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International Women’s Day: A few wins on the board for women in the built environment

Rear view young woman walking down the street, sun flare towards her. Female with curly hair goes along city sidewalk.

It was International Women’s Day (IWD) on Sunday and while breakfasts, cupcakes and criticisms from some quarters that it has strayed far from its  radical roots still featured in the 2020 edition, the annual event provides an opportunity to highlight the hard work being done to advance women’s rights, including females working in the built environment.

The built environment professions – including architecture, design and construction – remain largely male-dominated, especially the construction industry

Fortunately, there’s people such as the 2019 International Women’s Day Scholarship recipient, Dr Fiona Lamari, coming up with innovative ways to attract more women into the sector.

She’s explored the use of using a tour of a construction site using virtual reality to engage female high school students.

The tour mimics a realistic building site and showcases the diversity of career options available in the construction industry. Students can look around the site 360º while hearing onsite professionals speaking as if on an actual construction site.

According to the report on the virtual reality pilot, the experience had a positive impact on changing students’ perceptions that construction is a male-dominated career choice, with more than a 30 per cent improvement in student perceptions.

The IWD scholarship program has been run by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) since 2009.

Another interesting initiative is the Women’s Safety Charter, which is a recently launched project by Transport for NSW, Greater Sydney Commission and the Committee for Sydney.

The charter’s first body of work will be the Safety After Dark Innovation Challenge, which involves improving the safety of women travelling around Sydney by supporting and accelerating projects that help solve the problem.

Also, a number of organisations are starting to see results from their diversity efforts. This week, The Fifth Estate spoke to EY Asia Pacific managing partner of climate change and sustainability services Dr Matthew Bell who says a shift in thinking at the major consulting company has resulted in half of its partners being female.

In some organisations, diversity is no longer a buzzword that features in reports. Instead there are tangible policies and benchmarks to create change, such as the Australian Institute of Architects’ Gender Equity committee’s 40:40:20 rule (40 per cent men, 40 per cent women and 20 per cent open).

But there’s still room for more meaningful action. A thought piece from Justine Hadj, co-editor of Gazella (a publication about inspiring females within the built environment) raises the point that there’s been more than enough research and coverage about how diversity is good for the bottom line. Now we need organisations to get real about gender equality with effective policies that address issues such as flexible working.

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