As I write this article at 8:20pm on a Wednesday night, I am doing 4 things somehow simultaneously. Bathing child 1 whilst helping out with homework for child 2. Briefing a team on instructions for drawings to be upgraded and making school lunches for the next day. Don’t ask me how it’s happening all at once – it just is. By 9:30pm all is done, the kids are washed and in bed and drawings have been issued on Aconex.
In my 13 year career in architecture I always had some type of ingrained fear that things would change once I had children. Maybe it was because I had directors in the past who blatantly said to me “Your career will die once you have children,” or “Do everything you want to do in your career now before you have kids.” No wonder I was afraid. Not to mention that I saw other females ahead of me that would come back to the industry after taking maternity leave and they would be assigned mundane, non-interesting tasks. Tasks that were way below their ability or years of experience. Talented, capable, experienced females who would be sat in a corner and given no autonomy because they weren’t able to do the architectural graveyard shifts that would be expected of them.
Discrimination comes in all forms. It can appear in exclusion to industry events by your peers, pay inequality, unconscious bias or retrenchment when you announce you are 4 months pregnant.
So in a sense, that ingrained fear was to be validated and not completely incorrect. But I have been and will continue to be determined to change it. The decision to have children or not have children is a personal one that the employer has no right to decide or influence. Because looking at my two beautiful daughters , they should be moving into a generation whereby having children does not have to be a hindrance to their careers. I have learnt a lot from being a mum that has helped me in the workplace. I learnt to take a step back, assess and think clearly in the middle of chaos. The many nights of no sleep for years and still function makes me feel I can do anything.
At Ridley I have been given this autonomy. I used to say that I’m lucky to have found an employer that gives such opportunities for mums, but in reality this should not be something to be fortunate about. It should be the industry standard. But unfortunately in today’s world, it is not. At Ridley I’ve been given some great opportunities and I can see a path for me to grow. In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve been promoted twice and have been offered the ‘good jobs.’ When I leave at 5:30pm on the dot of a day, I don’t get the ‘look’ or a roll of the eyes. I get acceptance and genuine understanding. When I have to take time off to look after a sick child it’s not a problem. If I need to work from home, I can.
Ridley have created a family friendly work place and it works. Instead of being scared of the family, they have embraced it. Anyone’s career should never have to be a choice between family and career – it’s just plain lazy.
Some tips to advocate societal change in business:
- Do not accept discrimination on the basis of being a woman. Women should be able to choose what they want to do and be judged on their performance. Accept that other females make different life choices. Reach the upper levels and change it. If you are at board level and clearly see that there is a pay gap between a female and male employee for the same skill level and role, speak up and force correction.
- Architecture is a creative, innovative industry with archaic work practices. Architects pride themselves on innovation however when it comes to working we still do the 9-5 sitting at the desk system from the 1950s. Work environments need to be creative. We live in the digital age and have the ability to really utilise virtual technology. Have a look at resourcing in the work program and factor in the needs of working parents and carers. In Sydney especially the climate has changed and both parents must work now. Rather than thinking about the work you need to do, think about HOW you do it and challenge it. Digital tools can assist in streamlining this.
- Offer flexibility. This should not be limited to mothers but also to a wider gamut of types at different stages of their life. Dads should also be offered part time work. Those who are carers for sick parents should be able to work and take their loved ones to appointments . Older employees who have a great depth knowledge should be able to work 4 days and spend 1 day with their grandchildren. Someone who wants to partake in post graduate study should be able to work and study at the same time.
- Offer childcare at work. This is probably the number 1 problem most parents face. Too often you hear ‘I would work, but because childcare is so expensive it’s not worth working financially.’
- Consider that the next person is different with different needs. Don’t dismiss and judge a person according to their situation. Whether women choose to have children or not, they should never be made to feel guilty or an inconvenience to an organisation.
So in the spirit of International Women’s Day, let’s think about a way to challenge the tired old ways and keep these talented women. It can work successfully and when it does everyone benefits. Let’s look to the examples that work for everybody because at the end of the day a more inclusive workforce has positive effects to a business. A win all round.
We can do better.