Only 20% of licensed women architects in India become practitioners
ECONOMY & POLICY

Only 20% of licensed women architects in India become practitioners

Construction is the second largest industry in India after agriculture and contributes significantly to the GDP. It provides employment to both skilled and unskilled workers and is presently growing at the rate of around 7 per cent per annum. With over 35 million people engaged in this sector, women occupy nearly 30 per cent of the workforce. But almost 65 per cent of the women often work as construction laborers in the workforce.

“While corporates like L&T and Tata Projects have been actively encouraging women’s participation on the shop floor, on project sites and at the design and planning level, there is a paucity of women in technical and managerial roles, particularly civil engineers, architects, structural engineers, electrical engineers, maintenance and supervisorial staff, as just 1.4 per cent of women are engaged in such technical roles within the industry. Out of these, less than 2 per cent reach leadership positions in construction companies,” said Falguni Padode, Group Founder & Group Managing Editor, ASAPP Info Global Group, at a webinar organised on August 13 by CONSTRUCTION WORLD on ‘Women in Architecture and Construction’ as a countdown to the 16th edition of the CWAB (CONSTRUCTION WORLD ARCHITECT & BUILDER) Awards to be held on August 20.

Women’s presence in architecture varies widely, world over. Women architects form about 17-21 per cent of the total numbers of architects in the US. In Australia, only 21 per cent of registered architects are women. In Britain, the number goes up to 35 per cent, while in Singapore only 20 per cent of architecture students are women. These figures are from the last five years, shared Padode, in her opening remarks.

The Indian scene presents a slightly astounding number in India, she went on to add. “About 47.67 per cent of licensed architects are women. However, another research shows that only 20 per cent of these women become licensed practitioners. Sharing their experiences women have often shared that there is discrimination at multiple levels. Workers often double-check with male superiors before following a female superior’s instructions. Clients often mistake women architects to be interior designers or decorators. And the gender pay gap in architecture may be up to 15 per cent.”

Recruiting more women and increasing their participation can give tangible benefits: Economic, social and environmental – to the profession and the larger community it serves.

What does the future hold? How do we need to propel participation, in the industry and in the profession?

In her keynote address, Abha Lambah, Principal Architect, Abha Narain Lambah Associates, said, “Our profession is normally seen as the male world. In the last 28 years of my career, we have employed mostly women in our firm. Our firm is largely a women-driven one. As architects, we ourselves set the glass ceilings sometimes. Something I always tell my juniors is that if you do show fear in front of the contractors, you will not be taken seriously. We also need to break the myth that women do interiors and men do the hardcore construction work. In my initial years, I was told that women cannot work in remote areas, but we have broken that myth and have worked in remote places. Project by project we are trying to break the myths of women architects being treated as a special group. We do not want special treatment; we are as good as our male counterparts if not better. Our generation needs to mentor the next young generation of women architects and help them in cases where we never got help.”

Architect Abha Lambah’s keynote was followed by an empowering discussion which was moderated by Harshada Pimpalkhare, Director-Business Development, Project & Development Services, JLL India, with panel members including Mili Majumdar, Sr Vice President, US Green Building Council; Sonali Rastogi, Founder Partner, Morphogenesis; Er. Sheetal Bhilkar, Founder Director, Urja Building Services Consultants and Falguni Padode. Excerpts:

Harshada Pimpalkhare: What inspires you to choose a field which is so male dominated. What are the conscious and unconscious biases that you faced in your early years and how did you deal with them? What kept you going?

Mili Majumdar: When we get trained as architects, we are not given so much knowledge on services. That is where the architecture curriculum lacks in India. Architects are not trained to design systems. After my Masters, I wanted to take forward my passion of making architecture more meaningful and choose to work on green projects. In the early 90s, ‘green’ was not seen as a profession where people could excel. Many a times, women take a step back and let the men lead, even when they know they could lead it.

The confidence and knowledge that you gain, over the years is equally important. There is no distinction between men and women if you are confident, you know your work well, and do hard work.

Sheetal Bhilkar: I started my career as a trainee electrical engineer in 1994. Later, I got an offer to work as an independent consultant for a blood bank project for a reputed hospital in Mumbai. I accepted the challenge and started my company back then. Of course, it was not easy. Twenty-five years ago, there were very less females on sites. It took time to break stereotypes because back then older people with much more years of experience would take up consultancy.

