International Men’s Day Reflections

Angelina Pillai , 19 November 2019

ACA CEO Angelina Pillai reflects on a week of inspirational panel discussions and events that will hopefully spur others on to further action.

Last week I had the good fortune of being treated to some pretty powerful lessons. I started the week by being involved in the Business of Architecture and Design (BoAD) conference, which explored a range of topics connected with the future disruption of our industry and the intersection of people, planet and profits in creating vibrant and sustainable practices. From artificial intelligence to insights from Asia to practical tools and resources on how to manage your practice, the conference covered a lot of ground.

Then, mid-week, I had the pleasure of attending an awards ceremony with ArchiTeam as they celebrated some of Australia’s finest architectural work from smaller practices. The entries demonstrated a particular emphasis on design that respects our environment, is aimed at shaping our neighbourhoods and supporting our communities. Finally, I ended the week at Transformations: Action on Equity, a two-day symposium convened by Parlour and the University of Melbourne, which brought together an extraordinary group of researchers, professionals and activists who are changing the way we think about gender in the built environment.

Let’s just say that as the weekend approached, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to learn and be inspired.

Each of these events reminded me how complex our work environments are as we battle the challenges practices face every day (regardless of size), navigating everything from technological advancements to sustaining our planet for the future, to overcoming gender inequity while confronting the fact that mental wellbeing is still a serious issue in our society, requiring much more attention than just awareness.

The advice that rang through is that we need to lead by example by making sure we take collective accountability of these issues, as opposed to simply paying lip service. We need to walk the walk…not just talk…

For example, at Transformations I had the privilege of exchanging some interesting ideas with Ben Channon, Associate at Assael Architecture in the UK. Ben is the Mental Wellbeing Ambassador at the practice and founded and chairs the Architects’ Mental Wellbeing Forum, focused on improving mental health within the profession. His commitment to supporting architectural practices to create and implement strategies to address the wellbeing of staff is remarkable. This is an exceptional case of commitment in action. I am keen to see where/how the ACA can play a leading role in this initiative in Australia, as we continue to raise awareness on wellbeing in practices by providing information and resources. After all, this is a collective business priority. Great work, Ben!

I heard from outstanding speakers from diverse backgrounds and histories but was particularly inspired to understand more deeply the work that the Champions of Change are doing in our communities. We were fortunate to have Dr Jess Murphy facilitate a panel session at BoAD. Jess is the convenor of the Architect Male Champions of Change group, which was formed in early 2015 as a result of recognising the distinct gap of senior women in Australian architecture practices, acknowledging this and committing to proactively working together in addressing this issue within the profession. Adam Haddow from SJB, Brian Clohessy from BVN, John Prentice from Woods Bagot, Phillip Vivian from Bates Smart and Shaun Carter from Carter Williamson were some of the incredible male advocates for change that I was in the presence of across these events as they shared, explored and taught us about the role that men can play in effecting change in our profession. It’s just good business. Congratulations guys – you are walking the walk!

Back in March, I reflected on what International Women’s Day means to me, and today as we celebrate International Men’s Day, I’d like to toast the outstanding men all around Australia who are enthusiastically making a difference – some publicly, others more privately. It doesn’t matter, you know who you are. I’d like to acknowledge the contribution that you make as role models and encourage others to step up in order to foster a new generation of men who advocate for positive gender relations, tackling discrimination and disadvantage, improving men’s health and wellbeing, and making the world a better, safer and more productive place for everyone.

Together with senior women in the profession, your support through coaching and mentoring the future generation of our profession will ensure that in five to ten years’ time we are not lamenting the same gender issues we are challenged with today. I urge men from every practice to think about one thing you can do in the next 12 months that will make a difference and call out poor culture when you see it. Collectively, let’s work out ways to address it. The conversation has started, and the ACA will continue to advocate for better work practices.

As I wrote back in March, just maybe (as my teenage sons keep hoping) one day we can do without IWD or IMD and celebrate International People’s Day – IPD, everyday – where we all come together to celebrate how wonderfully diverse we all are and rejoice in the respect and parity gained from living, working and playing side by side.

That’s the future I hope for my children and their children – but it starts with all of us… Yes, we’re all responsible.

If you would like to share your ideas on how the ACA can help your practices deal with these issues, please get in touch.