International Women’s Day Interview

Each year Leonard Design proudly celebrate International Women’s Day. In 2020, Leonard Design is planning a celebration of several cultural-led days including both International Women’s and Men’s Day with the theme of Each for Equal.

This year to celebrate International Women’s Day there will be events held in both the Nottingham and London offices. We have interviewed a group of inspirational women from the Leonard Design team to share an insight on women in the architecture & interior design industry. The interviewees include:

Lara Hanes, Architect;
Robyn Lim, Architect;
Somya Mediratta, Senior Designer;
Monya Riachi, Senior Designer;
Nic Rogers, Designer;
Becky Smith, Architect;

Each interviewee was asked a series of questions and were implored to answer as honestly as possible. The answers were recorded and below is a curated response of all parties:

Who are your role models?

I don’t have a single answer for this as any woman I see around me who are trying to do it all and achieve it all with passion and a smile on their face, they become my role models: Becky, Miranda, Estelle & Monya all inspiring women!!!

Rebecca Wakefield, an interior designer who runs her own business from home, which she set up in her twenties, and has two children. She’s successful as an interior designer, an influencer, and a mother too.

Any empowered, ambitious and driven woman I meet or come across is a role model. I believe learning and being inspired by the those around us is so critical in building solidarity between women and presenting an alternate vision – one where we hold hands to bring down barriers, rather than race and compete to be the single ‘superstars’.

Sounds cheesy, but I have to say my mum. An amazing achiever but she never feels like she has to prove herself to anyone. Great mum, outstanding educator, writer, award winning scientist, PHD holder, multilingual (knows 6 languages!) and the list goes on. But she is the most down to earth person I have ever known and an inspiration.

Inside the practice, there are many role models I look to, to learn something different between them all. But I would say specifically Estelle because she radiates everything good in everything she does.

Is a gender balanced workplace important to you?

Absolutely. Equal representation of women across each position in a company will be a reflection of the 21st century. We are improving but have a long way to go still.

Of course, we need to make sure that everyone gets equal opportunities regardless of gender.

Absolutely and definitely something to aspire to, but not something I’ve ever really felt I’ve been a part of. Not just gender balanced generally but in terms of different roles (ie having female directors and equal numbers of male female associates and admin etc.

Definitely! But it goes both ways I think. We all just need to treat each other with respect and not based on gender.

Extremely it’s about time!

Yes, but I don’t know how easy it would be to pinpoint gender imbalances and be able to tell if that is the reason why they exist in the first place.

Have you encountered any difficulties in your career/education due to gender discrimination?

There is always gender discrimination on construction sites. I think it comes hand in hand with being young as well. I have faced a few discriminatory comments based on either my age or gender and a few times people have assumed I am in a meeting to take drink orders and not because I am part of the project team. Classic comments have been “you’re far too young to be here!”, “are you on work experience”, “we were expecting to see a 50-year-old male with grey hair” …. etc (those are ones I have had more than twice).

Not specifically in architecture, although it’s always been difficult that Interior architecture is typically associated with females, soft furnishings, and ‘pretty’ fixes. Definitely harder to be taken seriously as a female and interior designer at the same time. A nickname that the architecture course (almost exclusively male) had for the interior architecture course (almost exclusively female) was the ‘inferior architects’.

In external meetings it is assumed that I’m there to take the minutes or provide the refreshments, not as the architect!

Yes, indeed I have, at early years maybe I didn’t realise this as a discrimination, coming from India where it comes naturally to everyone to discriminate between a girl and a boy.

In my education no, in my career yes. Much of my professors & deans of school of architecture were women. Upon entering professional architecture practice the gender imbalance was huge. 90% of decision-makers in firms I have worked in are men. 90% of clients I have worked for are men. Being surrounded by often only men who are in power positions can easily be intimidating and discouraging. Female professionals have different ways of dealing with this reality, I chose to focus and strengthen relationships with female colleagues, which helped develop a sense of belonging in the firm and keep me inspired and excited.

More often than not on-site. It’s still a very male dominated field, and I always find myself the only female on the table. If you are lucky, you’ll find members that are supportive, but if you’re not then there are times where it can get very intimidating. I blame it on egos, women as architects telling men what to do – not acceptable to some apparently.

How has Leonard Design’s workplace ethos helped you, supported you etc?

Leonard Design ethos has helped me voice my opinion more confidently and without fear!

Very supportive colleagues, senior company members, and HR staff, that encourage and enable open conversations. At Leonard Design most colleagues support and champion each other and this is incredibly helpful and encouraging.

There are many respectable women in the office, and lots for us amateurs to look up to. I do for one feel that there’s always been support around if I need them.

It’s great that Leonard Design celebrate and post publicly about international women’s day celebrations etc, and day to day gender inequality isn’t something I generally feel is an issue, but when these days come around it is always very clear that there is a gender divide in the senior roles.

Helpful to know that there is always someone to talk to when you need to get something off your chest and ultimately the practice wants everyone to feel as empowered as they can so you do the best job that you can.

Senior staff at Leonard Design are always keen to hear if we have encountered any discrimination in our job while we’ve been out and about at meetings or on site and provide us with excellent support as to how we can resolve any situations that arise.

Do you find work/life/family balance difficult in this industry?

In this industry, yes. In Leonard Design, no.

I think this is always challenging in this industry, not just for women! There tends to be a culture of working late that begins at university and carries on into working life, which needs addressing as an industry.

Yes, when there are heavy deadlines and it is a team game, you can’t only think about yourself – you must think about the wider team and the project which is when leaving on time can be difficult.

Even as someone who doesn’t have children, yes. It’s often hard to plan my personal life around work commitments, so I can’t imagine having to also balance kids.

In the industry absolutely, though much milder at Leonard Design. Leonard Design does a great job at mitigating the imbalance.

Can be challenging sometimes with all deadlines, but as a company we should look at pushing back to clients sometimes when they are being ridiculous with timeline.

What empowers you in the design process or in the industry in general?

Support from my colleagues

I want to say my passion to design, learn and impress.

The thought that you are making a difference.

Making a difference to the built environment somehow. I want to believe that we’re creating a better place with every design decision.

Difficult question to answer. Empowerment to me is just freedom to design what you feel is good and valuable, so I’d say working on a project you feel passionate about and can make a difference in is empowering.

Working with intelligent, brave and friendly/approachable women, whether senior or junior colleagues, is most empowering.

How do you feel the industry could improve its attitude toward gender discrimination?

Get more women on site! The more women get out there, the more ‘normal’ it will seem to everyone.

There are many things we could do:

  • Insist every team has equal / proportional representation of women.
  • In working with collaborators or consultants that have majority male employees, e.g civil engineers, vocally acknowledge that the team is all male. Not saying anything normalises the reality and ensures its perpetuation.
  • Ensure every office promotion includes men and women into each role.
  • Encourage individuals to dismantle the assumptions and stereotypes they have acquired and thought are set in stone. Keep an open mind. Big-picture moves are important but one-on-one conversations are essential, too.
More men need to recognise that this gender discrimination does EXIST and they need to start doing their part in improving this attitude – no more hiding/ignoring or laughing out in nervousness.

To have a little bit more faith in women in the building industry and step out of that mind set of being in a men’s world.

More men need to recognise that this gender discrimination does EXIST and they need to start doing their part in improving this attitude – no more hiding/ignoring or laughing out in nervousness.

Women to have more of a role in construction sites so that it doesn’t stay a male dominated environment.

Girls need to be educated at a younger age about what career options are open to them. 100%. Without this, the gender balance is never going to equalise, and the top jobs are always going to be male dominated.