Harshada Pimpalkhare: What according to you needs to change so that women continue to work and remain in the industry, thereby changing the diversity in the field of architecture and construction?
Sonali Rastogi: Wherever a women's lifecycle cannot be accommodated in the way the business is run, that is where there will always be this situation. Companies promote wrong culture that the man will stay at work till late, while the woman will go home. Instead of staying up late, the companies should have fixed timings for work and also hire more people, which will solve the problem. Gender in terms of society needs to change. Work cycles need to be professionalised, so that they don’t impeach the lives of a man or woman. I would like to enforce the work-life balance of the men, so that the women also get equality. The modern entrepreneurship work-life was designed decades back around the societal expectation that the men would go to work and the women would stay at home. But now, as the things are changing, the norms have to change and a lot of gender discipline has to take place. Gender bias is a societal thing and not architectural.

Harshada Pimpalkhare: How are women supporting women? In your industry do you see more women being a part today, than what you saw 15- 20 years back when you started? Is there a change of perception or is there a change in the number of women entering your field?
Sheetal Bhilkar: Definitely there is an increase. Today, there are many women in different fields of the construction industry. We have a small community of women in construction, which we started about six months back, and today, have about 26 members. We try to help each other by having meetings, knowledge sharing, sharing contacts, problem solving, etc. We still have a long way to go. A lot of aspiring students are not aware of the various fields they can work for in construction.

Harshada Pimpalkhare: If there is a gap between your education and work, is there a right or wrong time to start your career?
Sheetal Bhilkar: There is no right or wrong time to start your career. Having said that, the awareness is what’s missing. We have started an award called ‘Real Women Awards’ for women in construction, to get them in the limelight, recognise them, and inspire other women. The small initiative that we have started will help in identifying different jobs in construction and inspire other women to join the industry.

Harshada Pimpalkhare: Typically, the biological clock is in total conflict to the career clock, and not everyone has a support system. What would you like to tell women who have support system vs the ones who don’t have support systems? How should one really go on with it?
Mili Majumdar: It is more of the societal issue and not so much to do with men and women. You have to set your priorities right. It is important to focus on the job as per our priorities. The thinking about timings need to change as well – we can do the work in less time by doing smart work instead of sitting for long hours or late nights.

One cannot be working on something, if something else is ticking on your mind. As a society, we have started talking about the issue of mental health. A lot of focus is being given to HR policies facilitating women to have proper work-life balance such as having nurseries at offices and allowing children at work. Also, as women, we need to be empathetic towards our female colleagues to grow as teams and in society.

Harshada Pimpalkhare: How assertive are we when it comes to saying I have to leave or I cannot do this?
Mili Majumdar: We have to learn to say NO. We are so hesitant to say no; we need to say no or else we will always be taken for granted.

Sonali Rastogi: We have something called occupancy matrix, which is every month shared with the staff. The moment their work hours crosses 220 hours, a red flag goes to the HR, irrespective of the gender. We introduced this a few years back – that anyone working for more than 110 hours is answerable to the HR. Working extra hours is bad planning and not hard working. If the planning is right, nobody would be working extra hours and there will be gender equality.

Harshada Pimpalkhare: Where do we feel it has to start from? Who takes the initiative to first say a no?
Falguni Padode: We need to set a standard of where we are. We need to start it in our own workplaces. We are always striving to be perfect in all the roles we play. It is okay to be imperfect at times. We need to help each other to try and make some changes at whatever capacity we can when it comes to the issue of gender.

Sheetal Bhilkar: We need to start the change since younger days. From the toys to the books given in childhood, it needs to change. A lot of girls lose interest in science in their earlier days because they are given dolls and kitchen sets to play with. We need to change that and inspire young girls since their childhood.

Harshada Pimpalkhare: At every stage of our career, we need someone to guide us, someone to look up to and someone to tell us that it’s okay to say no. Do you have someone in your life who has guided you in your career?
Mili Majumdar: My work values have been engrained into me by my seniors, colleagues and friends. I also believe that there needs to be a purpose of the work you do. It is also important to take criticism positively.

