Women- the Untapped Resource

‘Reducing gender disadvantage will not only benefit the women who wish to find and engage in fulfilling construction work; it will also enable the construction industry to open up its talent pool to build and develop current skills levels and drive innovation.’ (2013, What Women Want in A Construction Career, NAWIC Discussion Paper 01)

 

Zaha Hadid’s passing brought to light several factors in any woman’s life in the construction industry. Many celebrate her as one of the greatest architects, I choose, because of the scarcity of women that choose this path, to celebrate her as one of the greatest FEMALE architects of all time. Her work has ensured a great standing in the architectural community and it goes without saying that women have at least one great role model that they so desperately need.

It is quite difficult being a woman and an architect at the same time. Many have argued that the degree of difficulty should be viewed as the same but as an architect married to another architect I can decisively say that the parameters by which levels of difficulty are determined for either gender are different.

In Kenya, balance between the genders in the attraction of students to study architecture has risen. When I reported for my first year the graduating class had no females, the next year had one female and by the time it was our turn to graduate we were 13. However, do all female graduates continue to practice architecture?

Retention of women in architectural or any construction related work has not been studied in Kenya (to the best of my knowledge) but in Australia, a study undertaken by NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) indicates three main reasons for female attrition from the industry. These were

  1. Family commitments (25%)
  2. Negative organizational culture (21%)
  3. Inflexible working conditions (20%)

These are by far exactly what I personally face and have been reasons I have considered in many a silent debate in my head. But what if Zaha Hadid chose to quit architecture? We would be robbed of some of the greatest innovations of our time. It goes without saying that the Kenyan industry cannot afford to lock out any talent especially based on gender.

‘Reducing gender disadvantage will not only benefit the women who wish to find and engage in fulfilling construction work; it will also enable the construction industry to open up its talent pool to build and develop current skills levels and drive innovation.’ (2013, What Women Want in A Construction Career, NAWIC Discussion Paper 01)

So, what can the industry do to tap into its already growing female resource?

My view may not be sufficient but it may be the first of many which need to be heard and considered. Even with growing attraction to the industry, we need to ensure an increase of the number of females that not only apply to do architecture but passionately undertake it. Passion as I have discussed in earlier posts is NOT inherent and neither is knowledge according to Dr. Betty Gikonyo in her book, ‘The girl who dared to dream’ And if she could learn how to run a business, well we can also acquire and inspire passion in the following ways;

 1. INVESTING IN EARLY ATTRACTION

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Architecture was introduced to me by my Father who is a Quantity Surveyor. It is only recently that girl high schools are spreading the word about picking architecture as a career. I recall my high school days when only the art students (5 in number) considered architecture as an option. We need to encourage female students to consider architecture as early as Form two before subject selection. We also need to educate high school students on the roles of an architect to ensure they make informed decisions based on knowledge rather than pay scale or family pressure. This will assist all the genders in the long run.

 

2. ROLE MODELS

 

If one thing was ever so important in the life of a female student or employee it is a role model. With Zaha Hadid’s legacy and a number of local female architects currently there is more hope for the upcoming breed of architects. But we need to go further. We need to provide mentorship programs that allow for all the types of mentoring, one-on-one, peer, group, team and e-mentoring.

Being a role model can be easy as sharing your difficulties to a group setting but we need to provide such platforms. Currently, I involve myself in a peer mentorship group with some of my old classmates and it allows us to see that our struggles are not unique. It also allows us to share how to deal with certain situations. I am also working on a team and group mentorship for both students and graduates.

Strides have been made in this regard by the AAK with the recent hammers and heels breakfast and we look forward to more occasions of a similar manner.

 

3. CREATING A COMMUNITY

Having a safe environment where women in architecture and other construction related careers can come together may also enhance a growing female resource in the industry. Making it easy to join and participate in such a community also ensures active and constant feedback on matters that assist this special workforce.

 

These factors are just a tip of the iceberg of all the ideas that have been brewing in my head these past few months. Join me next time as I discuss the construction industry culture and its effect on women.

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