In celebration of International Women’s Day 2020, we spoke with people from around our business to gather insights into the experiences and influence of women in the design industry. From motherhood to diversity to equal pay, they provided their candid input on what changes need to be made to better support women in the workforce.
Raylene McEwan, New Zealand Practice Manager
Grant Withers, Principal
Rachel Herzberg, Client & New Business Lead
Valerie Mack, Interior Design Principal
Marie Giglia, Interior Designer
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
Rachel: I am most proud of managing to retain a certain level of role after 3 rounds of maternity leave in 6 years.
I did feel each time I had to fight a little to still have a voice in the room (especially when pregnant) but on return to work each time, I felt that feeling dissipate.
Valerie: I’m proud to have achieved several leadership positions that have enabled me to follow my passions, help to drive change, and contribute to the growth of our industry.
I’m also proud to be working for a company which employs diverse teams and supports opportunities for all employees to participate in purpose-led activities. This has allowed me to partake in initiatives that aim to make a lasting impact on both social and environmental sustainability.
Raylene: Creating a Christchurch team office culture of loyal and committed people who want to do the best for themselves and Buchan.
What are some of the key challenges facing women in the industry?
Marie: One of the key challenges is the lack of leadership positions held by women in our field, and in turn, a lack of female role models to aspire to and be mentored by. Gender diversity in the workplace is essential, and mixed teams should be evident at every level of a company.
Grant: Ultimately great design is great design, and talent is talent; however after many years in this industry, I have observed that one of the biggest challenges many women may face is simply having their voices heard, respected and valued above all the ‘noise’ and posturing of some pretty big (and loud) personalities that have traditionally dominated in the property industry. I think this dynamic has changed a lot and will continue to improve as the industry puts effort into fostering a more supportive and respectful environment for everyone.
Valerie: One of the most difficult challenges for our broader industry is balancing career and personal life. Particularly for parents who have the juggling act of work deadlines and family time. School holidays or sickness can put incredible pressure on caring for children vs. attending work.
I still hear of companies that have an unconscious positive bias towards single people in the belief that parents will be unreliable. It is important to seek out a company that offers flexibility and control over your working hours, providing you with the right support and team structure to cope with life’s unpredictable moments.
Raylene: Sure, there are plenty of walls, ceilings and downright confrontations placed in front of women in the industry, but it is your mindset that determines how you manage those situations and turn them from a weakness to a strength.
What can we do better to support women in our industry?
Rachel: Talk to them – listen to their experiences and see how we can provide a framework that is modern and forward-thinking because society has changed so drastically.
Often women undertake what were traditionally “male” roles, career paths and also return to work following marriage and children, yet the system hasn’t changed.
We need to work out a way that our policies and traditional working models adapt to suit situations where both parents work. It isn’t just about getting women back to work – it is also about getting men out of work and providing balance, fairness, equality and flexibility for all workers.
Raylene: Role modelling diversity of thought and inclusion is essential in the quest to better support women in our industry. Don’t be afraid to have an opinion! We are not here to change men to think like women, nor do women need to think like men – rather we need to respect and value the viewpoints and learnings from each other.
Marie: Increase the opportunities for progression and promotion for women from the very beginning of their careers, right through to leadership positions. A priority should be placed on vocalising our celebration of women’s work, achieving equal pay and increasing support for mothers.
Valerie: Encourage and support them to join networks that provide connections and mentors who will help on their career journey, such as the Property Council of Australia, NAWIC, Design Institute Australia, and Australian Institute of Architects.
Who is a female role model that has inspired your career?
Grant: Zaha Hadid. As a student, I was inspired by her artwork and her beautifully poetic design process. As an influential Architect and world-renowned personality – fierce, opinionated, brilliantly talented, trailblazer, confident, witty, but above all – desired globally for her brand and unique work.
Rachel: I can 100% say that Emma Ridings of the Gold Coast Buchan studio is one of my role models. Like me, she has 3 kids, she has retained a clear career trajectory and has maintained her sanity and ethos throughout.
Also – Annabel Crabb is a huge influence on me – she writes about this very subject matter but retracts the focus being on women solely and makes it about societal shifts as a whole. Part of the problem with this whole discussion is that it is all so female/gender centric. It shouldn’t be – it should be policy/society/system focused.
Raylene: Women have not inspired me in my career, people who believe in me have, plus I believe that inspiration should not be gender-biased.
I am forever grateful to my 1983 woodwork and technical drawing teacher who convinced my parents I could be better than a pool typist and supported me in dropping typing and cooking classes so I could double up on his. He then audibly shocked the school community the following year by awarding me the technical cup – I was the first female to receive it in 75 years!