Sze Wei Lee reports on the AJ Women in Architecture panel discussion, which canvassed how to manage a successful career after maternity leave, and how to retain top female talent in your practice.
The panel consisted of successful women architects – Hannah Lawson, Tamsyn Curley, Christina Seilern and Christine Murray – and, refreshingly, a man who supports the advancement of career during maternity leave – Peter Murray. The panel occurred in the context of many women opting for a three- or four-day working week after returning from maternity leave. There is also an increase in men opting for the same arrangement, which makes it easier for their partners to also work a four-day week. The main worry for most is whether this will jeopardize career advancement. The panel’s response to this concern was quite simply – “no”. Although they explained that a four-day week is easily manageable, but a three-day week is more of a challenge. It’s primarily about the quality of work one produces and not necessarily about how many hours one puts in. My own opinion is that it requires the willingness of the employer to be flexible in order to make it work for the staff. The question is how many companies out there are willing to adopt this approach? It’s not easy for small companies and the feasibility of flexible working arrangements in big commercial practices will depend on whether the management is open to understanding, accepting and supporting this kind of arrangement.
Another important question is whether the chances of promotion in this context are much better for those who have already proved to their employer that he or she is a valuable staff member who plays a crucial role in the company, compared to one who has yet had a chance to prove themselves.
Based on the life experience anecdotes related by the panel (including meetings paused to handle nappy changes in the next room, or the rush to present a bid the week after delivering a baby) it is clear that achieving a balance between work and family life won’t be easy. It is, however, possible if you want it badly enough. You will have to strive and work incredibly hard to get to where you want to be. If you live and breathe architecture and it is your passion, it will be worth it. If not, it may be time to think about a different career path! Will an architect make a good nursery teacher/child carer?
The panel discussion was held at John McAslan + Partners, William Road Gallery on 10 October 2013. Panellists were: Hannah Lawson, Director at John McAslan + Partners; Tamsyn Curley, Director at Place Careers; Christina Seilern, Director at Studio Seilern; Peter Murray, Director at Stanton Williams and Christine Murray, AJ Editor.