Michael Smith interviews David Karotkin in the third of his Leading Towards Gender Equity series.


Parlour is very pleased to co-publish these interviews, which first appeared on Michael’s excellent blog, The Red and Black Architect.

Interview 3: David Karotkin and the Red & Black Architect

Leading Towards Gender Equity is a four-part series of interviews with some of the most widely regarded leaders of the architectural profession in Australia. The focus is on leadership, creating positive change within architecture and addressing the various issues surrounding gender equity.

David Karotkin has only recently taken up his position as Institute National President but has already expressed his intent to push a variety of important issues including improving member engagement with the institute.

For the 12 months David will be key in driving the agenda of the Institute. With gender equity being such an important topic, this insight into David’s views and opinions will help provide some perspective on where the Institute and the profession is heading.

Red +Black Architect How important is this issue to you as a leader of the architecture profession?

David Karotkin Through the work of the Parlour team, we now have a comprehensive picture of the issue. The difficulty in achieving genuine gender equity in our profession is that the reasons for the current imbalance go beyond simply attitude; to a large extent it is structural. What I mean is that gender imbalance is deeply entrenched and the way we operate has evolved to suit the status quo. In order to make genuine structural changes within our industry it is essential that leaders step up and show the way. The Institute is serious about demonstrating leadership on this issue and about guiding others so they can also lead by example.

R+BA What do you see as the greatest opportunity or benefit to come from this gender Equity agenda?

DK Architects work within and for our communities.  We will naturally be better placed to understand our communities, and their needs, if we are more closely reflective of the communities we serve.  If we can redress the gender imbalance that currently exists in our profession, then I believe we will generally produce better architectural outcomes as a direct result of broader input that more closely reflects the diversity of our community.

R+BA The Parlour project seems to be having an impact nationally and even internationally, what feedback have you been getting?

DK  I know that gender equity has been identified as an issue in other countries and that the work of Parlour has received a lot of interest from other Architectural Institutes. At a local level following on from the National Conference in Perth, I have received generally positive feedback from practitioners that are genuinely interested in understanding how they can adjust the way they operate so that they can move towards a better gender balance in their own firms. Unfortunately, I have also received some negative feedback from practitioners who think we will have to continue to practice in the way we currently do and that only people who can fit into that model of practice will therefore advance in their profession.

R+BA Should we be looking at revising the Institute election processes such that there a minimum numbers of men and women on the national and state councils?

DK The key should be to work at getting more women to stand for election in the first place. This involves actively encouraging women to participate in all types of formal Institute activities as well as trying to understand what issues might be preventing women from being as involved as men. There may be some scope for affirmative action, however that should never compromise the democratic process we use to elect our council.

R+BA What measure of success should we be using to assess our progress towards gender equity?

DK It is apparent that women are equally interested in pursuing architecture as a profession as men are, based on university enrolments. Ultimately equity does not necessarily mean that men and women must end up doing all the same things in their careers, however we need to be confident that women and men are equally able to make their own decisions about their careers and that those decisions are not adversely influenced by practices that impact on one gender differently to the other. There will be a need to continue to monitor the data collected by Parlour in order to see if we are achieving trends towards greater equity, and importantly, that we understand the ongoing reasons for any differences between men’s and women’s careers in architecture.

R+BA How long do you think it will be before we achieve this goal in the Australian architecture profession?

DK To be perfectly honest, I have no idea, however I know we have to act now and we have to be committed to meaningful change in the way go about our business in order to start a trend towards gender equity.

R+BA What role do you see men having in the ongoing drive to achieve gender equity?

DK Men currently hold a majority of senior positions in the profession, so if men don’t accept that there is a real issue that requires a change to the way we have practiced for decades, then it could be a long time before we see any change.

R+BA What do you think about the ARC grant and Parlour project as a model for change? Could a similar process be used for tackling other issues or addressing equity in other industries?

DK The Parlour team have done excellent work. I think it’s been really important that the Institute has been a partner in the project because the real success of the project will come from action that sees improved equity in the architectural industry. That will require extensive communication to the industry including leadership by example and through guidance. The role of the Institute gives the research a pathway to action.

R+BA What do you think about the institute facilitating an ethical employment scheme? The idea of this scheme would be to publicly acknowledge ethical employers who agreeing to sign statutory declarations which enforced their adherence to a higher ethical standard. Is this a good idea and could it work?

DK This sounds interesting, however the devil could be in the detail. How do you propose defining “a higher ethical standard”? The Institute is committed to being an exemplary employer and would therefore support measures that encourage and help our members be the best employers they can be for the benefit of their own businesses and for their staff.

R+BA What advice would you give to a young and enthusiastic female architecture graduate, who is about to enter the workforce?

DK I would encourage her, as I would any young graduate, to be open and honest with her employer about her aspirations in architecture.  It’s really important to have a communicative relationship between employer and employee to give the best chance of achieving shared goals.

R+BA Thanks for your time


So there we have it, three critical opinions from three brilliant leaders in our profession. When they were asked to participate in this discussion, Shelley Penn, Paul Berkemeier and David Karotkin were all quick to agree to participate. I cannot thank them enough for their generosity of time and input.

It is quite obvious that we are in an unprecedented position in terms of our ability to address this long festering problem. With the research done, the structures for change are being created rapidly. The Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice, the ratified AIA gender equity policy in place and the newly formed Gender Equity Committee starting work it seems only a matter of time until we make genuine and measurable progress in offices across Australia.

The data is in. The need for change has been clearly documented. There is a big task ahead which will require positive and productive leadership at the highest levels. We clearly have this high quality leadership in the AIA presidents current and past but there is much work to be done at the individual practice level also. If you are the director of an architecture firm, an employee or a contractor, download and read the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice. Familiarize yourself with the issues and become a leader yourself.