International Women’s Day 2024: It’s not just altruism – it’s good business’

Centred on the United Nations’ International Women’s Day theme of Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress’, the Western Australian Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) Gender Equity Taskforce hosted a panel event which focused on empowering women to learn, earn and lead. 

Mimi Cho, Associate at our Perth studio, Co-chair of the task force and Co-host of the event, shares some key insights from speakers Kate Fitzgerald , Davina Bester, David Gulland and Louise Ward.


Kate Fitzgerald, Director of architectural practice Whispering Smith and sustainable development company New Resident, spoke of the significant role of financial power in shaping societal dynamics and how the persistent gender pay gap is intricately linked to limited ownership of businesses by women. 

Ownership translates into influence and control, and Kate highlighted the historical disparity between men and women in business ownership rates. This gap also extends beyond ownership to encompass employment and business structures. She noted that women often lean towards owning unincorporated businesses, which can limit their economic impact.

Kate advocated that seizing ownership opportunities is pivotal for empowering women to rewrite the narrative and diminish the gender gap in both wealth and influence. By embracing ownership, women can actively reshape societal norms and bridge disparities in financial and influential spheres.


Diversifying into additional fields, such as construction and property development, broadens opportunities, allowing women to influence projects and industries. Davina Bester, Founder and Managing Director of Milieu Creative, and Kate are accomplished in areas outside architecture, enabling them to influence conversations with key decision-makers. Kate highlighted a recent experience where a Minister only agreed to meet with her because she is an architect and developer”. Her experience highlights how having multifaceted expertise ─ as an architect and developer ─ can open doors to impactful discussions. Women in influential roles across architecture, construction, and property development can significantly impact communities and societies for the better.

It’s not just about altruism. It’s about retaining talent and knowledge, which would otherwise be lost after years of investment.”

— David Gulland, Principal at Hassell


An equitable and flexible workplace benefits everyone. In recent years, there has been a positive shift towards providing flexible work arrangements, enabling employees to achieve a better work-life balance. Organisations are moving towards a more equitable workplace, offering equal access to parental leave policies for all genders.

Davina’s journey, which involved starting her practice to accommodate her growing family’s needs, reflects this need for flexibility. Milieu Creative now extends this flexibility to all staff, irrespective of gender.

Louise Ward, Senior Associate at Hillam Architects, and David Gulland, an equity Principal at our Perth studio, shared insights on how Hillam and Hassell support female employees, especially during critical child-bearing years. David discussed the decision-making process behind Hassell’s progressive parental leave policy effective since July 1, 2023. This policy provides all parents 16 weeks of paid leave, prioritising family well-being and offering opportunities to balance parental responsibilities with professional life. Moreover, the policy extends support to parents who have adopted children, those in foster or surrogacy arrangements, and those who have experienced the loss of a child through stillbirth.


In her keynote presentation, Kate encouraged all women to understand architecture’s economics to better influence it. There was unanimous agreement in the room that understanding the economics of architecture is a critical requirement to work with clients and other decision-makers effectively. So, how do we create space for this knowledge and learning? With representatives from each of Perth’s three architecture schools in the room, it’s hoped new conversations are sparked about the future of architectural education.


In conjunction with International Women’s Day 2024, the AIA presented its Female Fellowships Exhibition in Western Australia and Queensland, with support from Hassell.

Returning to Perth for its second year and debuting in Brisbane, the exhibition celebrates remarkable women who were awarded the AIA’s Fellowship or Life Fellowship for their substantial contributions to the architecture profession beyond practice. The exhibition aspires to expand each year as it welcomes new female fellows. We hope their stories inspire everyone to take action to accelerate progress.


March 08, 2024

Amongst all the gender pay gap discussions recently this was a really refreshing take and didn’t feel too focused on a number but more about encouraging women to get some skin in the game and amplify our voice which left me feeling quite inspired.”

AIA Attendee and Architect

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