In light of our mantra to be positive, the piece below isn’t intended to represent the negative experiences some women have. Instead, it’s intention is to highlight the unconscious way many of us (females included) act every day. And how we can tackle those biases. What follows here in this intro is my opinion and mine only.
Speaking at an MPavilion event a while ago, one of the audience members asked the question ‘How can I change the men’s-club culture of my 30-something year old peers?’ (largely paraphrased here by me). It’s a question I’m sure many of us ask every day. My response is that it’s actually our responsibility to remain vigilant and ‘pull-up’ people when they say the wrong thing. Many think this is the responsibility of the interestingly termed, ‘male champion’, but if you want something changed, in the wise words of my jazz dance teacher,…’do something about it!’…
How many of us are guilty at laughing along with a joke that offends a minority? I remember when I entered the industry, some of my male peers saying something largely sexist and then saying ‘Oh it’s ok, Danielle can take a joke.’ Yes I can. But having more confidence in my voice now, I no longer see sexism, or racism, or anything else that attacks a minority as a real joke. That’s not being PC. It’s just a case of no longer receiving enjoyment out of seeing others upset, suffering, or voiceless. Our language and our voice is powerful; it’s our individuality, our show of freedom and our way of personal expression. A reflection of our mind. Use it wisely.
Another point raised at the MPavilion was the prevalence of the boy’s club and whether it still exists. Whilst our male panelist argued that at his company, they were very vigilant on this and he believed it was becoming a thing of the past (perhaps at his company it is?), when I asked the audience whether they had ever felt the ‘boy’s club’, the show of hands was, I’d say, near 100% (the show of hands included the smattering of men in the audience). We tend to forget that not fitting in with the male norm, even as a man, you can be excluded from the boy’s club.
So the story below, by Rachel Savio, is a show of casual sexism. And how we can tackle it. I hope you enjoy. And remember you can leave comments below. We love to hear the thoughts of our readers! Conversation is important!
STORY//Accepted as the Norm
I thought I would share a story which I believe highlights some of the issues that I regularly face.
As a Graduate Engineer, I was attending a 2-day workshop with around 25 colleagues – both peers and managers, all of whom were male. Being the only girl in the room did not faze me from the outset, as I have confidence in my abilities, however the fact that I was the only girl in the room was pointed out frequently by the instructor.
This frazzled me a little to begin with but I let it slide, assuming that it was reading too much into it (which is an issue in itself, saved for another time).
At one point, the instructor told a 10 minute story of how there was an issue with a piece of equipment that no one could solve. He divulged that after many weeks, the error was found and the machine began to operate correctly. This was a helpful account of how we could use what we were learning to diagnose issues with equipment and overall it provided learning elements and really added to the course.
Then he made one final comment “Oh and Rachel, you’ll be glad to know that the person who found the error was a female, so that should make you feel happy.”
I was in disbelief. This instructor, in my opinion, had made such a condescending comment that was completely unnecessary. I am an intelligent, diligent and proficient engineer, but this person felt the need to “boost my confidence” by letting me know that a female solved a problem.
After the initial shock, I then realised…. Why did everyone laugh? Why didn’t people react like I did? Did they not realise how horrible that comment was? Do people really think that I am less capable at my job because I am a female? Afterwards I questioned that if instead of “a female”, the trainer pointed out someone’s race, or religion – perhaps “an Indian” solved the problem, or “a Buddhist”, or anything else for that matter. I feel like if this happened, the room would know that it was out of line. But the casual sexism in the room was accepted as the norm.
I brought it up with my managers. Once I explained to them why I thought it was out of line, they understood, but it really shocked me that it required an explanation. I guess what I’m trying to say is, there is the obvious challenges, but then the ones that require a bit more work communicating. We need to make it clear; what is inclusive language, and what isn’t.
I personally believe that if businesses focus on inclusion and not just meeting gender diversity metrics, then the diversity changes that business try to implement will have greater “stick factor”. In essence, simply hiring females will not solve the gender diversity problem if females are made to feel as though they are the unwelcome guest at a men’s-club. In my opinion, the key to achieving gender diversity is to foster a truly inclusive workplace environment where all employees can reach their full potential.
Rachel happens to be Danielle’s sister. As sisters they have both chosen to work in challenging fields, which are male dominated. Rachel has a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering/Science double degree from The University of Melbourne with First Class Honours in Chemical Engineering. During her time at university, Rachel completed a semester abroad at the University of Michigan.
In 2012 Rachel was awarded the Pratt Prize and the Jacobs Prize for the Best Final Year Design Project in Victoria and Australia/NZ respectively for the project Production of Ethanol from Biomass. She has travelled extensively for work, around Australia and New Zealand, and living in Sydney for some years. She is now now living in Melbourne, with her husband Dan and whippet Mack.
In high school I always had an interest in journalism and writing. I used to read magazines like Dolly and Girlfriend and cut out the editor’s page and put my photo in there for school projects. I knew I wanted to be involved in magazines. There was all these shows back then about working in magazines. It was all so glamorous (even though it’s not!).
I studied journalism in Brisbane. Straight out of university I landed a Editorial Coordinator role for a trade magazine publisher called TMPC. That was a massive learning curve. My partner and I moved to Melbourne in 2010 and I got the job with Architecture Media, first as assistant editor for Artichoke magazine, helping then editor Penny Craswell and editorial director Cameron Bruhn. I became editor five years ago.
My introduction to the built environment, architecture and design, came through this job. I wasn’t just working for Artichoke I was also sub-editing for Architecture Australia and Houses magazine. I had to learn all the jargon. Now I can’t see myself working for a magazine in any other industry.
The people that you meet in this job, the architects and designers, they’re a good bunch. Especially in Melbourne. They are cliquey, but it’s one big clique. There’s a lot of collaboration in Melbourne, rather than Sydney. You see that on Instagram too. Melbourne people all encourage each other’s projects. It seems more competitive in Sydney.
