Made by Women for Women / Justine Hadj Co-Editor of Gazella  / 
Part 1: Where are the Women?

story / Opinion / March 25, 2019

Justine spoke at Women Design + Housing Symposium last week, along with previous GAZELLA interviewee Sophie Dyring. We thought we’d bring you Justine’s talk here on the blog. Enjoy!


I want to share a real life example that struck a chord with me as I was lazily scrolling through Instragram on the long weekend. As an avid follower of influencer Amy Molloy, I stumbled across her post in my feed.

A visual description of this picture for those of you listening, shows Amy Molloy and her girlfriend, all dressed up, sitting on a tiled floor pumping breast milk in what appears to be a tiny, claustrophobic  space. Their faces however show an overwhelming sense of joy.

The caption reads, On #internationalwomensday this is womanhood in all it’s #real glory…In a (very public!) hotel hallway (the only place with a plug socket), pumping in between the speeches at a kid-free wedding. THIS is what female solidarity looks like. Laughing, connecting, uniting, embracing. And I’m grateful for it every day.

As I scrolled further, many comments that followed cooed in echo; “Woohoo!”, “Brilliant!” “This is bloody awesome!” Another comment follows with “#beenthere! Nothing like that sound in a public space! Thank goodness for the sisterhood! I had an old job where the only place with a socket to pump was the men’s toilets.”

Now I put this to you, where are the buildings made by women, for women?

Why is it that our homes, apartments, hotels, hospitals, schools, universities, public spaces and more broadly speaking infrastructure, all the places in which we as women inhabit, seem to be lacking with women at the forefront of consultation, planning, development, design, construction and impact.

The shaping of our cities, buildings and homes have all been heavily influenced by the majority of male decision makers, realising the way in which we, as women, live, work and play.

Today, I want to focus on breaking down the make up of women in our current workforce, and the way in which we as females are influencing how we develop, design and construct our buildings. How is the significance of gender diversity within our workforce affecting the outcomes of our built form?

Where are all the women? Let’s look at the facts.

In Architecture

The latest statistics prepared by Parlour and Gill Matthewson suggest women play an important roles in Australian architecture, and their numbers have significantly increased over time. However, there is still a large gap between women as graduates and as registered architects.

Women still cluster in the junior ranks of the profession despite having comprised nearly half of all architecture graduates since the mid 1990s. Women leave architecture at higher rates than men. The number of women in architecture peaks in the 25 – 29 age group then declines.

In Property

PCA and EY’s ‘Grow the talent pool’ report suggest men continue to hold the majority of senior leadership positions in the property industry with women holding 25.9% of senior leadership positions.

Despite the significant progress made since 2016, there remains a general feeling that the “boys’ club mentality” is a barrier to women working in the property industry. In fact, 61% of women and 34% of men still believe this attitude discourages people from pursuing long-term careers in property.

A third of women also identify the “boys’ club” as the biggest barrier to career progression (33% of women, compared to only 11% of men).

In Construction

UNSW’s research Demolishing Gender Structures report, shows the construction industry is the most male-dominated sector in Australia: in 2016 women represent only 12% of the workforce, a decrease from 17% in 2006 (ABS 2016, ABS 2006). Among professional and managerial roles, women represent 14% of staff (ABS 2012).

Men dominate senior ‘technical’, operational careers, while women congregate in junior, support roles and non-fee-earning professions such as human resources and marketing.

Early enthusiasm by women about construction professions and their future careers in the sector decreases with increased exposure to the workplace as they experience relative disadvantage and inequality in pay, development and promotional opportunities compared to their male counterparts (Dainty et al., 2000).

These experiences take their toll with women leaving the construction professions almost 39% faster than their male colleagues (APESMA, 2010).

What does this all mean?

At a University level, we are seeing the uptake of women completing architecture, property and construction degrees increase dramatically. However, what is clearly noticed across the board, is the lack of career progression that suggests, with an increase in age, the number of women in senior positions in the built environment professions are dwindling.

The Blind Spot

Without women involved at the heart of planning, developing, designing or constructing, we are really limiting our ability to provide adequate, safe and comfortable spaces for fifty percent of the population.

A female focused gender lens enables a greater perspective on not only gender but social issues. Women’s involvement allows a more inclusive tendency toward collaboration often influencing a more complex approach to design and interpretation of the brief.

There is recognising physical differences:

  • the experience of being pregnant or
  • needing to breastfeed a baby, like shown in the example of Amy Molley,
  • or of feeling unsafe after dark.

A woman’s approach to design, management of a collaboration of ideas brings a heightened sensitivity to differences, we are often reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, engaging with all stakeholders through sharing and decision lead design. What is currently lacking in the industry, is the skills to listen and observe before we take that step in doing.

I believe buildings made by women, for women, would create a more porous delivery of our cities. It is only inevitable that the divisions between home and work would become less rigid, ultimately benefiting both genders.

What is Gazella?

Gazella is an independent publication co-founded by myself and my dear friend and ally Danielle Savio offering insights into inspiring females in the built environment. We publish stories of women celebrating their successes and increasing the overall awareness of women’s contribution to the industry. To date, we have interviewed in excess of over two hundred women. We aim to actively break down barriers between women working in different organisations, promoting the opportunities available for women to advance their careers.

We aim to provide a unique window of insight designed to foster retention of women within the industry. For those wanting a change in pace, a different scene, a lateral movement, or climbing that ladder, there are plenty of options within the larger built environment industry. It is imperative that women should be encouraged to stay and find roles or fight for roles tailored to them, as many of the more senior women featured on the blog have done so.

What can we do to change this?

How do we ensure that our women keep pursuing their careers to plan, develop, design and build our communities? It is as simple as becoming aware. Question, listen and start the conversations. Where are the women? Where are the women designing our buildings? Planning them. Developing them. Where are the women on the executive teams or boards making decisions that represent our voice? Where are the women on the ground constructing our buildings? The only way to cultivate change is to ask the question. Where are the women?


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