The importance of listening, the value of all voices and the recognition of diversity in practice and thinking is essential in achieving lasting outcomes, says AACA CEO Kate Doyle.
How did you get into your role in architecture?
The long way round! I began teaching English and History in country high schools, and then moved into teaching English in intensive language centres in Sydney. Following further study about migration, I worked across a range of projects in schools and the TAFE sector supporting teachers working in multicultural and multilingual contexts, and then moved into policy roles in vocational education at the national level.
I finally got to architecture when I accepted a temporary role as State Manager at the NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects after living overseas with my family. Soon after that I began a stint as Registrar at the NSW Architects Registration Board implementing the revised NSW Architects Act before taking on the role of Chief Executive Officer at the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA).
What do you do in your role?
Architect Registration Boards established by the state and territory governments regulate architects via their respective Architects Acts. The AACA, a not for profit company owned by the Architect Registration Boards, provides the mechanism for nationally consistent assessment programs on the path to registration as an architect.
In addition to the Architectural Practice Examination and managing the accreditation procedure for architectural programs in Australia and New Zealand, the AACA offers six separate programs for Australian based and international practitioners on the path to registration as an architect. We also negotiate international mutual recognition agreements, and undertake research on matters of relevance to architectural education and practice.
Essentially as CEO I am responsible for facilitating national consistency and best practice in the registration assessment programs, developing a data/research-based approach to our decision making and building relationships across the stakeholder organisations in the profession and international bodies. I spend a lot of my time working with people outside my own organisation.
What experiences (both at work and in your life outside work) have informed or developed your leadership style?
My early experiences as a classroom teacher in regional schools and then with newly arrived refugees instilled in my practice the importance of listening, the value of all voices and that the recognition of diversity in practice and thinking is essential in achieving lasting outcomes.
Outside work, involvement in voluntary community-based education and sporting organisations provided excellent experiences in working with a variety of people – no one is the boss of anyone else! There’s nothing like involvement in ‘passion-based’ organisations to hone relationship management, problem solving and conflict resolution skills.
I am on the Board of the Living Futures Institute of Australia (LFIA), a not for profit working towards a future that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative. Our best known programs are the Living Building Challenge and Declare, a transparent labelling system for products in the building industry. This role gives me great energy and feeds into my practice as a leader and influencer in my day job at the AACA.
Have you benefited from mentors (formal or informal), sponsors and/or other supporters?
I have definitely benefited from mentors across my career – mostly informal. It is also good to act as a mentor. As well as hopefully offering something to your ‘mentee’, acting as a mentor has often helped me clarify my thinking on matters under discussion.
At this stage of my career I very much appreciate the generosity of members of my broader professional network, who are happy to act as sounding boards and provide wise counsel on the tough issues. I love the mutuality of these informal arrangements – sometimes all you need is the ten-minute phone call to change your thinking about the best way to approach a bottleneck.
My advice is: do not be shy about seeking out mentors at any stage of your career, and do not underestimate the value of mentors outside your own discipline.
What do you see as the significant challenges in the workplace?
Juggling family responsibilities with work obligations is a challenge for everyone, and these challenges change throughout life. I am still waiting to see a fundamental shift away from labelling parenting and work responsibilities as a problem for women to a widespread recognition of the reality that everyone in the workplace has family responsibilities, not only childcare and parenting responsibilities but managing the stress and heartache of ill or ageing family members. Flexibility is the key to taking pressure off staff who are being squeezed by work and family responsibilities. Thinking about productivity instead of hours in the office is a good place to start.
We all recognise the lack of diversity (encompassing gender, cultural diversity, age, workers with disabilities and Indigenous participation) in the profession. There are both social justice and productivity components to inclusiveness. Parlour’s great work shining the light on gender and work issues, using data and research together with powerful advocacy, provides a good model for a focus on increasing diversity in the profession.
Writing in January 2020, we are in the midst of a dreadful summer of heat, drought, fires, smoke and storms, and facing huge losses in plant and animal biodiversity across Australia. The biggest challenge is how we will change our practice in the face of the increasing pace of climate change. It’s up to all of us.
Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of so far?
The work-based things that make me feel very happy are usually related to achievements arising out of collaborations. A recent example is the publication of the first significant research focused on Architectural Education and the Profession. Led by the AACA, all stakeholders were involved, resulting in a rich and useful data set that can be used now as the basis for decisions by stakeholders and, importantly, providing the basis of further joint research across the profession as a whole.
What are the key attributes of an effective leader?
I have worked as a manager and leader in both large and small organisations. Leading people can bring both the biggest challenges and great rewards.
Begin with building a framework of mutual respect. Listen carefully. Accept different cultural and political perspectives. Make timely decisions as opposed to reactive ones.
Take time to lead in a way that respects the individuals in your team. Be as generous as you can regarding flexibility in the workplace. Relieving external pressures rewards everyone in terms of building a positive workplace culture and productivity.
Hold the long-term strategic view while you deal with the operational issues and challenges. Be clear about expectations of your team – and support them to do their best work within the framework you provide. Share accolades in the good times and take responsibility when things get difficult. Let your team know that failure is not the end – it can actually be the starting point of a great resolution to a problem.
Be brave and hold the line through the tough times. Be honest with yourself and recognise when it is time to change direction to achieve the outcome you need. When working with multiple stakeholders, things can get heated at times – don’t take things personally (sometimes easier said than done). At these times the professional network comes into its own!
Enjoy your work.
Kate Doyle is Chief Executive Officer of the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia (AACA). She has extensive experience and program development in education, competency-based assessment and professional regulation contexts, and has held leadership roles in both state and federal bodies in the not for profit sector. Kate has more than 12 years’ experience in the architectural sector; and previously held the role of Registrar at the NSW Architects Registration Board.