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March 28th, 2022

Fifty years ago my aunt Fiona was one of very few female architects working in London and my grandmother made her an black evening suit so that she was not assumed to be an architect’s wife when attending RIBA dinners and evening events.

Nearly 20 years ago I received an email from a site manager addressed to “Gents”. I was the only female member of the design team and the only female designer in my office. My then boss, the rather excellent gent, Marc van Grieken, complained on my behalf and quite a stink ensued. It did not happen again and there was an apology.

I now jointly head a brilliant team of ten designers at erz, eight of whom are talented and empowered women. Perhaps times have changed?

Perhaps not.

In the last six months I have had three emails addressed to “Gents” from three different multidisciplinary professional teams. Each time I have pointed out that I am not a “Gent.” I did it politely, with humour, in a short email.

One person, whom I had never met, called me on my mobile to accuse me of accusing him of sexism. In the other instances nobody acknowledged my email and the use of “Gents” has continued. One of my team mused that if we addressed an email to “Ladies” we would be met by puzzlement not frustration, even though there are now many more women in the construction industry than there were twenty or fifty years ago. Another colleague notes that when she talks about "my director" in conversations about work, people often go on to talk about "he".

Do you have to be a man to be able to call out sexism in the workplace?

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