Being part of the problem and the solution

By Megan Berger

As our industry begins to shift and examine its policies, there’s perhaps no better place to look than leadership to see what change is on the horizon. Stephen McDougall knows all too well the impact that diversity and flexibility can have on a workplace.
As a director at Studio Pacific Architecture, Stephen is in a unique position to both drive change within his organisation, and help set the tone for fellow firms.

For starters, Stephen acknowledges that both men and women need to be part of the effort to implement meaningful change. “My view on diversity is that it is not just a women’s issue.  It’s a man’s issue, too,” says Stephen. “We [men] are the problem but we are also a significant part of the solution.”

The art of retention

As we all know, the statistics on women in senior roles in architecture are dismal. From Stephen’s perspective, this is an issue more often faced by women for several reasons. One of which, unsurprisingly, is motherhood. “Coming back into the industry after six months, nine months, a year, two years, three years – it is difficult.  The technological changes are happening so rapidly, the regulatory environment is changing and so it’s a daunting prospect to enter back into a workforce,” says Stephen. “There are some behaviours that we need to make sure happen so that returning parents feel comfortable and safe to re-enter the workplace at their own pace.”

“We [men] are the problem but we are also a significant part of the solution.”

But there’s another component that both men and women face that can place obstacles in the way of their success – the negative perception of part-time work. “I think there’s a perception out there in the wider industry that if you’re not there working until the dark then you’re not doing your job, and that if you’re only working part-time, you can’t do the full job,” says Stephen. “It’s certainly something we don’t advocate and we try to do anything we can to avoid it.”

“We have a number of both men and women who are primary care-givers for their children, including on our senior management team. We don’t care when they do what they’re doing, because we know that when they are here they’re concentrating on what they need to concentrate on, and when they need to come and go they can. It starts and ends with trust.”

Work/life balance

In addition to the perception of part-timers, the architecture industry has a tendency to praise those who ‘burn the midnight oil’. But that’s not the case in Stephen’s team.  “The things you get out of being an architect are extraordinary.  The number of people you touch and projects you engage with is incredibly rewarding. So, taking pride in that and wanting to do a great job and be the best you can be is understandable, but you should be able to do that in the hours you have set,” says Stephen.

“We don’t like people coming in in the weekends and we don’t like people being here late. We monitor people’s hours on a monthly basis and report weekly on anybody we think might be doing too much and keep a watching eye on them.”

Searching for swans

Stephen’s team at Studio Pacific has tried a few different options to improve their diversity. One that’s had positive results has been to look for a SWAN during the interview process. “It essentially means looking for those who are smart, work hard, are ambitious and nice. That behavioural aspect of being nice is something especially important to us. If we could be kinder, you know the world would be a better, more equitable place,” says Stephen.

Driving Change

Having a leader at the top of an organisation who acknowledges that the issues of diversity are not exclusively faced by women is a step in the right direction. But it will take work at all levels of an industry – and in public – in order to truly shift perceptions and behaviours.

Stephen’s suggestion is simple: call people out. “Men can be part of the solution by offering our support, leaning in, standing and walking alongside women, and calling out people in our industry,” says Stephen. “There’s the stereotypical wolf-whistle on the construction site, among other things, and we need to be calling that out.”

The other part of the solution? Creating a workplace where all workers – and we mean all workers – feel balanced. Studio Pacific has a profit-sharing scheme, where employees who have been at the firm for more than four years get a cut of the profits – including the cleaner. “We hope that people trust us to make sure that we are looking after their best interests” says Stephen. “And our best interests are their best interests, and that is pay parity. So I can, hand on my heart, say we pay equally.”

There’s also the firm’s Friday drinks, film festival and other social events that create its culture. The banner event is morning tea, which has become an integral ritual of the office. Every day, a massive spread of cheese and biscuits, vegetables, fruit and more is set out for anyone who wants to attend (which is everybody).

To the future

The industry has a lot further to go until workplaces like Steven’s are the norm rather than the exception. But still, there’s hope. “It’s a great profession.  It is a lifestyle.  You do have to be committed because it’s about changing people’s lives,” says Stephen. “It’s incredibly rewarding and I would recommend anybody to do it.”

And for the architecture firms and any organisation in any industry who don’t want to make diversity a priority and change their ways, Stephen has a clear message: “They will get left behind. Bring it on, I reckon. It can’t come quick enough.”

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