Redshift Architecture has conducted an equity audit, using the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice as a base. Michael Lewarne reports on what they found – and challenges other offices to conduct similar workplace equity audits and publish the results.
On 18 March we attended “get:GOING – because leadership matters“, a forum on gender equity in the architectural profession at the NSW Institute of Architects and the launch of the NSW Male Champions of Change program. It was a simultaneously sobering and heartening night. Sobering to once again have the poor performance of the profession on gender equity exposed in all its gory statistical detail. Heartening to feel such a positive energy, with genuine planning and momentum for changing this condition – described by Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Liz Broderick, as “gender asbestos”. So in the spirit of the forum, we decided to pull back the drapes, expose ourselves and do an audit of Redshift’s equity practice based upon Parlour’s excellent Guides to Equitable Practice.
1. Pay equity
We think we have this right, we don’t know we have this right.
We can definitely do better in ensuring that we have pay equity right. We are guilty of asking prospective employees what they are asking for paywise, which may have had the effect of sustaining a pay gap, with a more fluid undefined negotiation. That won’t be happening again. Instead we’ll be looking to follow Parlour’s advice and adopt greater pay transparency, adopting office guidelines with clear pay bands and detailed requirements. This will enable us to make firm offers to prospective employees based on their experience and office responsibilities, as well as a guide for when we review employee’s pay.
On the other hand, we do pay everyone by the hour, including the Directors, ensuring a fairness in pay and work hours. Part-time work is valued equally with full-time work, everyone receives sick leave, holiday pay and the like on a pro rata basis. We like it this way, we think it’s the fairest and most equitable way to go.
2. Long-hours culture
We are strongly critical of this culture within the profession. We tell our clients when we will not meet unrealistic deadlines and we don’t take on any projects or clients that require us to commit to unreasonable time-frames. In taking on such clients, we may well be subsidising their bottom line at our own cost. We carefully track all projects in our office, reviewing the time it takes to complete each project in order that we can realistically quote timeframes for any similar future project.
In the very rare event that we do need to put in extended hours – as is sometimes an unavoidable consequence of an extraordinary confluence of changing project deadlines – everyone is paid for every hour they do, but no-one is expected to work outside regular office hours. If it is not possible to reasonably meet a deadline due to staffing reasons, we’ll talk to our clients to negotiate an achievable timetable.
We have lives outside of Redshift, we want time to enjoy those lives. We also think the lives and interests of our employees also benefit the office and it is not only short-sighted for Redshift to abbreviate those opportunities, but detrimental.
3. Part-time work
At Redshift we recognise the value of part-time work, both to the employees and to the office. We make it clear in our job interviews that we are supportive of employees wanting regular time off during the week to undertake their own projects, for teaching, for family responsibilities and so on. We employed our first part-time employee a little over six months ago and establishing good office practice management of part-time employment is a work in progress. We have, however, worked hard to put systems in place that makes part-time project involvement easier for all parties. These systems include a project wiki where all relevant information with regard to the project resides, this includes outstanding issues and problems, notes from telephone conversations and meetings, relevant code requirements, etc. It can be cumbersome at times, but we think it’s a good start at keeping everyone efficiently abreast of the project as reasonably possible in our small office. At this stage we haven’t got any part-time employees running projects and, to be honest, we really don’t have a handle on how we would manage that. It is, as previously noted, a work in progress – maybe more than baby steps, but small steps for us nevertheless.
When we set up Redshift, we built flexible work practices as a core principal of the office. This was done in order to allow family or personal project/pursuit time off during conventional working hours. Our (male) directors both have families and we want to be able to have the opportunity to take time off during the week when required, or desired, to look after or spend time with them. Similarly, we have interests in personal projects that occasionally require our attention during the week, as well as sometime university teaching positions. It is only fair and equitable that this opportunity is afforded our employees. As stated above, we also strongly believe that these external pursuits, commitments or outside lives, contribute positively and add value to the office. Again, this is made clear to any prospective employees at their job interview and how we pay on an hourly basis in order to fairly accommodate this flexibility.
Interestingly and gratifyingly, we have generally found our clients and consultants sympathetic to these part-time or flexible arrangements. We think it’s a good start, but to be honest, we are yet to truly test the boundaries of flexible work practices at Redshift: employees working from home, radically shifted work hours and the like. We are open to the possibilities and we anticipate that we would work through the issues as they arise, although we do need to be more pro-active with a written policy in place. We are certainly set-up to allow this to happen, with our file and wiki server accessible externally and even our phone system (if we could just work out how to use it properly).
These previous three categories are clearly strongly linked to work/life balance, which Redshift values highly and is core to our office philosophy.
We fall pretty short on the recommendations of Parlour’s guide at Redshift. Our process of advertising is pretty ad hoc with often vague job descriptions emailed out to colleagues or posted on Twitter. Our interview process is equally casual, with no real structure and it’s often a rambling (albeit hopefully informative and productive) process where we try to tell our prospective employees as much as we can about us and the office as we expect from them. It seems the only thing we’ve got right as far as Parlour is concerned is our Employment Agreement, which we did work reasonably hard on.
