As the chair of the ‘Women in Architecture’ community, Brigitte van Starrenburg takes the lead in efforts to achieve greater diversity among this occupational category. She seizes on her experience and vision to enthuse women for jobs in the architectural profession. The reason being that instilling diversity into the profession is sorely needed. Not only because there is an imbalance in the male to female ratio: diversity in teams also brings different perspectives and consequently better results. So, it is important that there is a due focus of attention for this issue and that we effect real change in this respect. Brigitte introduces us to Capgemini’s Women in Architecture community.

What is your role within Capgemini?

I currently work as a Management Enterprise Architect at Capgemini. In this role, I bring structure to the organisation and I make sure the information flow is in keeping with the organisational objectives and delivers appropriate support to employees. It is all about getting the information supply to work to your advantage, enabling you to do a good job. That is the ultimate aim.

Capgemini’s creed - ‘Master of your own destiny’ – already resonated with me when I joined the company in 1999. My immediate thought was: this suits me down to a T. Obviously you can also allow yourself to be guided by an offer, or embark on an assignment that is assigned to you by an account manager, but I prefer a different approach. I check to see which assignments we have in the portfolio and then I decide for myself which one I am going for. Which makes me the Master of my own destiny as it were. Over time, this has enabled me to develop and take on new challenges at Capgemini.

How do you experience the male to female ratio in your line of work?

The Netherlands has seven women architects. Compare that to around 260 male colleagues. That is quite an imbalance. These hard-hitting figures plus the fact that I have seen a number of talented women leave the profession prompted me to take up the gavel of the Women in Architecture community with great gusto.

I absolutely love my job and I have very good working relationships with my male colleagues. We have loads of fun on the shop floor. Come to think of it, I have always been ‘one of the guys’ and I never considered that to be a problem. Generally speaking, men are quite open to working with women. Ultimately, what matters is your abilities, your savoir faire, and whether or not you are able to put your point across in the communication stakes.

Yet, the threshold to become an architect as a woman is high and where women do manage to rise in the ranks, they sometimes get to a point where they are stuck. With our community we are looking to tear down these impediments and put in place equal opportunities, where the only thing that matters is whether you are up to the job and side issues such as your gender do not count.

Women in Architecture also provides support in this respect. We help each other get ahead by discussing our experiences with one another. I believe it is important that women and men, people from different cultures and with different backgrounds work together. This brings different perspectives and insights.

How does the community support women in a practical sense?

In amongst other things, we organise gatherings with interesting speakers and we offer ladders and guidance. The whole idea behind Women in Architecture is to enthuse and support women as widely as possible. In doing so, we not only teach them the tricks of the trade, we also provide guidance and coaching.

And we also help women obtain the required certifications where needed. Sometimes we find that there is not enough interest to organise a training course. In that case, we try and get it off the ground anyway by lobbying and by trying to enthuse more people for the job. The same applies to assignments. Wherever possible, we help women who take an interest in architecture to land an assignment that enables them to develop their skills in this field.

We believe it is important to remove obstacles. Whenever someone thinks ‘I like architecture’, we will try and make sure this person gets the opportunity to get acquainted with the trade and enrol for a suitable training course. Our role in this is one of support and assistance.

We do likewise in the Architecture community, for that matter. The Architecture community is not just there for architects, it is also there for people who want to find out if this could be something for them. And obviously it is also there for men who are considering making a career switch into architecture. At this point they already qualify to sign up as members of the Architecture community. The benefit of this community being that it enables them to get acquainted with what the job entails in an accessible and straightforward manner, as well as get to meet some of the people who actually work as architects. All of which gives them a much better sense of the job and it makes the job more accessible for new people to get into.

Why is diversity important to you?

Diversity (in every shape and form) has an impact on the way people work together. It brings different perspectives and allows you to view and resolve matters in a different way. In the Netherlands few women are found to be working as architects and that is something we are looking to change. More women in IT has a positive effect on quality, working relationships and results. This may be in terms of hard qualities but equally in terms of soft qualities. Examples include the way in which people communicate and how they work together.

What will you be doing in the foreseeable future to get more women into architecture?

We are set to raise the profile of women and we will be making more of a noise for ourselves. At meetings and events, for example. We are keen to make the job more accessible to other women. We are also planning to follow up on the initial kick-off, which triggered quite a few questions and we have not been able to contact everybody yet. That is something we will certainly be working on over the next few months.

When it comes to architecture, it is entirely irrelevant whether you are male or female. Women are every bit as good at business architecture as men. And the more diversity on the shop floor, the better the result. Of that there is no doubt in my mind.
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