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Channelling Gender Parity in the Building & Construction Industry

In our latest blog in the series for Women’s eNews, WorldGBC Chair Lisa Bate explains why gender diversity must be a priority for the building and construction industry in the face of climate change, and why, as the first female Chair of WorldGBC, she is committed to fostering the next generation of women leaders in green building.​
In 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 us sight 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 and 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 means nothing less than a reshaping in the way we grow and build. 2017 was the hottest non-El Niño year on record, and wildfires, droughts and flash floods are having huge human and financial cost. 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 global network of 70 Green Building Councils already show, sustainable design achieves wider societal goals. Green buildings preserve precious natural resources and improve our quality of life, providing healthier, 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 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 no 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 the necessary step change. We need different thinking, diverse teams that 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 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. Not surprising, given the fundamental connection many see between climate justice and gender justice.

Yet building and construction remains a male-dominated world. Women at the top of the corporate ladders are conspicuous by their absence, hampered in their career journeys 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, increasing innovation, productivity and profitability. Different perspectives working together create energy that brings results. I’ve seen this at B+H Architects where 55% of global staff and practice managers and both 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’; 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 good looks like in our sector: showcasing the individuals and companies making progress to inspire others; sharing the evidence-base that diversity gives good returns. And we should all challenge the long hours culture hampering not just the careers of those with caring responsibilities but the achievement of a healthier work-life balance for all.

We leaders can set an example, ensuring diversity and inclusiveness at the top.  On a practical level, let’s move more quickly towards equal pay, meaningful part-time work and flexibility. Let’s ensure we recruit 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 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 seat at the table.

Lisa Bate is Chair of the World Green Building Council. This post was first published on Women’s eNews.