Written by Sofie Pelsmakers for the RIBA Role Model Project, Sheffield School of Architecture and UCL energy Institute in support of International Women’s Day on 08.03.2016
The built environment is still not equated with a diverse work force unlike the stakeholders with whom we work with and for. The annual survey of women in architecture released last month, makes for uneasy reading: deep-rooted inequalities and perceptions of gender differences that seem to affect women architects particularly badly. So on international women’s day I’d briefly like to share my journey as a woman in architecture practice, research and academia. In June 2015, I was shortlisted among 11 others by the RIBA as one of its ‘Role Models’, hopefully inspiring others that they too can forge a successful career in architecture. Since I shared my story as part of the Role Model Project, I noticed a positive change within myself and how I view myself. It is hard to explain, but I am more at ease with myself and more accepting of myself. I no longer fear of speaking out about my background (read about it here) or being a woman in a still mostly male dominated profession (more about that here). On reflection, this makes sense: sharing our stories so publicly received positive responses and made me realise that I was wrong to be afraid to speak out. I no longer feel as vulnerable sharing my personal journey: I have a voice and I want to use my voice on issues that matter to me in the hope that it inspires others and to draw out the value of differences. I also realised I should no longer be embarrassed about my background, but celebrate how far I have come despite the challenges along the way and to see and use this as a strength.
Much has happened since June 2015: while I am still finishing the write-up of my PhD thesis at the UCL Energy Institute, I continue to be involved with the RIBA/CIC Fluid Diversity Mentoring scheme, which has been hugely rewarding as a mentor. When I joined the University of Sheffield as a lecturer in the autumn, I also joined RIBA Role Models Professor Fionn Stevenson and Satwinder Samra. Furthermore, I have been privileged to be mentored by several colleagues in informal ways but also in a formal way with Sheffield University’s Impact Mentoring scheme, which aims to increase women representation at all levels of academia. The generosity of my mentors’ time and energy has touched me and made me reflect on my own personal and professional career path and I cannot recommend enough the value of such mentee/mentoring relationships (at UCL a similar mentoring scheme is the Astrea Project). Along the way, my mentors and role models have both been female but many more were male (as we are short of women in the industry!): there have been many who encouraged and supported me and I cannot thank them enough for being part of my journey and helping me and many others to overcome obstacles. While they may not have been consciously aware of it, they were (and are) in fact champions of gender parity.
So, on International Women’s day, my challenge goes to all of YOU: please #PledgeForParity because gender equality benefits us all. Women represent around 50% of the world’s population, and are undeniably equal stakeholders so we must make sure women voices are heard and actively encouraged. The under-representation of women (alongside the general lack of diversity) in built environment professions must be reduced, to prevent the disempowerment and alienation of a large proportion of the population and lose out on different view points: the diversity and insights offered by a more varied decision-making team can be beneficially employed to generate new ideas and innovative ways of thinking or working, providing the best solutions for everyone. I have already witnessed this in my first 6 months at the Sheffield School of Architecture, where I am part of an inclusive, supportive and diverse department, illustrating that diverse team work and ‘team-thinking’ brings the best ideas to the table and leads to innovative practices and culture changes. We need you, male (and female) built-environment professionals and academics with us to #PledgeForParity not just today, but every day.
“Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.” International Women’s day
Sofie Pelsmakers is doctoral researcher at the UCL Energy Institute, part-time lecturer in Environmental Design and Programme Leader of the MSc in Sustainable Architecture Studies at the Sheffield School of Architecture. She is Author of The Environmental Design Pocketbook and co-founder of Architecture for Change. From April 2016 she will support ECD Architects work as Head of Research (Sustainable Architecture), where she will also mentor other young architects. She is honoured to be part of the RIBA Role Model Project #RIBARoleModels #SeeMeJoinMe #PledgeForParity #ValueDifference
You can follow her on twitter @SofiePelsmakers