Architecture Media does six print magazines, we do an architecture news website and we do events. Of those six magazines, Artichoke is the interiors title. Not residential interiors, but commercial interiors; hospitality design, retail design, education design and hotel design. I’m always on the lookout for projects in Australia, or projects overseas completed by Aussie designers. We are a quarterly magazine, so it’s always about filling the pages with the very best. I only get to publish 30-40 projects a year so I am pretty ruthless!
It’s difficult out there now for print. A lot of people get their architecture and design news from digital media and Instagram. So it’s hard to exist in that context. We haven’t seen much of a drop off of subscriptions and readers, but we have to be a bit more ‘on-the-ball’ with projects, because our lead times are so long. It can be five months before something makes in into the magazine. We need to try and stay relevant.
I think architecture, when I first started, seemed to have a real boys club mentality. However, I think organisations like Parlour are really calling out all-male panels and practices. The men who work for our organisation won’t accept a position on a panel unless there is gender equity and when when we create our own panels for events, we work on the balance, so that is something we are active about. There are also still the architecture firms which are run by all men. You go onto their About page and it’s all male faces at a senior level.
Start work experience and interning as young as you can. I was at a newspaper at fifteen. They didn’t give me anything important to do, but just to be in that environment. It’s just about what you put in is what you get out. Work hard, but don’t get taken for a ride either. You don’t need to work for free, forever. In publishing, there’s a lot of interns that work for free for a long time. Someone is taking advantage of you.
This past year I started pottery and I am so hooked. I need to buy my own wheel so I can do it at home, even though there’s nowhere to put it. I was at a bad stage in my life when I started, but it’s been better than a therapist. It’s the time. The committed, meditative act of sitting at a wheel, and trying something over and over again until you get it right. You look at the clock and an hour has passed and you didn’t even realise it.
My mother always told me to finish my food. My mum is a very lovely women, who cooks and cooks and cooks. She’s retired, but she used to work at the Arnott’s biscuit factory. Dad has passed away now, but he was a bus driver for 55 years. And absolutely loved it.
Editing a magazine as formative as Artichoke must be no easy task, and many of us have probably spent many hours pouring over it’s pages. When you do know what you want to be when you grow up, and you have a drive to achieve your goals, that can be a powerful thing. Especially if those around you can support you on your mission. It’s an important lesson though, not to be taken advantage when you have a one-minded goal. Cassie is warm, relaxed and down to earth. Her focus and determination and her enthusiasm for her work is amazing to behold. We wish her all the best for the last bit of 2018 and look forward to what she brings in 2019.
Since being in grade four, I always wanted to work in construction. I thought the only job a women could do was become an architect. My grandfather, uncle and dad were all in the building game, in one way or another. Even with two older brothers, I would do all the renos around mum and dad’s house.
I went to an all girls catholic school, so teaching, nursing, accounting (maybe) were our options. I went into the careers office and was flicking through the material and under ‘Architecture’ there was ‘Building’. It was just called ‘Building’ back then, it wasn’t even called ‘Construction Management’. I was like ‘Can I just do a degree in building and not become an architect?’ Sweet!
I got into the graduate program at Walter Constructions. My project manager didn’t talk to me initially because he was furious that they had hired a woman. He didn’t need someone useless, he needed someone who could do the job. It was after four weeks that he turned around and said ‘I thought you were going to be shit because you’re a chick, but you’re actually pretty good.’ He turned out to be one of the best mentors I ever had.
When I started in 2001 it was completely different. The toilets and sheds were foul. There was pornography everywhere. You got treated like crap. My first Project Manager banned two guys from site because of their lewd behaviour towards me. After he kicked the second of the two off site, he pulled me into his office. I thought he was going to give me a big hug, but he tore shreds off me. ‘If you ever sit there and take that shit again, I will kick your arse myself. I shouldn’t be the one that has to stick up for you…’ It stuck with me. He was right. You shouldn’t just sit there and cop it (easier said than done sometimes).
I spent some time in London where I was a fully fledged contract administrator (Quantity Surveyor for them) and got a job with HBG, which were the second largest builder over there at the time. I spent three years there, then my liver said I needed to go home. London was a really different way of building. If I was at my desk after 5pm, my boss kicked me out. They were all out and seated at the pub by 5:30pm!
When I got back from London I moved to Kane. I was there for twelve years. I went from Contracts Administrator, to Contracts Manager, to Project Manager. Over that journey I started building hospitals. I built my first about eleven years ago. I loved that we could build something good for the community. You can see how much it means for them. I decided to specialise in hospitals and they’ve been my bread and butter for a while now.
When I came to Built they offered a very true career path. They said, you work hard and do all the things you say you can do, we’ll see you into a Construction Manager role. The whole idea was to bring health into the business. I was promoted almost exactly a year after starting here.
I think the future is really positive. We have this amazing network of women. You start to see networks growing, and as people come up in the years and are promoted within these networks, our stock and our value at the table becomes more and more valuable. Men are networking constantly, unconsciously and often we just don’t get invited to the table. So we need to create our own. That table of women, gives you access to a lot of men as well.
Some of the women I’ve grown up with on the Client side, they are now being promoted to positions of power as well. Often it’s like some of the men haven’t noticed that’s what is happening. All of a sudden it’s like ‘We need you to come to this interview, as there’s three women on the panel. And we need to show we have women here.’ I mean, where have you been? Did you not see that they were toiling away in the background?
Some challenges have been fairly obvious. Women often have to work twice as hard to get to exactly the same place as a man. And anyone that says we don’t is lying. The frustration of watching people who haven’t earned it, get promoted, and then seeing them on projects doing nothing.
