Today after a long struggle to get into work I sat down at my desk to a pile of printouts all heavily red-penned, marked up by the company’s director. I had a flashback to my first fulltime role as an Architectural Assistant over 10 years ago and as I sat there, I felt a little deflated.
I couldn’t help but think, how was I back in a position where I arrived at my desk to someone else’s red pen markings on someone else’s design stacked up on my desk. Having never met the client nor the project consultants, with no note of explanation from the director, no friendly “please revise these accordingly and by XX date”, nothing to say what the client had been thinking, or why the engineer had moved rainwater pipes, etc etc.
In my first year as an assistant, I had gone from being a fresh-faced inexperienced assistant on my first day to being the project lead, running a renovation project in the Cotswolds, now I am pretty sure that it was driven by two factors, understaffing and overconfidence in my ability by the director, but even so I managed it and we came out with a project that the client was happy with. So how was it that over 10 years later I was back in a “cad monkey” position?
I tried to reason with myself, I had only been at this practice for 9 months, I was part-time, we all need to pitch in when the project requires, I have been given my own clients, it is just this project (but this project is fast becoming my main project).
The more I reasoned the more I came back to the same question, why do senior staff members treat “valued” staff in this way?
How can I be expected to have any interest in a project where, I can only assume, I am deemed to be too junior to meet the client? Why am I expected to understand how the building is to be constructed when I’ve never spoken with the consultants? How can I have a full understanding when I only receive drips and drabs of information in the form of red pen over drawings with no other communication or explanation? I am good at my job but I am not a mind reader.
My deflated head reasoned; “well I’m part time so shouldn’t expect to be seen as a senior” and then my outrage kicked in; yes, I had had a child but my husband didn’t have to go backward in his career because he had a child.
I am still an Architect and the practice should allocate projects accordingly not devalue my training and knowledge by putting me on work that they could employ someone less experienced a lot less wage to do.
I have seen so many of my part-time working friends have to deal with this, we had conversations about it and while I was sympathetic at the time, I don’t think I fully registered when I was working full time, pre-children, what it meant. These colleagues left their offices in the end and freelanced and one friend does not practice as an Architect at all anymore, finding it too difficult and unsupported.
I sat there at my desk feeling discriminated against. I am going to use the term discriminated against. Because surely that is what it is?
To have a level of experience but not be afforded work to match that experience purely because you do not work 9 – 5.30 every day.
To not be allowed to attend training cpds, because the office always books them on your ‘day off’ despite the fact that, to remain as a UK registered architect, one is required to attend cpds in order to satisfy the ARB code of conduct. This decision to book them when I am not in the office not only limits my ability to progress but could also have me disqualified from my profession.
With each day I complete I get a deeper understanding that there is no equality when it comes to parenthood, one parent must choose to cut back on their career. It is a hard, hard slog to maintain your career once you have “cut back” because of the procedures and culture that each and every profession in the UK currently has.
Companies offer “flexibility” and put a big TICK on their equality checklist for offering working parents a chance to continue work. But they need to look further than this. It is not enough to simply allow flexible working without allowing the worker to work to the level that he/she is qualified for. It is not enough to allow someone to work part-time but restrict their ability to improve and develop new skills by not including them in training seminars.
I do believe that, as with a lot of discrimination, this is mostly due to a lack of understanding, a naivety, a lack of thinking beyond the obvious and so as I sat there, I thought well if I do not speak up for myself, I cannot expect anything to change.
I decided to question the “red pen” director.
I explained that if I was to be left out of meetings, I couldn’t be expected to have a full understanding of the project, an understanding that is essential in order to do my job. That if they do not book cpds on days that I work I am not satisfying the basic criteria required to continue practicing.
The result: the next meeting, with the project engineer, has been booked on a day that I am in the office…..small steps in the right direction!
*Cad monkey: A derogatory term used to describe someone who draws up someone else’s designs and thoughts.