Building Gender Parity in the Construction Industry

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Moving my seat at the table from the side to the head as the new Chair of the World Green Building Council, I know that our industry is facing unprecedented challenges. This summer’s ‘hothouse earth’ has given provided us with more than a glimpse of the havoc climate change will wreak, and yet building and construction still accounts for almost 40% of energy related global CO2 emissions. Solving this problem requires technical, creative and diverse leadership skills, yet our sector is missing out on an abundance of female talent.

Inclusiveness must be a priority for our industry and, as the first female Chair of WorldGBC, I am making it my priority, too. So how do we access the very best thinking to create green buildings for everyone, everywhere?

Buildings that help us thrive, today and tomorrow

Our changing climate requires nothing less than a reshaping of the way we grow and build. Last year was the hottest non-El Niño year on record, and wildfires, droughts and flash floods are accounting for huge human and financial costs. Decarbonisation of the building sector, one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, will play a critical role in meeting the Paris pledge to keep global average temperature rise well below 2ºC.

But it’s not just about climate change. As pioneering projects championed across our seventy Green Building Council global network already shows, sustainable design achieves wider societal goals. Green buildings preserve precious natural resources and improve our quality of life, providing healthier and happier places for people to live, work, play, heal and learn. Building green grows jobs, the economy and thriving communities, and results in lower energy costs and higher property values – good for consumers and businesses.

I have seen these benefits first-hand in buildings like Mohawk College’s Joyce Centre for Partnership and Innovation, a project I co-steered at B+H Architects alongside Joanne McCallum of McCallum Sather Architects, a long time friend, mentor and alumnae of the board of the Canada Green Building Council. Opening in 2018, it is the second project – and the first institutional building – to receive Canada’s net zero carbon certification.

WorldGBC’s Advancing Net Zero initiative aims to make this happen on a global scale – a future where every building produces zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Diversity and partnering will deliver

The good news is that we have the technological solutions. But we need everyone at the table if we are to achieve necessary changes. We need different thinkers and diverse teams who work collaboratively to explore new ideas and find new solutions.

I have seen progress on gender diversity since I started my career at B+H Architects in 2007. Many of those championing green building and design are women, and I’m proud that half of our top-tier Green Building Councils from countries including Jordan, Peru and South Africa are female-led. This is not surprising, given the fundamental connection many see between climate justice and gender justice.

Yet building and construction remain a male-dominated world. Women at the top of the corporate ladder are conspicuous by their absence, hampered in their career journey by inflexible working environments, bias (unconscious or not), and perceptions of limited opportunities.

This is not just a problem for women and their aspirations; it’s a problem for our sector at a time of transformation. Evidence shows gender diversity is good for business by increasing innovation, productivity and profitability. Diverse perspectives working together create energy that brings results. I’ve seen this at B+H Architects where 55% of global staff,  practice managers and global regional leaders are female – a notably diverse gender mix for a large global architecture firm.

Tips for the top

So, we get the ‘why,’ but what about the ‘how’? I am committed to fostering the next generation of women in the building and construction industry.

We all have a role to play in showing what doing good looks like in our sector: showcasing the individuals and companies making progress to inspire others, and sharing the evidence-base that diversity results in stronger returns. Leaders can set an example, ensuring diversity and inclusiveness at the top.  Further, on a practical level, let’s move more quickly towards ensuring equal pay, meaningful part-time work and flexibility. Let’s commit to recruiting equitably and support and mentor aspiring women.

To those aspiring women, I say: Think boldly, push boundaries and make your voice heard. Don’t be afraid to move outside your comfort zone to seize opportunities – as I had to when progressing into male-dominated management. Ask, even demand, to be mentored and use all of of your learning and emotional intelligence to plan your career and develop your skills.

The challenges we face bring opportunities for society, for the environment, for our economy, and also for women. The time is right to raise our ambition so that all talented women can find their seats at the table.

Lisa Bate is Chair of the World Green Building Council and Regional Managing Principal, North America at B+H Architects. She is a global ambassador for high-performance sustainable design in architecture and large infrastructure planning and development with a vast portfolio of global work in commercial, mixed use, healthcare, education, sport, and institutional projects across Canada, China, the USA, Caribbean, and India. As a leader, Lisa is a Past Chair of the Board of Directors of the Canada Green Building Council, Past President of the Ontario Association of Architects in Canada, Past Member of the Mainland China Urban Land Institute’s Shanghai Management Committee, and B+H’s representative to the United Nations Environmental Protection – Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI). In 2016, she received the Green Building & Design (gb&d) Women in Sustainability Leadership Award, Los Angeles, USA.

 

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