What started off as a brainstorming session for International Women’s Day (Happy International Women’s Day by the way!!) quickly lead into a conversation about our experiences of women, their careers and having families which we’d like to share (a condensed version of!) with you today…

[Abigail]: Looking into some national statistics about the percentages of women in architecture: ARB Publishes its Latest Annual Report. An interesting note from the report, for architects under 30 the gender split is 50/50 now which is pretty impressive.

[Yunming]: Yes, but I bet that number falls off quite quickly after that?

[Abigail]: It does still and it’s even worse for BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) Architects – which is only 11% of architects in the UK.

[Melissa]: Which suggests other factors become priorities for people such as planning families. It would also be interesting to see what the stats are for females in higher roles?

[Magdalena]: I don’t even know what the stats are for Architectural Technologists (AT) but everywhere I turn I can hardly see any women. The AT courses seem to have a good split of a minimum 1/3rd females, not many make it into the industry somehow.

[Claire]: It still frustrates me how few women are sitting in meetings on projects but sadly doesn’t shock me.

[Melissa]: I recall we had a 50/50 gender split in my year at university – I’m not sure if it was intentional. The year after us had slightly more females than males, so it appears academia might have a decent balance and in theory we should be on a level playing field, but then females drop down to one third when you consider the whole profession, based on the statistics.

[As of UCAS 2021 – 2,900 female students accepted places at architecture schools compared to 2,730 men in the UK]

[Magdalena]: I keep thinking that the moment you decide to have children, you are held back by the minimum maternity leave time. I have colleagues from my year, who didn’t perform as well as me, but in terms of their careers are further ahead because they did not have to make that decision.

[Adelle]: I think things are changing, it’s very different from when I joined jma and the roles the “mums” were fulfilling at that time, to the experience I had when I returned from leave. I fully expected to have been overtaken by others because I took the time off (even if it was the bare minimum) and I also didn’t actually tell people I was pregnant to avoid being treated like I couldn’t do site visits!

I was meant to come back part time but because of Covid and not being able to go anywhere I remained full time and was promoted to Senior Architect 6 months or so after coming back which I was really surprised about and now I run a £47m campus project.

[Magdalena]: Adelle, I am fully aware that central belt and especially jma are really ace when it comes to working mums. One of the many reasons I joined! This bubble of security in a previous job was burst when I was having difficulties getting transport for after school club after Covid and being given ‘time to solve it’. I would have had to cut back my hours or move to a different school and that felt like being pushed into this corner without any viable options.

[Adelle]: Another thing I like in jma is the guys who take shared paternity leave or only work a 4-day week to share the load. There are now 4 or 5 men in the Edinburgh office who have done it and I think its brilliant.

[Melissa]: I also think this has been great as it really shifts the attitude of parenthood to a shared maternal/paternal experience.

[Claire]: I remember a client saying how forward thinking jmarchitects were when I was telling her how many men we had working 4 day weeks and sharing paternity leave and how that was definitely not the norm at that time in other companies.

[Melissa]: Having worked with a number of dads at jma now, it’s great to see them also working reduced days and it’s a normal conversation for them to say “I’m off a certain day to look after the kids.” It’s so important to recognise that there is more to life than work and we all have our own different circumstances. We shouldn’t be depriving others of having that opportunity and making it work with other things like our jobs.

[Anastasia]: When I first joined jma I was very lucky to have an inspirational woman that “paved the way” for me by seeing first hand that she made it work and work amazingly well at that. I owe it to her, who at the time I joined worked “part time”, which meant 3 days a week. This had a huge impact for me, as she was both a senior, and also very hard working, experienced, truly talented and an inspirational architect.

[Claire]: I agree with so much that has been said before. I remember when the first woman at jma to have a baby after I started came back to work, she asked to work 4 days a week and I remember thinking that was fantastic! It gave me the confidence to be able to ask for part time hours when I came back after having my first baby – within a year of coming back I had been promoted to Senior Arch whist ‘only’ working 3 days a week. After my second baby I was lucky enough for my career to progress on again.

I know I’m incredibly lucky/ privileged to be able to balance work and spending time with the kids but working 3 days a week isn’t as easy as some people might think. Your career doesn’t have to grind to a halt because you want to have multiple kids and work part time. It is 100% possible to do both!

[Anastasia]: The term “part-time” has been heard over the years on occasion…and not in a flattering way may I add. This, together with personal circumstances, made me decide to instead work “reduced hours”. It’s a very long discussion, but when you have to deliver projects, whether you work 5 days or 3 days, output requirements and programmes don’t change.

[Abigail]: The fact that jma is good at the life work balance for mums and dads is why we have so many parent architects.

[Lisa]: Whilst I don’t have children, I can agree I have seen how things have improved for parents since how they were when I started at jma and for everyone by having options to work from home. I would say however I think there’s still quite a lot left to be improved on work life balance generally.

[Victoria]: I thought it interesting to mention that there was an event by Women in Architecture where they asked the question ‘How Equitable and Inclusive a Practice Are you?’ which helps acknowledge that there is work still to be done. How equitable and inclusive a practice are you?

The women of jmarchitects having these frank and honest conversations about how they fit into the world of architecture shows how valuable women in the construction industry are. It is clear from our own internal discussions and external reports that women’s choices to work while having families is possible now, but progress can still be made in the future to make even better work environments for all employees.

Imagery Credit: Glamour Magazine

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