If I hadn’t specialised, I wouldn’t have stood out as anything different or special. I’ve created value. I had all these clients and contacts. It left people with no choice. The challenge is we always have to come up with creative ways to make us stand out. It shouldn’t have to be like that. You want to say, ‘If you just do your job, you’ll be rewarded’ but it isn’t the truth.
I see what women bring to the table and others are also seeing it too. Projects with women are more successful. The dynamic is different. You get rid of that toxic masculinity. You create a better environment. More of our clients and consultants are women as well. As you have them sitting across the table, we need to reflect that.
Having my little girl was a challenge. Coming back full time. The way that I am, I knew I could never be part-time. That’s my problem, I am a recovering micro manager and am a work in progress. But honestly I love being at work and missed the action while on maternity leave. It got to the end of the day and I said to my husband, ‘I’m just not going to be happy if I’m not building my jobs.’ We ended up deciding together that he was to stay at home (to be honest he hated working). Being away from her is a challenge. At four, she lets me know how much it hurts not having me at home, but I have open and honest conversations with her. This is the reality. I’m your mum and I do my best. I am hoping one day in the future she will look back and be proud of what I did and tried to balance.
Most of the advice that my Mum used to give me is not appropriate for print. She lead by example rather than with words of wisdom. Being 1 of 5 kids my poor mum was stretched pretty far, but she did so much to get us where we needed to be. Even making the decision to move us from our primary school to another, just to ensure that she secured us entry into a really good secondary school. So early on in our lives she’d already started making decisions to help us succeed. Mum always reflects on the fact that she would have loved to be a builder like her dad, but that wasn’t an option when she was growing up. I feel like I get to live out one of Mum’s dreams and I can see just how proud she is of me along every stage of my career. She always just wanted her girls to get every chance she didn’t and do what we wanted to do. I just hope I haven’t disappointed.
If you don’t know Monica – you should. She is a fantastic leader, advocate and empower-er of women in construction. Dedicated to changing the game for women and making her own path. Many will remember her wonderfully genuine NAWIC speech when she won the Crystal Vision award in 2017. A speech that rendered her the heart and soul of women in construction. Monica is witty, self-deprecating, challenging and downright one of the warmest people you will ever meet. Kinda like an old friend you never knew you had. We were so happy to finally meet up with her and undertake this interview and feel very proud to bring this to our audience. We wish Mon all the best at Built in her new role and hope that we meet again soon! J & D xx
1. The Party Wall Neighbour. Email received 8 January.
After my tenants complained to me about rising damp in the corridor and some water damage in kitchen, I investigated to find that your builders neglected to seal the front section of roof prior to the second story, hence allowing a deluge of water to enter down the joining wall, and saturate the footings. This has lead to severe rising damp in my corridor leading to wall damage and a almost unlivable smell in the house. My tenants are very upset and threatening to leave if issue isn’t resolved soon.
2. Council infringement notices.
3. Broken boundary trap.
4. Storm water entry point full of hard concrete.
5. Receiving that anonymous handwritten letter stuffed under the front door. Dated 2 April. I cannot stress enough. This is not a joke.
Next time you harass an elderly women get your facts straight! The house near my parents’ on lease dumped all this rubbish and I thought it was you – because rubbish dumped near my parents! Once renovation starts on your house. Basically, my parents don’t dump their rubbish on anyone – if anyone dumps on their house. I WILL ACT.
What the actual F**k. It doesn’t even make sense?
6. More council infringement notices.
7. That time your sister calls you on her school holidays (she’s a teacher) to ask whether she can practice her tap dancing inside the house on the yellow tongue floor.
8. Windows installed without flashings.
9. Bamboo. Everywhere.
10. The Nosy Neighbour. The text message received 22 May.
Hi Justine, hope all is going smoothly.
Just had an elderly neighbour drop in anxious about your overlooking. Can I please kindly remind you about the amended permit conditions. All obscured glazing is to be manufactured and not stuck on ‘film’ and timber screen is 25% transparency. You’ll need to ensure builder orders the correct window frames and glazing!! I guess this is an immediate issue as they should be ordering windows very soon? Thank you!
11. The time you ask your dad to pay the structural engineer. 17 June.
Justine: Hi Dad, can you please pay the engineer? I need it for a certificate.
Dad: What engineer? Who is he? I spoke to the roofer he’s not able to quote till after Easter.
12. Rising damp.
14. The time you receive several urgent calls from your brother.
I don’t mean to alarm you, but an old man has driven into our front fence at Rathdowne. Police are here. He’s fine. The brick front fence probably isn’t.
15. The Party Wall Neighbour.
In addition, I believe trades people have been walking over my section of roof to install and nail all the side planks on the second story. I have now developed a roof leak in my kitchen. My tenants have to collect the leaking water using buckets otherwise they have water in the pantry spoiling all the contents.
16. That time you receive a text message from your sister.
A plumber just walked in on me tap dancing. You and Laurence both said no one was going to be there! I AM DYING! I ran out of there! I’m like to him sorry I tap dance and needed space. He was so awkward. I WAS IN A CROP TOP! Ugh!
17. The time the local black cat Liza runs through your house. Carpenter asks Superstitious much? I can only respond with Nah nothing scares me anymore.
18. My most frequent conversation. But don’t you work for a construction company?
19. The Party Wall Neighbour.
As your second storey addition has no provision for guttering on the north facing wall all the run off is now collecting in my drain canal and flooding it. I need action here immediately and am requesting a site visit ASAP to address these concerns. Your Dilapidation report will clearly show no rising damp prior to construction. Will call you in the morning to arrange a site inspection.
It just keeps giving.
My interests in construction, architecture and particularly heritage, really stemmed from some dear friends of mine when I was a boy growing up, who lived down the road, Warwick and Susie Forge. Warwick was the assistant administrator of the National Trust and lived in a historic house. I used to go around a do little bits of work on the house and in the garden, for pocket money. Warwick and Susie very much inspired me to take an interest in historic buildings.
