Jessica Liew Director Plus Architecture  / 
Think Like a Man

story / Interview / September 12, 2016

My dad was a builder. I was used to him working on sites when I was young. I would watch him from the inside of the car! The built environment is like home to me. Initially, I wanted to study fashion. My father suggested I become a civil engineer…  trying to plant the seed. My parents love architecture. For us in Asia, when you say that you’re an architect you are considered white collar, like a doctor or a lawyer. It’s prestigious. The profession is also quite different in Asia; you can only have an architect sign off drawings (not a draftsperson).

Having progressed to Director now, looking back, in our industry it’s never easy. It was a lot of hard work, late nights, weekends and a lot of sacrifices. But I told myself, you got to do it while you’re young. So I worked really hard. I have been at Plus Architecture all along; as a student, project architect and then an associate. It’s been almost 17 years.

I always believe that if you never ask for it, you’ll never get it. Plus has a nurturing environment to start off with and what’s good about working here. They never lock you in a position because you’re good at doing it. They always make sure you move around and they want to see what your skills levels are like. Twice a year we have our reviews. We talk about our current progression, what type of jobs that we’d like to do, what stage of jobs that we want to work on, when we want to get registered? There’s no disparity about whether you’re a male or a female, that’s for sure.

My work as a Director involves high level strategy as well as being involved in high profile and complex projects. There’s a lot client interface. It’s another level of stress that you have to deal with. As a student it’s all about soaking up the knowledge, as you get to a PA it’s more about dealing with the people, teamwork and time management. Next level up, you’re dealing with on-book projects, multiple clients, client facing, bigger projects, more complexity. Finally at a higher level it’s all about strategy. What to do with the business? What to do with this client? How do you put people together? How do you create networks?

I went back to work two months after having James. The month I decided to come straight back to work, James came too. All he did was eat and sleep, so I pushed the pram around the office. I was feeding him in the meeting room, working, changing him, putting him to bed. I kept doing that for about three months and then decided when he was six months old and had started crawling, I was like, “Okay that’s it. That’s the limit.” That’s when he started childcare. Now, I can work five days a week. It is a bit of a juggle, but obviously with technology, I can work from anywhere. I don’t really work 9 to 5, because my time is more flexible and I don’t sit at a computer all the time. I do a lot of phone calls and emails.

My advice to other women would be to start by recognising your peers. Don’t put each other down. I think in my very honest opinion, most men that I have dealt with have been very, very helpful with anything. On the other hand, some women have been quite judgmental. People might not like to hear this but it’s true. Women often just look down on each other and aren’t willing to help each other out.

I recently went to a function with my business partner Craig. He was talking to a lady who was very well dressed. She carried herself very well. When I walked up to them I introduced myself with a mutual exchange and a handshake. She proceeded to ask me whether I was at the function with my boss. Thankfully Craig corrected her and said ‘She’s my business partner!’ There’s the difference between the men and women. Maybe it’s unconscious bias. It’s often thought because you are female, you obviously couldn’t be in charge. I ask “What do you do?” rather than “Who do you work for?” It’s polite. Don’t just assume.

The best advice I’ve ever been given was to think like a man (for business purposes). I think that women think way too much. Just get all the emotions out of the way and do what you have to do. I vent a lot at work so that I don’t have to deal with it when I come home. I keep telling myself I’m not living with that person so I can just walk away and forget about that person. You’re bad, you’re not nice but alright so be it. I don’t have to deal with you, I don’t have to sleep with you, I don’t have to see you at night. I can sleep in peace.

My mum always told me, study hard. I think even now what you’re doing is to study everyday. Don’t stop learning. That’s the other thing I want you to take away from my thoughts. Because if you stop learning, you think that you know it all already and that’s when you start assuming things. I’m still learning things from my young nieces and nephew now. I’m like, “What? What’s SnapChat?” I’m so old now… Kids these days! (I do enjoy a bit of SnapChat).

 

Jessica was the first female architect that Justine (as a very green graduate) worked with way back when, so she was obviously one of the ‘must interview’ contenders for the blog. She kindly invited us to her beautifully designed family home in Hawthorn, where we met her husband and little baby, James. Don’t let Jess’ petite frame fool you, this women operates with enthusiasm, gumption and style. Unapologetically proud to tell it like it is, she has made her mark in the industry through immense hard work and dedication. Jess was very black and white in her opinions on equality and you can see that this is reflected in the way she operates. One thing that really struck us about Jess was the fact that she is not afraid to laugh at herself. This is a rare quality that was beautifully displayed through our interview. Thanks for the laughs Jess, you gave us some great insights into your world and we only wish you all the best in the future!

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