Melbourne-based Atelier Red+Black’s mentoring program gives ‘real world’ insights and practical advice to female final-year students. Michael Smith and Sonia Sarangi outline the benefits for both mentees and mentors.
The Preparing for Practice Mentorship Program, initiated in 2015 by Atelier Red+Black, offers mentoring to female architecture students in their final year of study. The program provides the selected mentees with a ‘real world’ insight into the architecture profession and guidance through their transition from university into professional practice. Reasons for initiating this program included a desire to give back to the profession and also pay forward the guidance we receive from our own mentors. The ultimate purpose of the program was to address, even in a small way, a problem well articulated by Dr. Karen Burns in Why do women leave? on the Parlour website.
Approximately 40 percent of women architectural graduates are not entering or being retained long-term in the industry. Surprisingly women begin to leave very early, including straight after finishing university, where their industry participation rate is 1–2 percentage points lower than graduation numbers.
With this program we wanted to highlight the importance of registration and a longer-term career strategy; facilitate an expansion of the students’ professional network through events and social media; and to provide general support and advice during the transition from university student to practising professional.
After an online application process, six mentees were chosen for the program in 2015, which allowed a ratio of three students per mentor. The program consisted of three two-hour group sessions and three individual sessions covering topics such as communication skills and social media, an introduction to the planning and building regulatory framework, and employment and career planning. These sessions were complemented with three individual mentoring sessions, the final of which was a practice job interview. A couple of set tasks were given to reinforce the lessons learned in the mentoring sessions.
At the program’s conclusion, mentees were asked to identify the most useful parts of the program:
Firstly, making us aware of how social media can benefit in engaging with the architecture profession and in growing one’s network. Secondly, the practice interview and reviewing our CVs and folios. Finally, the encouragement, motivation and time given by both mentors was extremely valuable.
As an undergrad, I found the interview really helpful as it taught me how to approach interview questions with ease and confidence.
You have not only enlightened me in what it takes to be an architect, but most importantly you have helped me discover myself. I remember during one of our group sessions, you asked us, “Where do you see yourself 30 years from now?” It has struck me since then, and it made me aware of how oblivious I was on what I wanted to do afterwards.
Perhaps the most unexpected outcome of the program was the realisation that there were also substantial benefits to the mentors. In undertaking the practice job interviews we were able to formulate our own views about what we would value in a potential employee. This program also enforced reflection about our own paths in architecture and future goals. Finally, we also got to know six fantastic, hardworking and ambitious individuals who we hope will go on to achieve great things in the world of architecture.
If you are an architect reading this, we would encourage you to undertake a similar program in your practice. It only takes around 20 hours across the working year and is immensely rewarding and beneficial for both the mentee and mentor. Ideally we would like to see many of these types of programs established across Australia – such that collectively we can start making a meaningful impact into the 40% of women graduates who leave the profession.
If you would like advice in setting up a similar program, please get in touch. There is now also a Preparing for Practice Mentorship Program website, which can be found here.
Progress of the program can be followed on Instagram and Twitter under the hashtag #ateliermentorship
Architecture is for Everyone.
Michael Smith and Sonia Sarangi are co-directors of architecture practice Atelier Red + Black, based in Melbourne. They established the Preparing for Practice Mentorship Program in 2015.