The only way to redress the serious imbalance among the Institute Fellowship is for eligible women to put their hand up. Vanessa Bird outlines the latest gender equity initiatives of the Institute and calls for women to self-nominate.

 

_VB sitting

You don’t have to be a Bloke to be a Fellow.

In academia, a fellow is a member of a group of learned people who work together as peers in the pursuit of mutual knowledge or practice.

The Australian Institute of Architects has significantly fewer women Fellows and Life Fellows. Indeed, less than 10% of Fellows are women. We were made acutely aware of the imbalance thanks to Dr Gill Matthewson’s research, undertaken as part of her PhD ‘Dimensions of Gender’ at the University of Queensland. The Institute is actively working to increase its representation of women across all areas, and increasing the number of women Fellows is an important imbalance that is also relatively easy to correct.

At a recent Victorian Chapter Honours Committee meeting, many women members were identified as eligible for elevation to Fellow of the Institute. The Honours Committee identifies members for Civil Honours, Gold Medal nominations, Honorary membership, Life Fellows and Fellows. With a focus on feeding the pipeline, the committee has identified and written to a group of eligible Victorian women members to nominate as Fellows.

If you receive one such letter, please nominate yourself! Rest assured, the men do. Some of you will have received a similar letter up to four times. This time please take the time to reply as part of a group push.

To be eligible, you need to have 12 years of corporate membership and have made a significant contribution to the profession. Nominations then go to Chapter Council for ratification. The council looks at the body of work and a contribution to architecture beyond paid work, for example: sitting on awards juries or committees, mentoring, giving talks, working with not-for-profits, engagement with the universities or in your community. Life Fellows are approved by National Council.

Since announcing its Gender Equity Policy in 2013, the Institute has also actively sought to correct the under-representation of women in senior positions within its own organisation. The commitment is real. The Institute’s ‘top down’ approach to gender balance has seen the appointment this year of new CEO, Jennifer Cunich, and in the change of its constitution to mandate a minimum of three women members on a new smaller board of directors, after accepting counsel from its National Committee for Gender Equity. Currently National Council has five women members – Sue Dugdale, Helen Lochhead, Clare Cousins, Ksenia Totoeva and myself.

The Victorian Chapter Council has gender balance plus one in favour of women. It has balance on all Chapter committees, and is working to achieve gender equity on awards juries (there are three people on each jury). For some years Victorian Chapter Manager, Alison Cleary, has promoted changes to committees and juries with past presidents Peter Malatt and Jon Clements. Shaun Carter, NSW President, told me recently that the Champions of Change meeting at Cox Architecture with MCC CEO Elizabeth Broderick was possibly his most important meeting of the year. He says this is the most significant initiative of his Presidency, and in terms of real change for the profession, perhaps of the last decade. He stresses that the process needs to continue for some time before we can achieve true gender equity in the profession. Despite this progess, women remain under-represented in situations that call for self-nomination and this results in women being under-represented as both Fellows and Life Fellows.

So, please nominate yourself as a Fellow. We will then have more women to call on as Life Fellows and Senior Councillors. Next year the Institute will directly invite Fellows to be mentors in the 2017 Constructive Mentoring Program, sponsored by AWS, and more women are needed on this list. The mentees in the program are exclusively women.

The Department of Planning is requesting a list of women architects to be included on government boards, and we will be providing our list of women Fellows and Life Fellows as a way to identify qualified women to take on these roles.

We are all aware of the negative impacts of a lack of qualifications for women. Not being registered tends to restrict women’s opportunity for promotion and to progress into positions of influence and seniority. Research in other fields points to formal qualifications mattering more for women’s career advancement than they do for men.1 So, boost your post nominal by an extra letter. It won’t cost you any more. Fellowship is not only for the fellas.


Vanessa Bird, FRAIA, is the Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter President and co-founder of Bird de la Coeur Architects. She is an experienced juror and is involved with course accreditation for the universities. Vanessa has won awards for group housing and housing for retirees, including the Victorian Coastal Award for Excellence, the State Government’s Highest Award.

  1.  Gill Matthewson provides the following reference: Deborah A. O’Neil, Margaret M. Hopkins, and Diana Bilimoria, “Women’s Careers at the Start of the 21st Century: Patterns and Paradoxes,” Journal of Business Ethics 80, no. 4 (2008): 733.