It looks like we’ll now be working much harder on our job descriptions and recruitment process. We’re considering a specific section on our website with detailed employment information. We do suggest prospective employees take the time to trawl our website to get a feel for the office and if we interest them as an employer, but until now, our website has not outlined our equity policies to prospective employees. They can at least for now be pointed to this blog as an informal document of our equity policies.
Let it be known that we value diversity in the work place and gender equality.
6. Career Progression
Being honest, we’re falling pretty short on this one too. We’re a small office and we’d have previously said that limits opportunity, now we’d probably say we have no reasonable excuse. We really haven’t considered this at length and have no clear and written criteria for performance and success. Don’t tell anyone but we weren’t even aware that formal performance reviews were required as part of the Architect’s Act. We will now be remedying these shortcomings. Good staff are a valuable commodity, it would appear we are currently selling them short. More work needs to be done to increase their career opportunities.
In the event that we are unable to give more career opportunities, it is beholden to us to help our staff find those opportunities rather than holding them back. This would be done in consultation with the employee and may require Redshift to accept that in some instances it is better for their career for them to work elsewhere. In these events we must be supportive, encouraging, advocate for our employee, and even aid in a search for an appropriate position. We have never had cause to do this, but it is something of which we should be more mindful.
At Redshift we would like to think we’re fair in our negotiations, but it is honestly difficult to be objective about this one. We think we’re open and honest about our position and allow space and encourage our employees or prospective employees to do likewise. Do we know this? No. What can we do about this? We probably should ask our current and past employees their thoughts on our negotiation skills and, as advised by Parlour, train our staff in this too. We suspect we fall short here too.
8. Career Break
We are yet to have an employee take a career break, so we haven’t had to deal with this in practical terms. We can therefore only write about what our in-principal policies and attitudes are. To begin with, so this doesn’t appear hollow rhetoric, we clearly need to develop a written policy on this, which we currently don’t have. On the other hand this blog post can now be at least held as a metric of our policy.
We are supportive of career breaks, whether for maternity or paternity leave or perhaps another (ad)venture, and we do recognise the value of this time to all involved. We appreciate and value our staff too much to not want them to return to our office. Our hope is always that they would return when they are able and ready. As we’ve already identified, we do have the policy in place that makes part-time work an option if that suits best.
Leadership is a tricky question in an office of only (currently) four-strong, two of whom are the directors. It is something we do think about, as leadership opportunities for our staff are consequently limited to some degree. It also means that we may have to accept that we may lose senior staff if we are unable to give them those opportunities. It suggests we need to both think about ways of giving our staff leadership opportunities as well as more actively pursuing projects that generate these opportunities. This is not something that we take into consideration when assessing what projects we are taking on or chasing, we probably should. More work needs to be done here.
OK, we’ll stick our hand up for a big fail in the past with regard to formal mentoring. We are currently rectifying this and yesterday we put in an application to the NSW Institute Mentoring Program.
Informally, however, we are very mindful of our responsibilities to the profession and acknowledge that we have benefitted from the generosity of many mentors to us in the past. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to many people and, as an aside to single out one, we would just like to publicly acknowledge Philip Thalis who has been exceptionally supportive of us personally and of our office. We hold Philip as an example and take it upon ourselves to be equally generous. Whenever possible, we take the time with our staff to informally answer their questions and pass on knowledge that is not directly related to project work and we understand the value of this both to them and to us. Friends or colleagues who have contacted us for advice in setting up their office or on any other matter, have been given as much time as needed to answer questions or discuss relevant issues.
Mentoring is not something that we consciously set out to do, but we are more than willing to give the time to it when the opportunity arises. We should be considering making it a more conscious aspect of our office policy and practice.
BTW: If you’re reading this and have some questions or need some advice, please feel free to drop us a line, we’d be happy to have a chat.
It was clear in the forum on Wednesday night that there are not inconsiderable problems with Registration. The shortcomings and problems with the Registration system are an oft-discussed subject in our office, with one of our Directors currently refusing to register. This is a topic worthy of a future post, but putting that to the side for the moment…
We are supportive of staff who wish to get registered and in the past have been supportive of staff who were going through the process while working for us. Whilst we are not actively encouraging of staff to register (for aforementioned reasons), in light of Parlour’s recommendations this will be the attitude that we will adopt. Clearly we can do better on this front.
A quick and dirty summation of where we’re at on equity practice… We’ve probably got the office structure and flexibility about right or at the very least we’ve made a substantial start, but we do still need to work on the detail with written policies to reduce the potential of bias, for transparency and for consistency.
What are your thoughts? Are we guilty in this audit of confirmation bias? More particularly do you have any constructive suggestions or comments. We would love to hear from you. Parlour’s Guide is a brilliant guide but your comments can only help us get better.
Oh and finally…
We’re putting out a challenge to all other offices to conduct workplace equity audits and publish your results.