Are you tired of hearing about ‘gender wars’ in the office and dream of a 50/50 workplace where endless talk about equal pay, maternity and paternity leave is a thing of the past? If so, you’ll be inspired by Architects Pollard, Thomas, Edwards who have created that rare thing – a workplace where men and women create, laugh, succeed and even eat together; a workplace with a 50/50 male to female staff ratio right through the ranks; a workplace with equal pay for men and women, a workplace that many say doesn’t exist……except that it does!
In our first of three interviews we talk to Senior Partner, Teresa Borsuk who is a towering figure in the architectural world and was named Woman Architect of the Year 2015 by Architect’s Journal. I met Teresa at a women’s networking event a couple of months ago where she had expressed bemusement at our talk of workplace gender inequality, saying it had simply not been her experience at Pollard, Thomas, Edwards. Intrigued, I asked if I could come and discover the truth about her workplace for myself and here’s what she had to say…..
Q. Natasha: How have you created a workplace where women and men can equally achieve their career and family ambitions?
A. Teresa: When I joined PTE in the mid 1980’s we worked in a converted townhouse around the corner from our current offices. The 3 original founders were all men but even back then there was a good balance of men and women in the office. I think the real differentiating factor at PTE was that there was always a very ‘familial’ feel to the office and we would cook for each other and eat together once a week, a tradition that we maintain to this day even with 150 employees.
Q. Natasha: Do you think it was this ‘familial’ atmosphere that attracted more women to working at PTE back then?
A. Teresa: Yes, I believe that it was the family culture, which brought women architects steadily into the firm. And it’s as true today as it was then, ‘women bring other women’.
Q. Natasha: Did men enjoy working in that environment?
A. Teresa: Men loved working here. I think they found it so refreshing compared to the macho skyscraper building, male-dominated firms of the time. I think it reminded them of their lives at home where they could relax and be themselves in an equal environment.
Q. Natasha: Do you think that equality is the secret to a successful workplace?
A. Teresa: Yes, I do. I don’t think men or women want their working lives to differ that much in structure from their personal lives where generally they are in equal partnerships. Architects tend to marry, or form romantic partnerships with other architects and this erasing of the work persona allows people to truly be themselves and not waste valuable creative energy on pretending to be something they’re not.
Q. Natasha: How does PTE approach parenthood for its staff?
A. Teresa: We are very positive about men and women sharing childcare responsibilities and do not differentiate between men and women when it comes to caring for children or caring for anyone one else for that matter. Parenthood is life changing and sometimes women can lose confidence when they are on maternity leave. Having the 50/50 man/woman approach to parenting and to our office environment in general, allows us to have honest conversations with everyone who is a parent. Honesty leads to happier employees and to fewer staff leaving the firm.
Q. Natasha: Do you have low staff turnover?
A. Teresa: Yes turnover of staff is very low and I hope it’s because of the honest atmosphere we create where people can talk openly about their careers and families without fear of being penalised.
Q. Natasha: How are you personally contributing to your 50/50 workplace?
A. Teresa I really I feel a sense of responsibility to younger women in the firm especially since I won Woman Architect of the Year last year. I want to inspire and encourage young women to see that they can be strong and powerful at work and that they can have balanced discussions around gender so that our workplace remains a place where men and women are represented 50/50.
Facts on women in architecture:
Architecture courses have 50/50 male/female intake
Number of qualified female architects in the profession: 22-24%
Number of women in senior positions in the profession:12%