For almost 40 years, Hayball has nurtured a practice ethos of equity and inclusivity, but as the company has grown into a large multi-studio practice, the challenge has been to formalise these values into rigorous systems and policies to ensure no team member slips through the gaps.

Hayball is an architectural practice with a strong focus on culture, community and learning. Their user-centred design approach is underpinned by research, ensuring more sustainable outcomes for people and the planet. Working across sectors where people live, work, learn and play, Hayball’s inclusive design processes enable multiple voices to contribute to the vision of new places and spaces.

Hayball prides itself on its progressive and inclusive workplace, and is committed to developing individual careers. The practice has 22 nationalities represented in its team, with diversity extending through to the leadership team. “We have found that over time diversity encourages diversity.” In 2018, the practice joined the Champions of Change Coalition, with participation in the program assisting in formalising gender equity processes in the practice.

The founding Directors of Hayball started the company with a shared belief in creating great architecture, social good and equal opportunity. Whilst there were no policies in place at that time, successive Hayball Directors have continued an ethos of taking direct action to support and promote talented individuals. This ethos has enabled a diverse range of individuals to start their careers at Hayball and progress to Directorship whilst at the same time living their lives and raising their families.”


Where do you position the practice on the WGEA Gender Equality Roadmap?

Level 3 – Strategic

Hayball WGEA

How does the practice understand and define equity?
  1. Having high levels of diversity in our team in terms of gender, age, race and cultural background
  2. Diversity that extends through to our leadership team, providing diverse role models
  3. Fostering a sense of belonging to Hayball
  4. Having a workplace that is recognised by our staff and our community as inclusive and family friendly
  5. Achieving a 40/20/40 gender balance at all levels of our business
  6. Achieving pay equity at all levels of our business
  7. Providing a safe and inclusive workplace for our team
  8. Fostering a place where all people have an equal opportunity to grow and progress in their life and career
  9. Creating places through our work that reflect our equitable values
  10. Being part of an industry that also achieved the same
What workplace culture does the practice aspire to?

Whilst Hayball has been in practice for approaching 40 years, we have grown in the last 10+ years in particular into a larger multi-studio practice, but change is not without its challenges. As we grow, how do we retain the sense of culture that first attracted many of our staff to our company? How do we make sure that many great things that have occurred more organically in the past continue as more people are involved? How do we change our systems and processes to suit large practice so that team members don’t fall through the gaps?

Key tenets of our workplace culture that currently exist are:

  • A shared value set at a leadership level;
  • A one practice approach to culture, leadership and resourcing across three states;
  • A culture that is open to change, allowing research, evidence and creativity to drive our thinking;
  • A commitment to address equity as defined by the success criteria above; and
  • A focus on improving policy that reinforces our values and culture.
Are there aspects that need to change?

Key areas of focus for us over the next period include:

Hayball Ownership

In 2013 we established a plan to diversify ownership in Hayball and achieve 20–25% employee ownership within 10 years. Employee ownership has increased throughout this period and we anticipate achieving this target prior to 2023.

Career Progression + Planning

As part of a prototyping exercise we have:

  • Articulated career progression guidelines;
  • Standardised our method of collecting qualitative feedback; and
  • Moved our annual review process to a customised online portal built around this, so that feedback and goals year on year can be better tracked.

We plan to learn from this, agree changes and roll this approach out nationally in the next period.

Sexual Harassment and Bullying

Implementing strategies to treat sexual harassment and anti-bullying as a workplace safety issue.

Gender equity

We have a particular focus on achieving enhanced equity in the mid to senior levels of the company.

What formal policies and strategies does the practice have in place to increase equity and when were they established?
    • 1. Diversification of ownership – a 10-year plan with targets was established in 2013
      2. Paid parental leave – established + 12 months
      3. Flexible working – established + 12 months
      4. Career progression + planning (prototype phase) – In place for the last 12 months, but building on existing practice in place for an extended period
      5. Mentoring – established + 5 years

Many of the above strategies have existed within the culture of the practice for an extended period; however, they were not all formalised in policy. Whilst we believe that culture is more important than policy, our lack of policy in some areas resulted in a lack of awareness and communication in some instances, and some of our team slipping through the gaps. We are now taking steps to address this.

How are they communicated to staff?

Live communication at a practice level occurs weekly, and communication around Champions of Change policies and strategies to achieve gender equity occurs approximately bi-monthly. We also communicate externally via a range of social media channels. We are aware we can and should do more in relation to this though.

How are these policies assessed, reviewed and developed over time? Have they been modified? What has been learnt?

Many of our policies are newly created to reflect our culture and they have yet to have been adapted. However, we will continue to prototype, test ourselves and improve.

What informal approaches have helped develop the workplace culture?