Sonali Rastogi: My father’s philosophy has been a mentor in my life. I inherited from him my passion to be good at a lot of things at the same time. My one skill is to do a lot of things reasonably well. The choices I need to make in order to reach there has been my mentor. And what I practice is ‘It is okay to be imperfect.’

Sheetal Bhilkar: Life has taught me a lot. Every experience has taught me something. I am a dreamer and I like taking on challenges. We should always keep dreaming and only then can we achieve it.

Harshada Pimpalkhare: What is that one thing that you would like to tell a construction professional entering the industry, especially a woman?
Mili Majumdar: You need to work hard to achieve your dreams and please do not make excuses that you are a woman.

Sonali Rastogi: If you get into it, make sure you recognise which track you want in it. So that you will be passionately involved, otherwise you might want to leave the job.

Sheetal Bhilkar: Construction industry has a lot of job opportunities. Women who like to take challenges should get into it.

Image courtesy 

Construction is the second largest industry in India after agriculture and contributes significantly to the GDP. It provides employment to both skilled and unskilled workers and is presently growing at the rate of around 7 per cent per annum. With over 35 million people engaged in this sector, women occupy nearly 30 per cent of the workforce. But almost 65 per cent of the women often work as construction laborers in the workforce. “While corporates like L&T and Tata Projects have been actively encouraging women’s participation on the shop floor, on project sites and at the design and planning level, there is a paucity of women in technical and managerial roles, particularly civil engineers, architects, structural engineers, electrical engineers, maintenance and supervisorial staff, as just 1.4 per cent of women are engaged in such technical roles within the industry. Out of these, less than 2 per cent reach leadership positions in construction companies,” said Falguni Padode, Group Founder & Group Managing Editor, ASAPP Info Global Group, at a webinar organised on August 13 by CONSTRUCTION WORLD on ‘Women in Architecture and Construction’ as a countdown to the 16th edition of the CWAB (CONSTRUCTION WORLD ARCHITECT & BUILDER) Awards to be held on August 20. Women’s presence in architecture varies widely, world over. Women architects form about 17-21 per cent of the total numbers of architects in the US. In Australia, only 21 per cent of registered architects are women. In Britain, the number goes up to 35 per cent, while in Singapore only 20 per cent of architecture students are women. These figures are from the last five years, shared Padode, in her opening remarks. The Indian scene presents a slightly astounding number in India, she went on to add. “About 47.67 per cent of licensed architects are women. However, another research shows that only 20 per cent of these women become licensed practitioners. Sharing their experiences women have often shared that there is discrimination at multiple levels. Workers often double-check with male superiors before following a female superior’s instructions. Clients often mistake women architects to be interior designers or decorators. And the gender pay gap in architecture may be up to 15 per cent.” Recruiting more women and increasing their participation can give tangible benefits: Economic, social and environmental – to the profession and the larger community it serves. What does the future hold? How do we need to propel participation, in the industry and in the profession? In her keynote address, Abha Lambah, Principal Architect, Abha Narain Lambah Associates, said, “Our profession is normally seen as the male world. In the last 28 years of my career, we have employed mostly women in our firm. Our firm is largely a women-driven one. As architects, we ourselves set the glass ceilings sometimes. Something I always tell my juniors is that if you do show fear in front of the contractors, you will not be taken seriously. We also need to break the myth that women do interiors and men do the hardcore construction work. In my initial years, I was told that women cannot work in remote areas, but we have broken that myth and have worked in remote places. Project by project we are trying to break the myths of women architects being treated as a special group. We do not want special treatment; we are as good as our male counterparts if not better. Our generation needs to mentor the next young generation of women architects and help them in cases where we never got help.” Architect Abha Lambah’s keynote was followed by an empowering discussion which was moderated by Harshada Pimpalkhare, Director-Business Development, Project & Development Services, JLL India, with panel members including Mili Majumdar, Sr Vice President, US Green Building Council; Sonali Rastogi, Founder Partner, Morphogenesis; Er. Sheetal Bhilkar, Founder Director, Urja Building Services Consultants and Falguni Padode. Excerpts: Harshada Pimpalkhare: What inspires you to choose a field which is so male dominated. What are the conscious and unconscious biases that you faced in your early years and how did you deal with them? What kept you going?

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