I came out of school and typically didn’t know what I wanted to do post secondary school. I applied for both architecture and building and got into building at the University of Melbourne, but without really knowing what I was getting in for. Melbourne University at that time had some pretty inspirational people in the heritage and architectural history area, Miles Lewis and George Tibbits, both very focused on Melbourne’s heritage buildings. They were inspirational for me in my growing interest in older buildings, rather than new construction.
Initially my interests very much focused on the reuse of historic buildings, particularly the reuse of housing stock. This was at a time when Melbourne still had a Housing Commission and there were battles over demolition of areas of Carlton and Fitzroy. I was a part of a group of undergrads who got involved, particularly in Fitzroy, in giving advice to local residents, on how to look after their houses and repair and restore them.
In the evenings I would give advice to owners on housing repair. I would go to buildings and give advice on rising damp and crack repair. I became a director of the Fitzroy-Collingwood Rental Housing Association, which was one of the first housing associations formed. I was a property director, at a very young age, advising on how to maintain these buildings. It was a really interesting learning process.
I dabbled in working for a couple of architects for a moment. That didn’t last very long. During my post-grad work, I started to make a little bit of a name locally for being able to advise people on how to fix their buildings. I set up a practice basically soon after that, on building repair and maintenance. I went into a shared building in the city with a group of architects. They were running an architectural practice and I was running my building advisory practice. Basically that’s how the firm began, in the late 70s.
In 1981 I went into partnership with Richard Allom who was an architect in Brisbane. Richard and I formed a practice called Allom Lovell & Associates, and Richard had the practice in Brisbane, I in Melbourne and we became architectural heritage consultants at that time. We called ourselves heritage architects. The practice continues to this day, with a name change in that process.
Initially our work focused very much on pure restoration work and not so much on adaptive reuse with an undertaking of a lot of studies and research. The practice developed with an investigation arm and a doing arm. Gradually, over time, the research got bigger and bigger, as we did larger studies and more investigation. The doing arm became more architectural and looked at adaptive reuse and delivering projects.
In the nineties Kai Chen joined the business. A very highly regarded and well recognised contemporary architect, who had a very successful practice Robinson Chen. With that, we really moved significantly. We really saw that we were not just heritage architects, but we’re here as architects as well. I think as a practice now we’re seen as able to offer architectural work – new build and reuse, as well as still completing significant conservation work.
I think interestingly, Melbourne does conservation less well than we did in the eighties and nineties. Back then the construction industry responded significantly to the interest in applied conservation work. There were trades and general contractors that all realised they had to up-the-ante and deliver good applied conservation work. There was a greater awareness and skilling-up to deal with that. Sadly that has declined. The industry does not have that capacity anymore. When I started on the Melbourne Town Hall restoration of the stonework, which we did in the eighties, the contract required trades to have apprentices. There was a conscious training programme. The difficulty for a young person going into a heritage trade is, is there any longevity in the work? If the work isn’t there, the apprentices won’t be there.
The nature of contracting has changed. There’s been a shift in the place of consultants that has been significant. The role of architects has changed greatly in the last twenty years. I think on occasion this doesn’t deliver better outcomes. Too often the deliverables are compromised and the quality on what is delivered from a conservation perspective, is diminished. In the heritage trades schools aren’t training anymore. Apprenticeships aren’t offered.
The challenge for young women, is that issue of them being accepted in a room full of blokes. A young women from our office sitting in a room full of builders saying, ‘This is what I want you to do.’ I think watching how people react in that circumstance is interesting and it takes considerable confidence for a younger person, man or woman to command attention and obtain respect. I’m sure as a woman you develop your skills pretty quickly, as to how to manage that. I think there are varied styles that work for some people better than others. There are plenty of men who can’t walk into a room and command attention also.
There’s been a fundamental change in the building industry. When I started there wouldn’t be a person in management, who hadn’t come through the tools. You didn’t go to University. We were a rare breed; these kids going through and doing a construction course. So for us even, we were pretty odd and got treated in that way on building sites. They didn’t know quite what you were. There’s been a major shift now to professionalism.
I think the graduates who come into this office who are most successful, are the ones through their course who have been gone out and got experience. In my training practical experience was pivotal in understanding how buildings were built and you really began to get your head around what it was all about. The ones who have done the course, without being exposed, it’s that much harder. That practical applied experience is absolutely fundamental in you getting a leg up and moving forward. I would urge anyway to spend your breaks doing it.
Peter Lovell is a very well-respected figure who features heavily, along with his firm, in the built environment. It was an absolute pleasure for us to be able to spend some time with Peter in his office, getting a feel for how far the industry has come and how much has changed over the last couple of decades. Peter spoke with such candour and exceptional insight into how Melbourne has developed. Peter and his peers forged the new path of construction industry professionals who have mad the profession what it is today. Wishing Peter and Lovell Chen all the best for the end of 2018! J & D
When I entered professional life, coming from an academic environment, I was very worried that I wouldn’t get anywhere. I had this awful anxiety that I would just blend in. I saw all these different personalities and that was a huge learning for me. I had to learn quickly about what motivates people and that their motivators were often different to mine. In an academic environment, everyone’s driven, everyone’s trying to get their research work done. It’s a more homogeneous group than a typical workplace.
I’m a scientist by background. I went down an academic pathway out of school. I never knew what I wanted to do, so I actually kept things very broad. I completed degrees in Arts and Science. I majored in Biochemistry and Physiology, but then I also did English Literature and French. I finished with Honours, and completed a PhD in Cardiac Physiology. It was really technical. On my first day, my supervisor gave me a set of screwdrivers and said ‘Pull apart all the equipment, I want you to diagnose every component and then put it all back together!’ I was like, really? Looks expensive! I did things like give myself an electric shock.
