. It could no longer be argued that architecture didn’t have a gender problem, all that was left was to figure out what to do about it.

“It is a debunking project in that it is trying to show the realities of everyday life at work in architecture, not necessarily the kind of glamourous public image, but at the same time there is a lot idiosyncrasy and pleasure, fun and sense of community that happens in architecture where everyone is working together on a common project and really committed. You can see that in the images of people and also workplaces and the minutiae of everyday life of women in architecture” Dr. Naomi Stead
(Photo Phuong Le, from Portraits of Practice Exhibition by Parlour)


In 2013 Parlour hosted perhaps its most pivotal event to date, Transform: Altering the Future of Architecture. The central question of this full day seminar was: If architecture were more inclusive would it also be in a stronger position? This broad ranging question intentionally made diversity everyone’s business.

Transform was also the debut of what eventually became the Parlour Guides for Equitable Practice. This award winning and internationally significant publication takes individuals and practices through the major causes and resolutions of inequality in architecture.  These guides have had such an impact, that the American Institute of Architects is now beginning to look at producing a similar set of guides for their own members.

Perhaps change over the last five years has been most notable in the Australian Institute of Architects itself. In 2013 the Institute announced its new Gender Equity Policy and a National Committee for Gender Equity. This triggered a raft of changes within the AIA, some subtle, others more obvious. There have been CPD events, media interviews, policy reviews and a new national award: the Paula Whitman Leadership in Gender Equity Prize. This award was presented for the first time two weeks ago to Catherine Baudet, who has been advocating strongly and effectively for gender equity for well over 30 years.

The Institute has also undergone a substantial change of leadership. From May 2016 Jenifer Cunich, the Institutes first female CEO has been at the helm. Supporting her is a new board of directors, which will at all times have a minimum of three men and three women to ensure gender diversity.

There is a familiar saying that ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’. Looking across the key positions in 2017 it is clear that regardless of your gender you could be anything from the State Government Architect, to the CEO (or board-member) of the AIA or the Registrar of the ARBV.  This is a substantial difference to just five years ago.

So after five years of substantial change, where are we now at? Have we turned the ship around? It would certainly seem that there is more awareness within the profession of ethical work practices and gender equity issues. Parlour has also reported an increase in the numbers of women registering as architects. Between 2012 and 2014 there was a 16% increase in the number of female registered architects, bringing the percentage of female registered architects in Australia from 20.5% to 22.2%. (source). These percentages identify two aspects to the progress so far. Firstly that things are going in the right direction, but secondly that there is a long way still to go, given that universities graduate similar numbers of men and women.

Dr Naomi Stead and Justine Clark from Parlour

In 2017 it is also clear that there is substantial and growing interest in all manner of social justice issues within the architecture profession. Earlier this week at Process, the monthly forum aimed at graduates and students of architecture, over 200 people turned out to hear an all-star panel of women discuss gender equity, diversity within the profession. After five years of active discussions within various architecture forums, there is no sign of ‘issue fatigue’.

What these discussions are revealing however is the huge next hurdle that awaits us, cultural diversity. Without in any way slowing down, or diverting from tackling gender inequity, it is being understood that we have to start taking on this issue. As Parlour has shown us already, step one is to get the data.


“There has never been a more exciting time to be an architect”

Dr Karen Burns


Architecture is for everyone


About Michael Smith

Architect and Director of Atelier Red + Black based in Melbourne, Australia
This entry was posted in all posts, Gender Equity in Architecture. Bookmark the permalink.

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