Upon entering the Keybridge Sales and Marketing Suite, venue for the recent London Festival of Architecture 2017 event ‘Women in the Built Environment’, I was first struck by how at ease everyone appeared to be. The relaxed ambiance of the networking breakfast appeared to be conducive to spontaneous bouts of chatter amongst guests. Whilst admiring a 1:500 wooden model of London in the centre of the room, a woman turned to me and asked, “What do you think this building is?”. On closer inspection of the model, and a momentary analysis of the building’s relationship to the river Thames, I replied, “Somerset House?”.
“Hmm, maybe… but I thought it was on the other side of the Thames.” She stated.
“I could be wrong, it might be something else entirely – you might be right.” I said.
Five minutes passed, by then we had long since gone our separate conversational ways. She circled back to me and declared, “You were right”.
Coincidently, this little exchange resonated with the general consensus following the end of the discussion panel – namely that women in the built environment need to have more confidence in themselves. The confidence to ask for a raise, the confidence to ask for a promotion, the confidence to not doubt what they bring to the table.
In hind sight, I should have answered the question unequivocally. I have lived in London for close to seven years now and I have a considerable working knowledge of its most prominent architectural buildings. Not only that, I immediately recognised its neoclassical form in plan, its relationship to Waterloo Bridge and its orientation in relation to the Thames. Yet, I still found that I doubted the validity of the answer I had given. Make no mistake, for women working in the built environment, there is no room for that. The late Zaha Hadid said it best,
“Women are always told, ‘You’re not going to make it, it’s too difficult, you can’t do that, don’t enter this competition, you’ll never win it,’ – they need confidence in themselves and people around them to help them to get on.”