At the end of my PhD I knew I didn’t want to continue on with science. Mainly because of the repetition. I really liked thinking about the problem to solve, the statistical testing, coming up with a conclusion, but I didn’t like the repetition of having to do the same test sixteen times.
I had a set of girlfriends who I went to high school with. One of them is a clinician. I said to her ‘I don’t want to be a scientist anymore, I don’t know what to do?’ and she said, ‘Do you know what you’d be good at doing Linda? You’d be good at running hospitals.’ There we are, two girls in our twenties, and I went – ‘Oh yeah. I could do that’. Seriously, I knew nothing! I look back now and I think it’s hilarious. What a stupid conversation we had. She grabbed a napkin from the waiter and started mapping out what I was going to do.
I went and got a job in a hospital as a project officer. I was given a business case to review, which was to build a new facility, relocate to that facility and sell the old one. I’m good at math and saw there was a four million dollar gap in the numbers. They didn’t add up. I went to my boss and said ‘I think the business case is fundamentally flawed.’ She took it to the CEO at the time who then requested I rewrite the business case with everyone on the team reporting to me immediately.
I’d been working in health at that point for a miniscule amount of time, everyone always assumed that I was much older than I was. I used that to my advantage. I did some further business cases and the CEO requested I become the company secretary. I’d never heard of a ‘company secretary’. I still remember thinking ‘I don’t know what that is, but if the CEO’s asked me to do it, it must be important, so I’m going to say yes’.
I started at Mercy Health as Director of Performance, Planning and Strategy. I only did that for a few months, before I started running Mercy Hospital for Women. I’m now also responsible for Werribee Mercy Hospital, Mental Health, Palliative Care and Mercy Health O’Connell Family Centre as well as hospital services in New South Wales. I thought I had everything, until three months ago they asked if I’d take over residential aged care, home and community care, and retirement living which is the same sized portfolio as what I was already running. I’m in my seventh week!
Werribee is seriously under-resourced for health, education and social infrastructure. It doesn’t matter what you look at, it has one of the fastest growing populations in the country. The self-sufficiency at Werribee Mercy Hospital is low, so I knew we needed more facilities. Particularly an Intensive Care Unit. We had the challenge of building four floors on top of a fully functioning hospital. Working with the construction team and consultants around how we could build this and minimise disruption to patients and staff was a big part of the project. It was quite the challenge.
Having children and having people say ‘Oh, should you have such a busy job? You’ve got young children at home.’ I have often said, ‘They’re actually pretty happy and well adjusted, thanks’. If I was home full time, they would not be happy and well adjusted. I’m a much better parent because I work. My husband is a tradie. That has worked really well for us. We are such different people – polar opposites. He starts at the crack of dawn, but is home at 4:30pm every day. We’ve got it working really well.
I’m part of a group of women CEOs and board members. We’ve been working on this program called ‘Not In My Workplace’, which is around protecting women from sexual harassment in their workplaces. We have here a workforce which is primarily female. We’ve got to protect the younger women who are particularly vulnerable. I find that a challenge. We have staff here 24/7. How do we make sure they are safe at work? Hospitals are high pressure environments and you’re dealing with people working in high pressure situations all the time. Patients are also in environments where they can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar, so emotions tend to run high. Just making sure you keep a calm and consistent approach is helpful.
Tap dancing for me is like a moving meditation. I have to concentrate so hard that I can’t think of anything else. I find that my brain hurts more than my body at the end of a tap dancing class, because I’ve really had to concentrate. I also like gardening. I particularly like weeding! It’s another meditation for me. I can weed for hours!
Then I have three beautiful little people who keep me highly entertained and well grounded. We’re in the middle of that really intense family life. Our kids are twelve, ten and eight, so it’s weekend sport, activities on every weeknight – sport, dancing, piano. It’s a really nice part of your life actually where it’s all about family. You know it’ll be gone in a heartbeat.
My parents moved to Australia in 1967, with no family support. My mother didn’t have the benefit of an education because she was a girl and my dad’s dad had died very young, so my dad did his study later in life. My parents were all about education and opportunities for education. And then if you used that education, we’ll do whatever needs to be done to support you around that. I think that’s really lovely. The value of education.
We do the same with our children – How lucky are you to live in a country, where you get to go to school and learn? Do you know there are some children who don’t learn to read? Who don’t get to go to school? I look at our children compared to our generation. We had one family car, one parent working, kids were restricted to the amount of activities we could do. I look at our children and they are so privileged. You know, not everyone lives this way and you have a social obligation to give back.
L – R: Werribee Hospital Project Manager Tanya Moscicki, Health Minister Jill Hennessy, Assistant Project Manager Danielle Savio and of course Linda Mellors!
A while ago when Danielle walked into her first monthly client report at Werribee Hospital, she was so thrilled to see Linda as the one in charge. Strong, measured and a clear leader, Linda was extremely passionate that her team and the project team deliver the best outcome for Werribee Mercy Hospital. It’s not often that young women have the tenacity to tell their seniors that they are wrong. Something that slowly and surely is changing, but is still ingrained in our social norms. For Linda, it meant that she was recognised early on as someone who had strong convictions, could lead and had a keen understanding of business. And it’s a tenacity that still plays a part in her character today. Linda calls it as she sees it and this makes her a particularly purposeful, resolute and determined figure. We thank her for meeting with us and wish her the best in her latest endeavours! D & J x
I often feel like a tiny fish in a big pool that is the industry. A tiny fish swimming against a tide of other tiny fish, all battling to make an impact, a difference, become a leader, an innovator, or a barrier breaker. But I also can’t get over the privilege of my position. The privilege of traveling for work. Of feeling like I’ve made it into a role that I could never have dreamed of.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely not some jet-setting executive. I’m certainly lucky to have traveled as much as I have and there are others in my position who have traveled less. Or more. But to be able to travel at all – it’s almost a dream come true for me.
