Facing Equality participants: alumnae Belqis Youssofzay, Annie Tennant, Diane Jones and Natalie Galea. Photo: Maja Baska

UNSW Built Environment is on track to empower the next generation of female leaders in a bid to achieve 50% of women in leadership roles by 2025.

In 2016, Professor Helen Lochhead joined UNSW Built Environment as the Faculty’s first female dean. At the time, she was starkly aware of the lack of gender diversity in the built environment professions, and pledged to achieve 50% of women in leadership roles in the Faculty as part of her leadership strategy – a pledge she has since achieved, and then some.

But the work is far from done, with women still facing a lack of proper support and opportunity in built environment professions. According to Professor Lochhead, women have been graduating in near equal numbers from professional programs in the built environment for quite some time, but this does not translate to equal representation in the workplace. For this reason, she set an ambitious agenda for the Faculty to drive 50% female representation in industry leadership positions by 2025.

“There has been a huge attrition of talent for various reasons ranging from unconscious bias to non-family-friendly working conditions. This is a huge loss to the professions and industry, and for each and every woman who has left their vocation after committing time and resources into their education and professional development,” says Professor Lochhead.

“This needs to change. Not tapping into 50% of the potential and diverse professional talent pool available doesn’t make sense from either economic or societal perspectives. We need to proactively mentor, promote and retain our female talent in the professions.”

The 50% initiative, known as ‘Engaging Women in the Built Environment’, has attracted support from industry, with key players like Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Lucy Turnbull AO, Robin Mellon and Alison Mirams actively engaging with the Faculty to help reach this target. This has also spurred the creation of new scholarships for women in construction, travel grants and PhDs to support women at various stages of their career.

The Faculty also aims to increase visibility of female professionals who have excelled in the built environment profession despite challenges, setbacks and obstacles. On 8 March, the Faculty launched its Facing Equality photo exhibition, featuring portraits and perspectives that reflect the diversity of the profession.

The Facing Equality project, currently being rolled out in all UNSW faculties, forms part of the UNSW Grand Challenge on Inequality. It was designed to challenge notions of equality by combining photographic portraits with personal reflections from a diverse range of members of the UNSW community.

“This exhibit features a number of inspiring female leaders from a diverse range of careers,” says Professor Lochhead. “It speaks to the talent as well as resilience, tenacity and perseverance of women in the built environment profession. These are attributes that we need to recognise and tap into.”

The Facing Equality exhibition for UNSW Built Environment will run until the end of April in the Ground Floor Gallery of UNSW Red Centre (West Wing).