Michael Smith interviews Ross Clark in his final Leading Towards Gender Equity interview.

Ross Clark_crop2 michael
Interview 5: Ross Clark and the Red & Black Architect

Being a leader on gender equity is not restricted to those who have high public profiles. Often those best placed to make change are hands on with the day-to-day activities of an organisation or business. As an expansion to the recent equity Interviews as published on Parlour, I posed similar questions to the Australian Institute of Architects’ Chief Operating Officer, Ross Clark. Ross has a critical role in the functioning of the Institute and is therefore also critical in the development and delivery of gender equitable practices.

Michael Smith How would you describe your role within the Australian Institute of Architects?

Ross Clark I am the Chief Operating Officer. My focus is on the internal operations of the Institute, particularly as they impact on members and staff.

MS How important is this issue to you as a leader of the architecture profession?

RC Gender inequity is arguably one of the major issues confronting our profession, as well as most other professions. There is ample evidence to confirm an array of gender-based impacts on the participation and progression of women within architecture. These impacts ultimately diminish the potential of our profession, unnecessarily constraining the diversity of views, ideas and contributions that architects can offer to our community. Overcoming them is thus essential for our success and prosperity as a profession.

MS What do you see as the greatest opportunity or benefit to come from this gender equity agenda?

RC There are many benefits and opportunities, but I will focus on two – one tangible, the other more a matter of principle. Firstly, there is much to gain for those women who studying architecture in equal numbers to men only to find themselves part of a profession that progressively falls short of their specific needs and expectations. Being able to embark on a profession that they believe will acknowledge and respond to their needs will be a great step forward. Second, the equity agenda offers the Institute a prime opportunity to truly live its values – by demonstrating productive collaboration, open accountability, continuous innovation, genuine respect and by functioning as one community.

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

RC Feedback from our profession and more broadly about the Parlour project has been universally positive, both in Australia and overseas. Many members see Parlour as a clearly effective channel for creating focus on gender equity, assisting in developing our understanding of the sources of inequity and beginning the process of developing solutions. Many have also cited the website as a valuable resource and meeting place for anyone interested in the role of women in architecture.

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

RC Affirmative action strategies are one way to generate higher levels of engagement and influence for women, but they can also have drawbacks. The Institute’s newly formed National Gender Equity Committee will certainly be examining and proposing improved approaches to governance that will reflect the need for equitable contributions to decision-making and strategic thinking.

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

RC Appropriate measures of success will need to evolve over time, as we progressively achieve better outcomes. In the first instance, because we are really only just beginning on this pathway, simple numerical measures of participation will be a key measure. Tracking the percentage of female graduates, registered architects, Institute members, Council and committee members, practice principals and Institute managers over time will offer a basic indicator of success.

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

RC I’m certain we can generate some quick wins in a number of important areas. But I also think we need to be realistic that beyond statistical success, real and meaningful change in the underlying attitudes, behaviours and social systems that have led to inequity is more likely to occur at a generational level.

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

RC This is a much bigger question than can be meaningfully answered here, but obviously men have a fundamental role to play, and both men and women have much to gain from achieving gender equity.  At the most basic level, for any significant change to occur, men will need to accept responsibility for generating awareness of the issue among men and women. One of the best ways of doing this will be leadership by example – not just telling others what they could or should do, but doing it themselves and sharing their experiences (successes and failures) with their colleagues, both male and female.

MS What do you think about the ARC–funded research and Parlour project as a model for change? Could a similar process be used for tackling other issues or addressing equity in other industries?

RC The research work itself, as well as the engagement framework offered through the website, provide the broader construction sector, other professions and organisations in other countries with both a resource and a model for the development of similar change programs in multiple settings.  As just one example, gender equity is a key issue I have proposed for consideration by the UIA Professional Practice Commission over the next triennium, and the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice offer a valuable basis on which this work could begin.

MS 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?

RC Recognising achievements in, or commitment to gender equity among architectural practices is arguably essential to generating sustainable change. Such recognition could be delivered through a dedicated prize at the Australian Achievement in Architecture Awards, through development of a gender equity charter to which practices could subscribe, or perhaps a broader suite of ethical employment guidelines for practices, as part of Acumen. The Institute wouldn’t generally adopt a scheme that required strict compliance or enforcement, but our National Gender Equity Committee is well-placed to consider which type of approach might work best in this regard.

MS Thank you for your time.

This interview goes to show that the desire for positive and meaningful change goes beyond the public faces of the Institute. From the five leaders featured in the Equity Interviews, it is clear that there has already been some thought into the kind of strategies and programs which could be put in place. It will now be up to the Gender Equity Committee to utilize and leverage this starting point with the detailed research to guide the next phase of progress. With the ARC research, Parlour Guides, Institute Gender Equity Policy, motivated leaders and the general momentum around the issue, I am optimistic that we are on the right trajectory for an equitable profession in the future.