I’m second generation Australian. My grandparents on both sides immigrated to Australia in the 1950s from Northern Italy. Mostly uneducated, but hard-working. Prepared to leave the old country behind and start anew. My Mum was encouraged to go to University. My dad a tradesman – a carpenter. Both also ridiculously resilient and challenged only by themselves to be better and to do more for their kids than their parents could ever do for them.
When I was ten, we traveled overseas for the first time. Even as a ten year old, I knew what a big deal that was. How lucky we were to have this experience. Perhaps now, it seems so much more accessible for families to travel overseas, or perhaps I dance in different circles in the present. Certainly none of my friends were so lucky and I very much knew that I was exceedingly fortunate to travel. Of course, it was a little easier for my parents, with family still in Italy, but I still remember the weekly trips mum made to deposit money in the bank for us to save for that trip – years of saving every dollar. To give us a chance to see where we came from and much, much more.
They say you ‘get the travel bug.’ Perhaps we did. Or perhaps once you’ve done it, it seems a lot easier to do. Once I turned eighteen, like many young Australians, I was determined to travel more. There’s a fair bit of FOMO and YOLO in that. Spending hard earned money working shifts at Coles or for a pittance as an under-grad architect. Then out-laying it all for a few weeks of adventure. That sounds like regret, but it’s not. I wouldn’t have those pennies back for the world.
My Mum is a biochemist by trade. She took some 8 years out with my sister and I, before going back as a lab technician at a carpet manufacturer, where my Nonna worked on the factory floor. The place made car upholstery, which is how she eventually made it to work for Holden. When I was in year 10, my Mum went on her first business trip. She was off to Detroit, England, Germany for research and development. Now THAT was amazing. I remember it being such a big deal. I was, as a little kid, so scared and nervous for her. A solo trip around the world! Business Class? Inconceivable! The stress for us back at home. On that first trip back in 2011, she left Detroit the day before 9/11. My Dad ended up with shingles and passed a kidney stone, he was so stressed out.
I never thought it would happen for me. Did I aspire to that? I thought I could never do it. And yet here I am. On my third work trip by myself. This time to Frankfurt. All in the name of making sure everything is on track. That quality is good and that our requirements are understood. The kind of trip that seems excessive, yet can be worth it’s weight in gold if it prevents catastrophe.
Traveling without your partner in crime, whether that be a partner or a friend… is a crime in itself. You can’t exclaim out loud about the architecture. Dinner conversation is lacking and I usually eat too much when sitting by myself. Wine feels lonely. Pros – you can go to as many galleries and museums as you want, until you realise your feet can’t match your ambition. Did I mention the lonely wine? I find there’s always a lot of killing time when travelling by oneself.
‘We’re never done with killing time.
Can I kill it with you?’
Thanks, Lorde. No, you can’t. Because post 2pm in Europe, my home world goes silent. The time difference in Europe to Australia is woeful. China not so bad.
I recently listened to the BBC and Nordic NRK’s podcast Death in Ice Valley, which is about the story of the Isdal Woman. A woman who was travelling by herself in the ‘70s, when these things were rare, she wound up murdered outside of Bergen. Thoughts of the story came to mind as I boarded the plane. Being a woman of the twenty-first century and traveling on my lonesome. Perhaps still not common, but certainly not strange. Prevailing myths on the Isdal Woman say she was a spy, or a prostitute. Because apparently that’s what lone women are. Options.
People think it’s so glamorous. Which it certainly is and is not. Yes there are perks. The flyer miles. The dinners. The experiences. However, there’s also the exhaustion, the personal stress. Pushing your body to the limit. Two trips stand out in mind, where I flew 17 hrs to spend 48 hours on the ground, another 17 hours back, arriving 9:00am, to go straight to work on a Thursday, somehow make it through Friday… only to be in bed the whole weekend with acute exhaustion. The almost certainty that I’ll get sick from the toll.
In Europe I find it frustrating that everyone has a second language and it’s a working second language. They wear it like a second skin. Unlike my own mediocre knowledge of Italian nouns and verbs, which is overwhelmingly sub-par. I feel we have a real loss in Australia. English is spoken so well as a second language everywhere, it’s almost too easy to travel. The motivation or imperative to learn a language, just isn’t there.
I’m lucky because I don’t have a family. Well I have my husband and my fur babies, but they can be left at home to fend for themselves (husband included). I know it’s possible to travel when one has a family, but would I feel guilty doing so? I have a fear of being tied down. Even though I’m hardly living a gypsy life.
As much as it seems hard and stressful at the time and certainly about to board another flight right now, it doesn’t seem appealing at all. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I thank my circumstances and my privilege every day for the opportunities that are afforded to me. It makes me acutely aware of just how fortunate I am. And perhaps that’s why I have an urge to make a difference. I know with Gazella we are trying to do that every day.
My journey has been long. A door opens and I say, ‘I’ll do that.’ I always wanted to own my own practice. I spent maybe 6-7 years working for other people and often the dream felt more and more distant. Now I’ve had Schored Projects for four years. I’m the sole director. Prior to Schored, I had a practice with Graeme Gunn for 6 years.
I’m an architect first and foremost. I went back to University and completed my Masters in Landscape Architecture a few years ago. My practice works in both disciplines and we integrate both as much as possible. I started my architecture course at Deakin, completed a couple of subjects at the University of Melbourne, then graduated at RMIT. Melbourne was about catching up on subjects so I could graduate a little earlier. Deakin, I didn’t enjoy the location in Geelong and I wasn’t getting enough out of their design approach and at the time I had my eyes set on being a design architect which RMIT offered.
