The architecture industry has traditionally been heavily male dominated. As a young, high-powered woman in this space, have you been confronted with gender-related roadblocks in your career?
Yes, I have experienced some quite apparent gender inequality throughout my career. I look young for my age and have a soft voice, which often raises eyebrows when I attend client meetings. I once participated in a kick-off meeting with a male colleague who was younger and less experienced than me. The client asked for my qualifications as they presumed that I was an assistant and were surprised to learn that I was the architect who had been leading the project. Only then was I accorded the same respect as my male colleagues. I had to step up to prove that I knew what I was doing, and I did have to go that extra mile to overcome this barrier and demonstrate my capabilities.
For most of my professional life, I have been the sole woman on a team of men. I thought back to the occasions when I had to pass along sexist remarks or was sometimes silenced. Working twice as hard to be taken seriously as an architect has always been the norm for me. Initially, I thought I had to be like my male counterparts, but through experience, I realised that I have the advantage of being part of a minority as I bring forth a unique approach to what I do.
Chrsitine with her family.
What have been the key drivers of your success?
A pivotal moment for me was when I found out I was pregnant with a daughter. You see, I didn't worry about my son's future, as I knew the world would be more understanding for him, but my daughter would have to be tougher, so I needed to show her that anything is achievable. I promised that I would commit time each day to improving myself and encouraging other women to do the same.
Entering this industry is not that difficult but working your way up the career ladder can be challenging, especially for those with a family. As an architect mum, I must balance the company's demands with my family's needs, which means being incredibly flexible. Now that flexible hours and ‘work from everywhere’ are the norm, leadership roles have become much more accessible for determined women.
It's no secret that men dominate construction and real estate, but that's about to change. A steady stream of summits and talks are gaining support from the government, which will help us gather momentum as we speak and support each other. I look forward to the day when I won't have to speak up about my importance as a woman in the industry. We are here to stay, and we will help one another until the thinking shifts and diversity and inclusiveness are widely accepted.
Studies repeatedly prove that diversity is overwhelmingly beneficial in business. How would the architecture space benefit from having more women in positions of power?
The advantages of women in architecture and construction are plentiful, but these are still male dominated industries. Today, company practices are developing, and more businesses understand the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Interestingly, the increase in the number of female-led firms is helping secure the future of women in our industry. Women are usually good at wearing multiple hats and managing time, while also contributing a nurturing perspective.
Women tend to fragment time and space to combine productive work with family duties, yet because of historical gender bias, the built environment's ability to respond to the needs of half of the world's population fails.
Diversity in the architectural industry leads to success since there's a more comprehensive range of interests to draw from. I firmly believe that everyone should be involved in the creative and design development processes to build better spaces for the cities of the future. When women in architecture show perseverance and dedication, we significantly impact how our society thinks about engineering and architecture as jobs that both men AND women can do. In future, I hope that architecture will no longer be regarded as a male-dominated field, but rather a career available to all.
Successful businesses do not conform to gender or race, and the proof can be seen in the achievements of women worldwide. The more we speak, support and elevate women, the closer we bring ourselves to a future where men and women have equal representation in decisions about future cities. When we are free of preconceived notions and biases, we can significantly impact our future and create communities where gender norms do not define a child's future or a woman's potential.
Chrsitine speaking in a panel discussion around diversity and inclusion in the real estate industry, at Cityscape Global 2021.
What advice would you give any aspiring female architects reading this?
The advice I would give to aspiring architects is to follow their passion. If your passion is within architecture, then go for it!
Architecture is a team effort and thrives on collaboration, so work on your communication skills. Voice your opinion, speak your mind, and continue to learn, develop, and grow. Get inspiration, ask smart questions, and plan ahead.
Remember that the profession is for everyone - gender isn’t important, but talent, skill, and creativity are. Architecture is tough and challenging and requires hours of dedication, hard work, practice, and coordination. Be flexible enough to accommodate and accept feedback.
The role of an architect is beyond design, it is about the safety of structures and how they enhance people's way of life. It’s often undervalued but nothing compares to seeing your vision turn into reality or recognising the contribution that your project brings to the built environment and to society.