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International Women’s Day 2019: Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change

This year, the UN’s theme for International Women’s Day is "think equal, build smart, innovate for change". We spoke to some of the wonderful women of IBI to find out what this theme means for them.



March 8, 2019

Today is International Women’s Day and in order for us to move forward for better, we must acknowledge and make amends with our past. Historically, city making industries like architecture, urban planning and design were walled off for wealthy white men. In the US, most universities banned women from studying architecture until Title IX was passed in 1972.

Jane Jacobs was a central advocate against mainstream urban planning during this time and famously said that, “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because and only when, they are created by everybody.” Today, women make up nearly 50% of all architecture students and the construction industry has seen a steady increase in the number of women in the industry (though this still equates to less than 10% in the US). Slowly, by punctuated equilibrium, things are beginning to change.


It’s important and empowering for women to have managerial or leadership roles to tackle sexism within the construction industry. The stereotypical toxic masculine culture of construction sites and contracting companies are discriminatory, sexist, and made to discourage women. It’s getting better, and these things take time to change, but I think every female project manager in the construction industry has several horror stories. This shouldn’t be normalized or tolerated.

Parisa Rafat

Architectural Technologist, Vancouver

A real shift for balance demands that we make women more visible across the industry. Women are widely underrepresented in senior level positions and this sends a poor message to women developing their careers. It’s hard to imagine yourself at the top when you have no role models to look up to. Other habits we must reconsider include our preference for long hours that are not amenable for those family duties. This self-criticism and reflection is essential for change.

Everyone need to create their own ways of achieving the perfect balance for them. I have had my own share of ups and downs and I have learnt from my experiences. In general I try to plan things ahead of time. Always keep a tab on key events and dates at office & projects and at the same time at kids’ school. In a multiple project environment, I try to be available for my team whenever needed and at the same time I work extra hard to be available for kids on their special days.

Kanchan Nautiyal

Communication Engineer, New Delhi

This year, the UN’s theme for International Women’s Day is think equal, build smart, innovate for change. As part of our own reflection, we spoke to some of the wonderful women of IBI to find out what this theme means for them and their practice:

The IBI women of Vancouver.

Think equal:

More balanced opinions are needed around the world. Seeking out input from people who think differently than you will almost always lead to a better result. Truly listening to someone else’s point of view with empathy is not always easy; yet there is no better way to treat people fairly.

Margaret Parkhill

Associate – Manager, Transportation Engineering, Toronto

My grandmother had powerful messages for me: we are all equal but some more equal than others. What that meant for me was to appreciate the differences of each person while lending equal opportunity. My mother continued some of those messages by telling me that my differences should not stop me on what I want to achieve. I think of that when someone wants to make me feel self-conscious of my differences. Even in my own work as an architect, I try to think of the building as a living organism- its unique characteristics and relationship with the surrounding streets and buildings are necessary to consider for it to be successful in the city overall.

Ana-Francisca de la Mora

Associate – Manager, Architecture, Toronto

The IBI women of Pompano Beach.

Build smart:

Involving men in the conversation is an important factor. Norms are changing: as more women enter traditionally male-dominated industries like engineering, medicine, technology and finance, more women are being promoted into leadership positions (slowly but surely) or are paving their own way, and younger couples are sharing the burden of parental leave as opposed to leaving it to one person. We need allies in both women and men, and they can be some of our best advocates. Increasingly, women’s issues are becoming everyone’s issues—and that’s the best way to bring about change.

Emily Graham

Content & Community Specialist, Global Communications, Toronto

Since almost 70% of our workforce is male, it’s important for them to have resources for how they can support women in building a gender-balanced world. Jake Sitka, co-founder of Next Gen Men, offers some effective ways for men to get involved with diversity and inclusion. He highlights that acknowledging your privilege and leveraging it to help others are key ways than men can join in, along with listening and advocating for change. Be sure to check out Next Gen Men to learn more.  

Aysia Stante

Urban Planner, Calgary

My field, even though it is improving, is still mainly a male dominated field. It takes a lot of perseverance and commitment to be successful. It is often easy to be overlooked as a woman, especially in outdoor field work, where some people believe women that do not have the strength. Someone once told me, what you can’t make up in strength, you make up in brains. So be prepared; know what your job entails and think ahead.

Michelle Hua

 Project Manager- Geomatics Division, Calgary

The IBI women of Hyderabad.

Innovate for change:

The world and technology is changing at an incredible pace, with smart phones, smart homes, and smart cars. In transportation planning, we are tasked with predicting the future. To me, building smart means making something better than it was when you found it.  That might mean a better business process, a better relationship with a friend or colleague, or better transportation to improve access to communities.

Margaret Parkhill

Associate – Manager, Transportation Engineering, Toronto

Technology is not reliant on gender and creates wonderful opportunities for all kind of passionate professionals. It’s amazing to see how things have changed so much in just a few decades. What seemed impossible is now just an arm’s length away. The endless possibilities sparked my interest and natural curiosity and that’s how I landed in the 3D printing and VR world within the company. Technology is in a state of constant flux and development and there’s so many opportunities up for grabs.

Carla Queiroz

Studio Associate, London

A recent report by the World Bank on gender discrimination found that only six countries give truly equal rights to men and women under the law. While this may sound discouraging, there are more positive stories behind the headlines if you read the full report. Nations around the world are realizing that enabling women boosts their economy and we in countries with higher gender parity are obligated to make sure that no one gets left behind.

Emily Graham

Content & Community Specialist, Global Communications, Toronto


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