Street Furniture Australia invited nine women who work in landscaping, each at different stages of life and career, to an International Women’s Day round table and lunch to discuss this year’s theme, #EachForEqual.
Special guest Linda Corkery, Professor of Landscape Architecture at UNSW, codirector of Corkery Consulting and former AILA National President, led the discussion supported by June Lee Boxsell, Head of Marketing and Innovation at Street Furniture Australia.
They were joined by Esther Dickins (Scott Carver), Miriam Enoch (DesignInc), Ranine Hamed (City of Parramatta), Elisabeth Lester (Context), Faid Mazin (AILA Fresh NSW) and Isabel Sanders (Aspect Studios), Emma Washington (City of Sydney) and Tanya Wood (TWLA).
The 2020 theme is drawn from a notion of ‘Collective Individualism’ – that we are all parts of a whole and our individual actions, conversations, behaviours and mindsets can impact our larger society.
A range of issues emerged during the conversation.
The landscape architecture students at the table said the majority of their university cohorts are female. However, the general consensus was that leadership and more senior roles are still mostly occupied by men.
This is in line with findings from the AILA Gender Equity Report (2019), which found that “women’s participation rates still lag behind their graduation rates”.
Some of the women had seen the gender pay gap during their careers, particularly in years after the GFC when junior staff were able to advance more rapidly. For parents, there were concerns about missing out on advancement during maternity leave.
“Landscape architects should be vigilant around equal pay and equal opportunity – women may experience both overt sexual discrimination and unconscious bias in terms of who gets what projects, who gets to go to that meeting, whose work is celebrated,” said Linda.
AILA has created a Gender Equity Working Group to address 35 recommendations from the Gender Equity report, to be actioned over three years. The team is developing a Gender Equity Policy.
The women said that change is also needed in the development and construction industries, which can affect a landscape architect’s success. They often had to back themselves in meetings and deploy communication strategies for design and business discussions, they said.
“Bias is unconsciously practised until it is disrupted. We have to lean in, step up, and reach out – be clear and set principles before you start to negotiate,” said Linda. “This is an ongoing process. I think it’s like sustainability, you just keep working towards it and the goalposts constantly shift.”
Flexible working arrangements were an area of focus for many parents in the room. A culture shift towards this way of working is happening at Scott Carver, said Esther Dickins, director, with the management team leading the way.
“Our office is fairly balanced with people on both flexible working arrangements and standard full-time hours – at times it has been as equal as 50-50, with women and men taking time off to look after their families,” she said.
“This comes from our leadership team – most of us have young children and want to prioritise them. That has made the biggest difference recently in acceptance of flexibility in our practice – when other people are doing it, understanding within the organisation broadens. The speed of that change is really exciting and inspiring.
“We also encourage people in our practice to never apologise for the fact that they’re on flexible working hours. You shouldn’t expect to be paid less for the work you do.”
Studying other disciplines had been valuable to some of the women in enhancing their understanding of language and perspective (particularly with architecture), activism and communication (fine arts), and achieving their career goals (environmental law).
Sometimes this informed their current landscape architecture practice, led to new opportunities and career pathways, or made them potentially more interesting to prospective employers.
Emma Washington, landscape architect with the City of Sydney, completed a degree in environmental law to gain a greater understanding of the policy context of her work.
“There are so many crucial issues in environmental law that impact our work. I wanted to better understand the legislation and policy. If the policy context is flawed it can stymie good design rather than facilitate it,” she said.
The desire to make a positive impact on the environment through their work was a common goal. This could involve wearing their heart on their sleeve and potentially sacrificing work by refusing jobs that do not match their values.
For others it could be about small wins, implementing biodiversity or resource-saving measures under the radar, or attempting to lead reluctant clients to a more environmentally responsible solution.
“It was confronting to have the state of the environment presented to us in each module of my environmental law degree. Climate action has now become my focus. Focusing on anything else doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t look away. I encourage us all to speak up, pay attention and work for change,” said Emma.
WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP
Female role models – in academia, practice mentors and leaders, executive coaching and the wider industry – inspired many of the women.
“I’m always empowered by seeing other women in leadership roles,” said Elisabeth Lester, landscape architect with Context. “This year two women have won the Pritzker Prize, one of the highest architecture accolades. Only three other women have won that prize and it’s been running for 41 years. It’s motivating to see women recognised in our industry and it’s exciting.”
Experiencing different management styles was also important.
“One of my early role models was a practice director. She was the only female director and struggled for a long time trying to fit the status quo and behave like the male directors. She reached a turning point where she decided to lead in a way that felt most comfortable to her, to offer a difference of opinion. To have her share that with me at a young age was instrumental in me feeling comfortable in the way that I work. I take a team-based approach, where I encourage people to open up and collaborate,” said Esther.
Emma added, “The perceived easy way forward could be to try to match the behaviour of the leaders and mentors around you – usually men. That’s not necessarily where our strengths lie, and there are so many potential benefits in that difference. You have to lead by example and be quite visible.”
Executive coaching was seen as a valuable step along career pathways to leadership.
“Executive coaching is an opportunity to reflect on your goals. What kind of career are you building, what are you trying to achieve, what are your values? Reviewing how people regard you, how you come across to others, can be part of that. Being a role model is important, to inspire others to achieve what’s visible,” said Linda.
As an AILA partner, Street Furniture Australia was delighted to support the landscape architecture profession through such an enjoyable, engaging and insightful event. Based on the positive feedback, the company hopes to do it again next year.
Here’s to strong women.
May we know them.
May we be them.
May we raise them.