Room at the Top for Women?

Question – What’s the difference between male and female architects in the way they work? I’ve never been one for banging on about girl power or sisters doing it for themselves, but after a hugely inspiring Women in Architecture Awards ceremony, where we heard from women such as Rachel Whiteread and Benedetta Tagliabue, I found myself shouting ‘Go girl!’.

But back to the question; while reading some research on gender in the workplace, I was struck by a study carried out by Dr Patricia Heim with other 30,000 children. Her research reveals that there is a tencency for boys to learn, through team sport about competing, winning and losing; whereas girls tend to learn through relationship play about sharing, collaboration and avoiding conflict. This results in three key differences between men and women: 1. Goals vs Processes 2. Hierarchies vs Relationships 3. Authority vs Engagement. No prizes for guessing which one’s which.

Now, clear goal setting is fundamental to every business; as a business leader of 80 people, it is essential that I set a clear vision for everyone in the company. But leadership based on hierarchy and authority is, in the 21st Century frankly outdated. If we want to get the best out of people’s talents and skills (particularly millennials), it is through an open and engaged culture. So, if your practice leans towards hierachy, it’s time to ask yourself, can you change the culture, or is it time to get out.

It’s reported that less than 20% of UK practices have women as principle architects; this is not good for the profession, as it is essential that we embrace diverse ways of thinking and approaches to problem-solving. A gender balance in leadership positions is surely a logical progression.

My call to action, therefore is: Women: find out how you can get into more senior roles, either by starting your own practice or progressing to senior partner. Men: embrace the idea of encouraging more women to become partners. The result will be a healthier, more productive and collaborative working environment.

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