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“Are we there yet?”

In July 2018, Manglin Pillay, CEO of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering published this disturbing piece of writing, that clearly demonstrates why we need more women in our urban industries (read it here).

It’s titled: “Out on a rib.”

To be honest it took me a while to get this, until another Women in Urbanism member kindly informed me that it was an antagonistic title, a biblical reference to the ‘rib’ that Eve was made from. Fury and queasiness ensued.

Pillay suggests there shouldn't be funding to encourage women into male dominated STEM industries. Because according to a paper published by Leeds Beckett University, women prefer “people-oriented careers.” Where as the men, well they prefer “things” and “mechanics.”

Plus women all want to be caregivers anyway.

Pillay actually vomits this onto the page: “the fact that more men occupy high profile executive posts is not because of gender but because of appetite for workload and extreme performance requirements.” Pillay, clearly struggling with verbal diarrhea, also goes on to dig this hole for himself: “But here’s the conundrum - given that money, time and resources are constrained, and evidence pointing to women being predisposed to caring and people careers, should we be investing so heavily in attracting women into STEM careers, specifically engineering, or should we invest in creating more gender-equal societies?” Pillay directly contradicts himself, for how does a gender-equal society come in to being, if women aren’t involved in industries across the board?

In the recent Auckland Museum exhibition titled 'Are we there yet?' there is a photo of a woman holding a placard that reads 'I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit'.

'Are we there yet?' is a great question. With so many seriously misguided people in leadership positions, who are predominantly older, male and white, it’s more than worthy of a conversation.

Women and men are both equally important and hold equal worth, but currently infrastructure funding benefits men more than it does women. Cities are designed largely by men, for men. Our built environment is sexist. Top CEOs in our industry don't think women should be learning about engineering. Women's pay is less (which has more to do with unconscious bias than it does women’s negotiating capability). Women's experience of our transport systems are secondary to mens (women walk more than men, and men drive more than women. We have a perfect roading network, and a shit walking network. Women also cycle less in cities where there is no infrastructure). We have a long way to go to build an equitable urban environment.

The industry stats are bleak in Aotearoa too. There’s a serious lack of women in New Zealand’s urban industries at all levels. Only 15% of Mayors and 20% of District Mayors in Aotearoa are women. In the profession of Architecture, women make up 29% of the industry, 17% in Construction, and just 14% of Engineers are women. There are even fewer Māori, Pasifika and Asian women and men in these industries.

We’re not the only ones appalled by Pillay, and the state of our urban industries. Ferdi Nell from Aurecon, penned an open letter to Pillay, asking Pillay to apologise to the women of South Africa:

“We believe the article published under your organisation’s name is extremely damaging to our reputation as engineers and is also insensitive to the ongoing challenges that women engineers face. The article stereotypes women by presenting them as soft and caring, yet ultimately ill-suited for roles that are technically and managerially demanding. It also stereotypes men who by implication are presented as less caring and less suitable for parenting or people-oriented careers. It justifies unequal pay, despite codes and legislation prohibiting discriminatory practices in the workplace. It even stereotypes industry leaders as disagreeable, power hungry and friendless A-types…We believe no single organisation can drive real change alone. We need to combine our efforts to eradicate gender discrimination within the engineering industry and continue to encourage others to do the same.”

We need diversity across the board in our city building industries so we can make fair, representative, equitable and appropriate decisions that will ultimately benefit everyone.

I love that Pillay reckons us women prefer 'people-orientated careers,’ whereas men like ‘things’ and ‘mechanics.’ It's sort of an accidental confession from Pillay that male engineers don't consider the people they're designing for.

We know city design needs to consider the needs of people first. And Pillay does say that women prefer “people-oriented careers”. We have a long way to go, it’s true, until society recognises that if women are truly better off in more “people-orientated careers,” then they’re perfect for the jobs in our urban industries. Especially Pillay’s job.

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