The only time I become nervous running a business is when the finances get a bit low, or I haven’t had a new job in a while, but I do absolutely love it. You’re a master of your own destiny. My time is my own. It allows great flexibility in life. I just bought a house with my partner, so I do a couple of days renovating with her now. I have a full-time staff member and a part time student in the office.
I’ve worked on trying to build up my Client base with housing associations and we now work regularly with about five of them. I try to touch base with them every few months. Word of mouth is important. The most recent job we won was because a CEO talking to another CEO of a housing association and recommending they speak with me.
My social values come from the way my Mum has bought me up and her influence. She was a nurse. Thinking about other people and not just yourself. The social work we do is to bring good design to people, regardless of their socioeconomic position. It’s really easy to design a house for someone who has money and can spend it. I want to get really good design out there for everyone whilst enjoying working to a budget.
The biggest social housing project we are working on at the moment is a design for Launch Housing on VicRoads land, designing transportable housing on Ballarat Road in Footscray to house people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. I had designed a transportable unit about five years ago for a competition, and we were shortlisted. I went around and showed housing associations what we had achieved. Launch Housing came back to me last year and said ‘Can we still do that?’
To get it off the ground has taken a little longer than we had hoped. The planning system hasn’t worked in our favour. There’s been a bit of the ‘NIMBGs’ (not in my back garden). There’s 9 sites, across 14 Titles. We secured most permits before Christmas and were trying to stay out of the media loop. But The Age got a hold of the story and we received about 80 objections on each of the last five applications. They tried to argue it was about amenity and neighbourhood character. Really it was because they don’t want perceived drug addicts, ex cons, whatever they can think of, living in their area. We have secured all the permits now, we just have to complete the delivery.
You’ve got to try and find your path, don’t listen to the bullshit and don’t get caught up in someone else’s path. That can be difficult, particularly in architecture. Not everyone is meant to be a design architect, winning awards and be published in magazines. I tried doing that for a few years, but it just wasn’t my path. I felt insincere, like keeping up with the Joneses. Don’t keep up with the Joneses, would be my advice. I found my path in social and affordable housing. It was hard to pull away from what I expected from myself. You get to a point where you can reject the idea.
I’ve always been good with work-life balance. There is often a whole expectation of being a martyr and doing overtime. My whole approach was to be out the door at 6:00pm. Time management is a skill.
My mum always told me to be honest. I’m honest to a fault at times. I’m the worst liar ever. In the industry, sometimes you have to fake it ‘til you make it. I’m hopeless at that. My honesty has gotten me to where I am today. And also probably Graeme. Who taught me ‘You don’t say yes to every job.’ Always get the client in first, because these projects take so long. You have to be able to get along with the people we work with.
Sophie plays a strong female voice in our world of social architecture today. Not only is she a driving force behind Melbourne’s urban environment, she is also promoting how we as a society have the capacity to change our community development. She certainly embodies a fearlessness role model to all women in the architecture industry. Not afraid to call it like it is, her success is a result of her honest, no bullsh*t attitude. Thank you for meeting with us Sophie, it was so refreshing to hear such a genuine perspective on life. All the best with your renovation!
How many times have you heard the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’, automatically associating it with women and gender politics. It’s a pretty common association in Australia, given all the media analysis of women’s participation in everything from politics to AFLW.
I want you to stop and think about what does diversity really mean to you? Why should it even matter? How do you think about it in your day to day?
Think about the last time you felt different. Uncomfortable with a situation. A time, where you felt left out or excluded. How did it make you feel? There have certainly been times when I have felt vulnerable, anxious and isolated due to feelings of exclusion. Unable to speak out, hindered by my surroundings.
On the other hand, I have felt the privilege of oblivion. I have followed the crowd on one or more occasions, feeling safe and grounded. No doubt, many of us have experienced both extremes.
Diversity comes in a myriad of forms, shapes and sizes. Ethnicity, gender, age and disability, scrape the surface. The obvious, outwardly overt reasons to exclude someone. Yet it’s the deeper dimensions of diversity traits, those that sit below the surface; often harder to see, that can often be overlooked without a second thought. Traits like values, life experiences, education, sexual orientation, political views and beliefs can all contribute to how you view your world.
The advantages to diversity in the workplace are plentiful. It has shown to facilitate businesses by improving ethical and good, decision-making within teams. Increase brand and reputation amongst customers and competitors. Provide a competitive advantage for talent attraction and retention. Maintain employee engagement. And has also shown to have improved links to safety and innovations gains.
So why is it so difficult to implement? Diversity is known to create conflict early on within teams. Often these uncomfortable situations are avoided at all costs because most people think they will remain this way permanently. It is in fact, quite the opposite. Although uncomfortable to begin with, diversity has been shown rewards of productivity over time. At the opposite spectrum, homogenous teams can remain static and inhibitive.
We all want to talk-the-talk with regards to diversity but we’re generally not walking it. Why? Because our evaluations are typically unconscious. We all have bias. Whether it be affinity bias; the feeling of relating to someone who is like minded is common and most natural. Alternatively confirmation bias; having views confirmed rather than challenged, can result in information and evidence been discounted. This being largely reflective of our social media foray.
Biases can be filtered through priming or stereotyping. What are we inadvertently expecting when we meet new people? Are there situations where we group think? Are we playing to perceived assumptions clouding our judgement of reality?
What can we do to change this? How do you ensure you don’t give in to bias? It’s as simple as becoming aware. It is important that our workplaces and the people in them, grow and learn to become places that are safe and where people can experience true inclusion. Question, Listen and Start the conversation. Ask yourself, what cultural-add is going to occur with this decision? Is the mix being challenged?
Ask for feedback. Don’t be afraid to get people’s thoughts on the matter. Play a point of devil’s advocate. Think about all the possible solutions. Put your view last in order to reduce the potential of priming and encourage openness.
