The speakers explained in turn, how they got to where they are today, what challenges they encountered on their way and what advice they would give to the next generation of women (and men), starting their career in the Construction industry. From different backgrounds, town planner, engineer, architect in the residential sector and transport architect, the speakers gave an in depth insight into their daily challenges at work, as professionals and as parents.
Victoria shared what she called the “leaving syndrome” related to her experience of being pregnant in the office, recounting how people were acting as if she was already gone when she was still working and wanting to make a contribution.
Sharon, whose career started in a very male-dominated factory environment, talked about the inadequate changing facilities and absence of female toilets at the factory. She also described the feeling of guilt she often had as a mother of three, for leaving work early despite the fact that she was doing the best job she could and putting a lot of effort into it – regularly logging on to her computer to work after the kids were in bed.
Kaye, mother of one, explained how she encountered many “angry men in Wellington boots” during her years of site experience, but that she wouldn’t change anything and that as hard as it can be, site experience makes for better architects : “Being an architect is not just about being able to design, it is about being able to deliver a project”.
Eugene, who became a dad six months ago and is now taking three months of shared parental leave, confessed that having a daughter heightened his awareness of the everyday gender stereotypes in our society.
All the speakers shared their top tips and ideas to promote equality within the industry:
- Keep your network as diverse as possible, demographically, and politically. Challenge yourself outside of your comfort zone
- We shouldn’t try to flood the industry with women but change the relationships between men and women at work and be more collaborative rather than combative.
- We should be valued for our professional contribution to the industry and there should be ‘engineers’, not ‘female & male engineers’.
- Referring to the shocking fact that only 2% of eligible men have taken up shared parental leave since its introduction: the only way to change that is to close the gender pay gap and make sure the policy is actively promoted by businesses.
References were made to a number of initiatives and organisations supporting women and promoting gender equality, including the STEMettes, encouraging young girls to take STEM subjects, the “Take it or lose it” Scandinavian Parental Leave system, and the WICE awards, awarding women in the construction industry.
This year’s campaign theme #PressforProgress seemed really appropriate on the 100th anniversary of votes for women. This was highlighted during the conclusion of the debate which raised new issues and the risk that positive discrimination could work against the decades of progress for gender equality. Some provoking thoughts emerged from the audience on that ground: “Complacency is the new enemy to close the extra gap”, and “this is right, we have come so far, we can’t just settle here and close our eyes to the recent statistics published earlier this week in the AJ, we need to keep pressing for progress”.