Reflecting on her own recent experience of redundancy, one architect is sadly no longer surprised that there are so few registered woman architects.
I have recently come across women in the profession of architecture who have had to draw on their own inner strength, often at the most difficult times in their lives, to continue to work in their chosen profession – the profession in which they have spent at least 10, but more often 15 years to become registered architects.
I was at about that stage, after a few years establishing myself in a Melbourne architecture firm, when my time to have a family arrived. I congratulate myself on our timing, falling pregnant just after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. I, along with a lot of my colleagues, volunteered to reduce my week to four days to ease the financial burden on the company. My maternity leave was good timing too. Things were still slow and I thought, isn’t this great for the firm, I am going on leave (unpaid of course) just when they need me to, and they have an experienced, registered architect still officially on staff who will return when things start to pick up again.
One year later, I returned to the firm and negotiated to return a few days a week as a trial. In that time, I prepared tender submissions and worked on a project that was the product of one these successful submissions. I saw this as a great opportunity to demonstrate my ability to project manage while in a part-time role.
At this time I started being strategic and looked at creating a position in the firm that would enable me to keep contributing my expertise and to manage this with my other role as a mother. I looked after all the marketing enquiries, archived existing publications, managed the website and continued to prepare tender submissions.
I am sure you can guess the next step — pregnancy number two happened slightly quicker than we had imagined and I headed off for maternity leave again. Once again things weren’t thriving in the practice, so it wasn’t such bad timing. This time I didn’t stay away for the whole year, conscious of the extended absences. I returned after half a year, and worked one day a week to continue looking after all those items I had set up prior to leaving. This enabled me to keep contributing as I eased back into my project architect role. Sounds like a plan, right? But then we had another downturn. This time everybody was put on notice. My days, which were then two and heading to three, were cut back to one day a week and, soon afterwards, I was told there was no longer a position for me in the company. I was calm as I was not surprised and I was not alone. A number of us were let go at the same time, half were women; half were men. So that seems fair doesn’t it? Except when you look closer. After the cuts, the firm had no female registered architects on staff (all the women that were let go were registered and mothers). Also, all were working part-time, so we had to go out into the marketplace and try to convince a new employer to hire us part-time; a pitch that is virtually impossible. Even in a recent interview, the director said that if they offered me a permanent position it would be full-time because they had a lot of women in the office.
Anecdotally I seem to have been one of the lucky ones in this situation; I did receive some severance pay, and I was at least told I was no longer required. Many women that go on maternity leave just never come back and a lot of firms are ignorant of the fact that they are still required to officially terminate employment and make any applicable redundancy payments.
I am no longer surprised that there are so few registered female architects in the profession; I am surprised there are any. If I worked in a ‘great firm’ where the directors were ‘family friendly’, how could they fail to see the impact of their decisions? Hopefully though, Parlour can start to turn this around; it can help, through education and exposure, to stop the overt and covert discrimination of women in the profession. A lawyer friend made a great observation for me to the effect that ’just because the business is going through tough times and they have had to make difficult decisions, it doesn’t change the fact that what they are doing is fundamentally unfair.’ If only I had remembered to say this as I left the building.
Editors note: This post is published anonymously to protect the author and the practice.