How many people have felt safe to challenge you and your perspective lately? How are you cultivating change?
I graduated in the early 1980’s from my town and regional planning course at the University of Melbourne. I was there when the faculty building was cobbled together from various different donations of building materials from building companies – very different from the exceptional architectural composition that is now the Melbourne School of Design. My best subject in school was geography and I was always intrigued by patterns of human settlement. I was always interested in maps and as a young girl I spent hours poring over dog-eared Melways editions. When it came to working out what I was going to study for a career, it was always going to be in town planning.
After I completed my studies I worked for a short time in local government and then did what a lot of Australians still do and traveled overseas to London. I got a job as a planner for the City of Westminster working on the initial proposal to extend the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. That project went through an appeal process and involved what the British planning system calls an ‘inquiry’. Ultimately the proposal was not successful. Returning to London many times since, I often visit the National Gallery and reflect on what was finally constructed and is now known as the Sainsbury Wing – a restrained neoclassical building. It sits well alongside its host building looking over Trafalgar Square.
After returning to Melbourne in 1986 I joined Tract Consultants where I stayed for 10 years eventually becoming a partner in the practice. Tract grew out of the Merchant Builders Company, which pioneered free siting techniques and site response design that was reflected in its Vermont Park and Winter Park cluster housing projects.
At that time the marriage of the disciplines of landscape architecture and town planning was revolutionary and together they demonstrate how urban form and where we live, can be so much better. I learnt an enormous amount from my Tract colleagues and importantly Howard McCorkell and Rodney Wulff. It was an inspirational time and Tract gave me opportunities that I am thankful for to this day.
In 1996 I established my own firm and extended my area of practice in design-led planning solutions often in projects with urban design, landscape or heritage considerations. At the same time I was appointed by the then Minister for Planning Rob McClellan, to Victoria’s Heritage Council and subsequently as Chairman of the Council. At this time a new Heritage Act was given effect, which broadened the concept of heritage significance. No longer was it just about buildings but also gardens, cultural landscapes, objects and industrial processes.
My area of professional interest and capabilities was developing at the intersection of urban planning, statutory controls, place-making and project facilitation and I was keen to extend this area of practice into partnerships with urban designers.
About 8 years ago I joined a longtime former Tract colleague at my current firm Message Consultants, which comprises both town planners and urban designers. Our projects for the private sector and government clients often involve urban design and heritage issues as well as visual and landscape impact assessments and of course, advice on the development approval process. So much of what is characterised today as urban design is what I used to know as town planning. The challenge is that built form, landscape and heritage outcomes are primarily delivered through statutory controls so I think there is a clear role for the bridging skills that Message Consultants offers.
There are two aspects to starting any business. The first being the practical one, such as securing a small office space and the necessary IT resources. The second aspect to any successful practice is the development of networks with a client base and with your colleagues. I have learnt that cultivating and maintaining good relationships is critical and its value can’t be underestimated.
To be consultant and a trusted advisor is a nuanced role. As someone who is involved in the planning and design professions you are asked for advice on a wide range of projects. Discretion, integrity and a balanced clear-eyed view are critical. Learning or honing these skills takes time and I was very fortunate in having great mentors.
When I commenced my university course the gender split between men and women was about 50/50 with this ratio generally being maintained for about 5 years into my career. However, the number of women working as a consultant in the private sector reduced considerably after then. There were many times where I would attend meetings and I was the only woman there.
Thirty five years on and things have changed. There are certainly many more women in senior positions in both government and the private sector. However I think that professional prejudice against women and traditional resistance to women being taken seriously, has shifted to more subtle signals. The use of language and unconscious bias still remains. As Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book “Lean In”, a lot has to do with women being able to ‘lean in’ without being seen as a pushy bitch.
We have come a long way though. My parents arrived from Britain in 1955. My mother was university educated and a qualified librarian. Notwithstanding this, she was ineligible for positions in public libraries because of her ‘married’ woman status. It turned her into a lifelong feminist (to my advantage). She eventually found work at the Baillieu Library where she was very happy. At the time however jobs were advertised with a female wage and a separate higher male wage for the same position with exactly the same responsibilities.
I’m so disappointed to hear younger women (and some older women including a senior female federal government minister) say they are not a feminist. I don’t think being a feminist is anything more than saying we’ve got the skills and we should be given the same opportunities in the same way as men are.
I think my advice to any young professional women revolves around style and substance:
Style – I can remember being advised by a university lecturer in preparing us for the world outside, that women should lower the pitch of their voice and dress soberly to be taken seriously. Well times have changed, but not that much.
Substance – Do your best and focus on where you want to be. Women tend to be very hard judges of themselves. Don’t be too harsh on yourself when something doesn’t go your way.
I think there’s a lot to be said for that collegiate relationship of women – seek out supportive female colleagues. I also think that there are some good mentors to be found in men, especially those that have daughters.
My mother always told me to do my best. My mother always worked outside the home. When I look back at her life now, it must have been very hard for a young English bride to be on the other side of the world and seeking employment in a new country where it mattered that you were married. I’m proud of all that she achieved.
We met Catherine at Melbourne wonder Punch Lane, one evening. Catherine is a quiet, considered, powerhouse of a woman, epitomising the advice offered in her interview; speaking with substance, whilst impeccably dressed in what is obviously her own signature style. She has been devoted to her profession for so many years. Her knowledge and involvement in the industry has undoubtedly shaped Melbourne today and will continue to be formative in the industry for years to come. We feel so privileged to meet people like Catherine who made a name for themselves in the industry in a time when the discussion around equality and diversity was but a small, pulled thread in the social fabric of the western world. Where sacrifices were greater and the road less traveled. We wish Catherine all the best for the rest of 2018!