Greater diversity at board level = profitability?

RIBA Journal Q & A session with Caroline Cole:

So are you looking to stage a boardroom coup?

Not exactly! The Equilibrium Network is cross disciplinary; architects, engineers, landscape architects, contractors, academics and clients. With everyone moaning about the lack of female representation at senior level, we asked ‘does it actually matter?’ We assembled some female big industry achievers to tell their stories and decided ‘yes it does’.

So you came to the obvious conclusion?

Actually, we concluded it wasn’t just about gender but diversity at executive level and not just about helping women but helping business to do better. At junior level it’s a 50/50 gender mix in architecture but at senior level it’s 11% – and worse in engineering. We want to find ways to help organisations be more diverse, by not being hellraising and confrontational but business-like.

How do you nudge people in the right direction?

We need to do more research to prove diversity helps in business as there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence. Studies from other sectors show it has a positive effect on the bottom line and profitability seems the best way to drive change.

Yes, more senior women would lead to a better workplace but can that counter the long hours work culture that gets passed down?

So the abused becomes the abuser?! Yes, office culture is important but the issue’s much wider than that. For the built environment industry, whose output affects how society interacts, there’s a compelling argument that greater diversity at executive level would lead to better design outcomes for everyone. But proving it is the key!

So you don’t feel the industry is changing of its own accord?

There’s a sense now that gender is actively discussed by larger organisations, which is encouraging. There aren’t many more women are in senior positions now than when I was starting out, and that’s problematic. The network wants to use its experience to analyse why some women’s careers flourish more than others.

And career-breaks for child-rearing isn’t an issue?

No, I would say it’s more about pay. If you’re in a profession that tolerates low pay you can’t afford child care. That has nothing to do with being a woman: the issue applies to both parents and is a financial one.

So where to from here?

We’ve launched the website and we’re expanding the network through personal invitations to both men and women to join as mentors. We ask members to give three days a year to be a role model for diversity and advocate the business benefits of gender balance. Our first event is in September to set the agenda for the coming year.

For the full article see here


Women in Architecture: what’s holding us back?

Equilibrium Steering Group member, KIRSTEN LEES, has sent us this note about a fascinating event that was held at Grimshaw last week.


It was great to see so many attendees at our recent WIA panel event: Women in Architecture: What’s holding us back?

Thanks to Caroline Cole, Barbara Lane and Rachel Short for joining me in what proved to be a thought-provoking and invigorating evening. It was also great to see so many male colleagues; as Rachel suggested, somewhat controversially, there were three categories of men – and these were the good guys (!) i Thanks to Caroline Cole, Barbara Lane and Rachel Short for joining me in what proved to be a thought-provoking and invigorating evening. It was also great to see so many male colleagues; as Rachel suggested, somewhat controversially, there were three categories of men – and these were the good guys (!) interested in the debate, and keen to affect change. If there were any second-category dinosaurs they definitely remained well hidden in the undergrowth. The third category – the silent bystanders that make up the majority – were keeping mute.

I would argue however that the majority of men within our industry are ‘good guys’ I challenge you to find any male who doesn’t actively believe that women have a place in architecture, and who fully support efforts to make the situation better. The question is whether they all fall back to the ‘customary’ role of being silent bystanders when the everyday pressures of work resume? But aren’t we all guilty of this? How many women remain actively involved throughout the year? It is a shame that the pattern each year seems to repeat itself where there is a flurry of activity around the annual AR WIA survey, the WIA Awards and International Women’s Day before we all get consumed again by the pressures of doing our job. Perhaps this is why each one of us on the panel responded with variations on the same theme to the question from the floor, ‘What is the single most important thing that will improve the situation?’ “Keep it on the agenda” was the resounding response.

I for one have seen the difference it has made at Grimshaw this last year where we have quietly included gender balance every time we talk amongst the partners about promotions, project opportunities and recruitment. We have introduced a number of simple measures into our standard procedures that have, even in a relatively short space of time, started to make a real difference. This is why the Equilibrium Network is so important, in that it allows us to reach a wide range of organisations and ensure that the goal of reaching gender balance at all levels, and in particular around the board room table, is kept firmly at the top of the agenda. We know it makes a difference.

Gender inequality in academia

Equilibrium Steering Group member, ALICE MONCASTER, has alerted us to the fact that within academia, the UK research councils have also identified gender inequality as a key issue.

STEM departments (including Engineering and Construction and in many cases Architecture) are encouraged to sign up to the Athena Swan charter, and most are taking this very seriously; please see: 

for the work we are doing at Cambridge Engineering Department towards our Silver Award application.

This is important not just for women working in academia but for the ‘pipeline’ into the construction industry – the current attrition rate of students who take construction-related degrees but decide it isn’t for them and go to work in a different field, is currently far higher for women than for men. I really hope that the work we are doing with Athena Swan will encourage more women to stay in the technical fields they have chosen.