The founding Directors of Hayball started the company with a shared belief in creating great architecture, social good and equal opportunity. Whilst there were no policies in place at that time, successive Hayball Directors have continued an ethos of taking direct action to support and promote talented individuals. This ethos has enabled a diverse range of individuals to start their careers at Hayball and progress to Directorship whilst at the same time living their lives and raising their families.

What processes have been used to implement change?

While informal partnerships with a number of research-based and community organisations have influenced our practice over an extended period, in 2018 Hayball joined the Champions of Change Program. From that point, our participation in gender equity processes have become more formalised.

Who has led the process and who is involved?

Dave Tordoff, a Hayball Director and Hayball board member, is our nominated Champion of Change. Members of the Hayball board have decision-making power and are supported in strategic leadership by our board of nine Directors. Dave is also responsible to report to the board for the HR portfolio in conjunction with Sarah Buckeridge (Hayball’s co-MD with Tom Jordan). The HR Directors, HR manager, Implementation Leaders and the broader leadership team are all involved in implementing changes to enhance gender equity. Individuals involved in work undertaken as part of the Champions of Change program have a job code, in-kind budget and a portion of time allocated for this work.

What progress has the practice made, how is this tracked and communicated?

Progress is tracked quantitatively and qualitatively via our participation in the Champions of Change program and through other structured methods of capturing feedback (e.g. listening and learning, surveys etc)

Have there been any surprises?

The key surprises have been:

      • how hard this is;
      • the magnitude of the issue;
      • how long this takes;
      • the quantity of the information to absorb and learn from;
      • the difficulty of customising more generic templates and approaches for improvement to your individual values and the context; and
      • how much is involved sometimes to see even the most gradual incremental change.
What challenges has the practice faced in the process of improving equity?

Some improvements and shifts have been instant. We are now seeing male and female parents taking more equitable leave at childbirth. Other shifts take longer, such as achieving equity within all senior roles.

Staff cohorts also shift in mix, size, gender and demographic year on year based on multiple factors, making it hard to see definitive improvement trends between years. Promoting individuals can sometimes result in your aspirations on pay equity going backwards. Promotions can sometimes mean an individual will move from a lower title band with an upper pay level into a higher title band with a pay level that is lower than others in their new title band, due to their experience level. It often feels like you are putting your thumb in the dam wall to plug a hole, but as soon as you see progress, another leak occurs. Hopefully we will continue to see improvement trends over time though.

What effect has the pandemic had on equity initiatives?

I’d say the pandemic has not slowed progress directly, but indirectly it has had an impact.

When there is so much going on, it sometimes can mean new things that you are trying to implement, such as policy or implementation work, can get side-lined. It’s probably the same with work generally. There will always be other things going on that need urgent attention. The key here though is to acknowledge that sometimes this needs to happen, that you should not abandon your long-term work, and you should come back to it as soon as you can.

Did existing policies, processes and cultures help the practice weather the pandemic?

Yes, existing policies helped, particularly our flex working policy, which was in draft at the time and helped us to adapt quickly to the changing working conditions.

What key lessons or tips can you offer others?

It’s important to address gender equity holistically, from as many aspects as possible, including:

      1. Further your understanding of the problems associated with gender inequity inherent in many industries like architecture.
      2. Listen to your community, peers and colleagues.
      3. Understand that the required solutions are complex, multi-faceted, complex and take time.
      4. Come together with your industry to improve things; it’s an industry-wide problem and you can have the biggest impact by collaborating with your peers.
      5. Agree and articulate your cultural aspirations and vision to address this.
      6. Set targets.
      7. Complete quantitative reporting.
      8. Create and implement policy around a range of areas known to help change.
      9. Seek quantitative and qualitative feedback, and improve iteratively.
      10. Most important though is to take action when any of the above identify a need.

Practice size: Approximately 120

Ownership model: Hayball ownership is by shares. Ownership of shares is limited to Directors or employees only. Individual shares can be purchased by Directors and Principals or allocated by the Board to any employee without cost to the individual. Currently approximately 20% of Hayball employees by number are business owners and we have targets to continually increase this. We see our ownership structure, approach to succession planning and ownership divestment as one of our key enablers for enhanced diversity and equity. The structure provides a very gradual incremental process towards increased ownership. Other ownership models can be very costly and limit many demographics of people from being able to take this on.

Location: We have studios in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

Demographics: We speak 17 languages and represent 22 nationalities, with our diversity extending through to our leadership team. We have found that over time diversity encourages diversity. Hayball is well represented at all levels of the business in terms of diversity and gender equity; however, there is more work to do. Whilst for example we have a gender equal co-MD role (shared between Sarah Buckeridge and Tom Jordan), 30% female representation on our board and an overall gender balance, we are particularly focused on improving our gender balance within the mid to senior level.

Sectors and types of work: We have a highly diverse portfolio with a mix of project scales and typologies across the following sectors: public, community, residential, mixed use, education, commercial, workplace, student accommodation, social housing, retail, hospitality, interiors, urban design.