Only 3% of women in the built environment feel that the industry is tackling gender equity well, but getting results may be better achieved by shifting the focus away from women.
Ahead of International Women’s Day Architecture, Engineering and Construction (A/E/C) think tank the Design Futures Council conducted research on the status of women in the industry. The findings highlight nothing new, respondents overwhelmingly feel that, while other industries are progressing with diversity initiatives the A/E/C is lagging behind. This begs the question; how do we turn this around?
Alexia Lidas, is the Managing Director of Design Futures Council and Metis Advisory and CPD, and says that the research results are representative of her experience in the industry.
“Although I am Managing Director of two businesses in the built environment, both males and females commonly assume that I’m the assistant of the male consultants working for me. I do have a laugh about it, but there is a disappointing undercurrent to this assumption that I choose to ignore.”
“Interestingly this experience has been echoed by the participants in my research. The top challenge faced by respondents is an assumption that they lack skills, followed closely by being overlooked for senior roles,” said Lidas.
Research participants range from C-Suite to graduates, who worked across a broad range of industry sub-sectors such as engineering, architecture, interior design, product design, product manufacture, property development, specialist A/E/C legal advisors, marketers, strategists and more.
The pressing case for diversity is real, and business leaders are paying attention. Other industries are successfully broadening the conversation to include other minority groups such as LGBTIQ, disability, race and Indigenous Australians, thus creating workplaces which strive to be welcoming for all.
In the built environment however, this is not the case. The research revealed that women are not happy with the industry’s attempts at creating welcoming and equitable workplaces for women.
- Only 3% of respondents feel the industry are approaching diversity well
- 33% believe that the industry is behind
- 18% believe the industry is doing an “okay” job, but “not great”
- 46% were not sure how the industry stood compared to others
Women in construction do not feel that they are adequately acknowledged and the results indicate that they are not ready to shift the spotlight away – just yet. When asked if they preferred women in construction events were adjusted to achieving equality for those who identify as LGBTIQ, disabled, Indigenous Australians and others, only 24% agreed.
“The research indicates that women do not feel heard and adequately supported in the industry. 55% responded to say they enjoy events for women in construction and that they would gladly attend more,” said Lidas.
Leadership expert Isabelle Phillips of consultancy Mackerel Sky – Leadership Matters and Mindfulness for the Global Village says that this may be a counterproductive approach.
“Achieving a workplace where the real talent of high achieving women can be acknowledged is counter-intuitive. We need to do more than just focus on women. Paradoxically, this approach will always position women as ‘the other’ and that feeds the existing unconscious bias in all our brains. We need to create truly diverse workforces to cut through the bias in our ‘savannah brains’.”
Isabelle explains that, the bad news is, in our high tech, hyper-connected world we continue to select leaders based on survival on the savannah, such as height. Yes, height is a significant predictor of gaining a leadership role. While there is no silver bullet to solving this problem, there is a better pathway to success.
“Are you a high-achieving woman? Start inviting people with a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, people with disabilities, LGBTI people and others into your organisation. Then you may find that getting that next promotion in a mix such as this, is not so radical as being the only applicant who is not a ‘cardboard cut-out,” said Phillips.
“The research has some powerful statements and actionable insight for leaders. I feel privileged to have received such honest responses to the survey, and I am looking forward to releasing the report,” said Lidas.
Results from this research will be released shortly in a report featuring the insight of leadership expert Isabelle Phillips and AEC policy advisor/ researcher Alexia Lidas. This will be the second project the pair have undertaken together. In 2017 along with Charlotta Oberg, they developed a framework for belonging which will also be released later this year. Click here to receive either of these reports when they are released.
Isabelle and Alexia share their top tips for workplaces aspiring to create an equitable culture for women:
- Broaden the inspiration behind diversity programmes – look for model programs outside of the A/E/C
- Don’t focus on women – bring other groups into these strategies, strive towards equality for all.
- Empower all of your staff to meaningfully contribute to the diversity aspirations of the company
- Ask yourself what markets are you moving into, what supply chain and distribution channels could you engage with better, what consumer base are you seeking to represent? This can create a meaningful link to the low hanging fruit of your business strategy and your diversity goals. Make it meaningful.