Professional Background …
Elissa: I’ve been working in facades now for ten years. I joined Inhabit two and a half years ago. Back in my University days, I completed a double degree in architecture and construction management. During my final year I ended up getting a job at Arup in facade engineering. Now my role is as office manager at Inhabit. I’m still involved in projects, but also building the structure of our office. We’ve grown from 20 people two and a half years ago, to 50 now. We’re trying to catch up!
Zamaneh: I studied architecture back in Iran. I have a really pragmatist approach. I moved to Italy and completed a Masters of Building Engineering. I then moved to Belgium and worked as a researcher in Antwerp University. Then my partner and I were granted permanent Visas for Australia. We weighed up Belgium and Australia and what would give us better careers. We came to Australia, because Melbourne especially, is a city under construction.
I’m a facade consultant at Inhabit. As a façade consultant my role is to find a common ground between structural engineers, architect, ESD consultant and builders in process of designing building envelopes. I help our clients to develop and achieved the design intent in a more rationalised and buildable way. I also work as sessional staff at the University of Melbourne.
On Barriers …
Elissa: One of the biggest barriers I see for women, is certainly flexibility. I consider myself lucky here at Inhabit, that I have supportive people around me. Consulting is a flexible career path for those who are working part time. However, you also need to have the understanding of senior management to allow that to happen. You can have the best policies in place, but if your manager doesn’t align themselves with those policies, it can be particularly difficult.
Zamaneh: Business not just construction, is about your networks. What I’ve found different between males and females, is that my male friends, started to build their network from University. Building relationships and networks, does not depend on your position. It’s always good to build your network. To catch up with new people, to introduce yourself, to explore new opportunities regardless of your gender.
On Elissa’s Pregnancy …
Zamaneh: Looking from the outside, I appreciate that Elissa, as a manager that is now pregnant, is facing many constraints that generally men wouldn’t necessarily experience. Often, when women become pregnant, they step back. They stop raising their hand. Elissa has taken on her new role, she is leaving next week yet still she is helping develop strategies.
Elissa: I wasn’t expecting my promotion when it came, but at the time, I knew that I was probably going to get pregnant soon afterwards. It happens to a lot of people. Nevertheless, when I got promoted I just said ‘Thanks!’ and went with it. I’ll admit, it wasn’t the easiest conversation to go in afterwards and say ‘By the way…’, but I can say that everyone here has been supportive. The hardest thing was that my thoughts on delivering the news were worse than it was.
The challenge for me coming back to work will be the availability of childcare. It’s actually quite difficult. The childcare centre near my house has an eighteen month waiting list. My husband is really supportive of equality within our relationship. He would like to go part time when I’m ready to go to work. He intends on working four days a week and we’ll have three days of childcare. I know it can be hard for men to go in and ask for part time work, than it is for females. It can be a real barrier in the industry. For men at some companies, it’s still a hard conversation to have, but my husband’s team and manager have been very supportive so far. It’ll be easier for the next generation to ask for those things. There is a lot more precedent out there in flexibility for working hours for women, than there is for men.
On Facade Engineering …
Zamaneh: In Australia, there isn’t a formalised education path to be a facade engineer, so that makes it a bit of an unknown for graduates. I don’t necessarily think that girls want to be architects, but the construction side of projects appears to be scary. The perception is that they are going to be dealing with hundreds of tradies and they don’t want that lifestyle, so they change their mind to go into things like architecture, where they can be creative. But I believe working in the construction side of the industry requires high level creativity and problem-solving skills.
Elissa: I know that science has done a lot of work recently to try and engage girls at school age to try and increase the interest at that level, to filter through to higher education. I think the construction industry could be doing similar things. I think when you’re in early high school years, people often ask you what you think you might do and that’s already starting to form your ideas about what you might do in the future.
Architecture as a career path has become widely accepted for women, but for engineering, we still aren’t getting the numbers. However architecture isn’t very flexible in terms of hours. Or at least there is an industry standard that isn’t very flexible.
Advice to Young Female Graduates …
Elissa: Don’t let expectations, change your decisions. Don’t let a male dominated industry stop you, because I think there are plenty of people to prove that you can be successful as a female. You just need the right attitude. And there will be hurdles to jump over, but don’t let one hurdle stop you…or two, or five, or ten.
Zamaneh: The important thing is to ask for it. If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. It’s important for young people that they try to find their way through, rather than waiting for someone to show then the way, because that will never work. And that’s not necessarily anything to do with gender.
Elissa: I definitely agree with that. I can think of moments in my career, when I went and asked for things. It’s definitely not easy, but it worked. And you’re right, it’s not about gender, but men ask for things more than women do. I think that’s why there is that progression of men faster than women. You have to have the confidence to ask.
Zamaneh: Women get rejected more than men. And that’s a reality, but it’s about never giving up. I’m quite optimistic about the future and our generation will really make things change. We will see that day that when we have more females sitting around the table.
My Mother Always Told Me …
Zamaneh: My mother always told me to find my own way. Oh, I miss her! She lives in Iran. All my family lives there. I haven’t seen my mother in a year and a half.
Elissa: I think my answer is not what my mother told me, but what she didn’t tell me. Both my parents have been very supportive and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot, more recently, because I’ve started to think about my own children and how we are going to raise them. They always helped me through, whatever path I’ve chosen, but they’ve never told me to do particular things. They let me find out who I am. It’s a parenting style I’ve really come to appreciate now and hope I can continue on!
Elissa and Zamaneh were so fantastic to interview together. They feed off each others energy and passion for the industry. Elissa carries so much leadership nuance for someone so young. Her drive and approach is calm and considered. Clearly a fantastic inspiration for Zamaneh and the other women at Inhabit. Zam has the kind of spirit that fills us with hope for the industry, as these women come into the upper folds. She gives so much to her work, but also the local community in her spare time. Danielle was lucky enough to work with both these ladies recently at the Collins Square project in Docklands. We wish them both the best for 2017.