Diversity & Inclusion
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Katie Fairbrother

ASPL #WeLead Campaign  |  Vol.

40
Katie Fairbrother
Katie is an architect, advocate and advisor – a modern day Renaissance woman, interested in and skilled in many areas. With more than 27 years’ professional experience, and armed with qualifications in Architecture, Built Environment, Project Management & Applied Science. She is on a mission to build a new normal for the industry so that better outcomes can be achieved for clients, their projects and her peers – regardless of gender.
“I believe the best outcomes come from balance – be it of masculine and feminine traits; creative and technical, right and left brained, intellect and emotion etc.” — Katie Fairbrother

1. Tell us a little about yourself?

I am an architect, advocate and advisor – a modern day Renaissance woman, interested in and skilled in many areas. Constantly curious to learn, I am inspired by the belief that true creativity is born when seemingly conflicting schools of knowledge or ideas intersect and fuse together. With more than 27 years’ professional experience, and armed with qualifications in Architecture, Built Environment, Project Management & Applied Science – phew! – I’m on a mission to build a new normal for the industry so that better outcomes can be achieved for clients, their projects and my peers – regardless of gender. While still attending University, I became a mum and then with a 1-year-old, did the parenting gig solo. This experience as a young female, entrepreneurial, solo parent professional in the construction sector set the foundation for my recent focus and the realisation that I’m standing on a mountain of value in this space. It has fuelled a passion to break down barriers, to advocate and empower women in the profession and help create the female leaders the construction industry desperately needs. On a personal front, I am an explorer of ideas and interests, and not shy to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone. In recent years I’ve trained to be a surf-lifesaver and was an active patrolling member for the last 5 years at the famous Bondi surf club. That was, until the global pandemic triggered a move back home to sunny Queensland. I’ve also done training in performance and voice, with wonderful experiences in community theatre. My son and my family, the beach and showing up with presence and personality are my core motivators.

2. Who are the women who have inspired you the most in your life?

Truthfully, I do not have many women who have inspired me in life particularly on the professional front. I have no immediate, close family or connections that work in the industry or fields I’ve found myself working in. No builders, architects, engineers, or tradespeople even. During my career I’ve had a significant deficit of women mentors, role models, coaches, guides or support. A few standout friends from my Uni days are my stars in this space – friends who rallied around me when I really needed it and to this day I regard as dear friends. Perhaps my way of overcoming this deficit is to instead BE the woman who can inspire other women? Inspiration comes more from my family and the legacy from my Grandmother, Essie, my mum’s mum. She was a salt of the earth woman, community driven, a farmer’s wife, a minister’s daughter, a descendant from Australia’s first refugees – Lutherans escaping religious persecution in Europe. My grandmother sacrificed loads to pave the way for my Grandfather and Uncle to work the family farm, care for her children, community and in later years her 15 grandchildren to varying degrees. Closer to home, I am inspired and amazed by my mum. I honestly do not know how she managed to do what she did as a young woman, with 4 small children, and very little support. A challenge she survived despite being physically isolated from her family, and with my dad – an ‘absent present’ father. A situation which evolved into sole parenting with 4 kids aged 12-16. In her mind she’s not successful. She had unfulfilled dreams that left a gaping hole in her heart and mind and the struggles nearly broke her. But to me, mum is successful. She has riches that come from her role as mother (and by proxy father), provider, carer, of keeping house and everything else afloat. Now, she is also a grandmother of 10 – a role she relishes and excels at. To me her success is not measured in financial wealth, nor career accomplishments, nor an elevated position in society. It is measured in nurture, care, love, trust, humility and resilience. All traits that have filtered down to my brother and sisters and I – and now the next generation. For these reasons, I wouldn’t swap my upbringing because I know any successes I achieve, are both because of and despite my childhood. My successes are a direct reflection on my mum, and truthfully – no one else.

3. Why do you think it’s important to increase the number of women in business, particularly in leadership roles?

Women bring traits and unconscious skills to business particularly in the realm of emotional intelligence, empathy, communication and nurture which, when present in businesses and workplaces, sets the framework for a more harmonious culture. I believe the best outcomes come from balance – be it of masculine and feminine traits; creative and technical, right and left brained, intellect and emotion etc. All of these traits are not exclusive to one gender or the other – the importance is that there is balanced representation across them all. Though, considering males have been the dominant gender to establish and govern most societal constructs, we need to increase numbers of women in business and in leadership roles because this is the mechanism to re-set the balance. Women in leadership creates a powerful dichotomy. Imagine the successes and heights we can achieve as a society when men hold more space and respect for women to a more equitable capacity. However, it is not enough for women to strive for a seat at the table. Women must also strive to have a voice. But this voice must be their own. Having a seat at the table while being told ‘how to speak’ or ‘what to say’ is a token gesture.

4. How would you describe your current thinking about diversity and inclusion?

Having started my career as a 17-year-old girl in the construction sector, ideas around worth, credibility, respect, diversity and inclusion have been ever present challenges. In many of my workplace experiences I have been one of only a few women and in some cases the only one. Oftentimes, when there are other women, they occupy support or administrative roles, rather than professional or leadership positions. At the beginning of my studies (from age 17-20), I was one of 5 women in a class of 40 and the only female where I worked. Over time this has changed. By the time I was studying my bachelor’s degrees the gender balance was getting closer to 50 / 50. However, this still did not translate into the workplace. A career in the construction sector is very difficult to do part time, without diluting project responsibility and meaningful contribution. Many women leave or find allied disciplines to work in because it is not conducive to increased personal or family responsibilities. A discussion around diversity and inclusion is not exclusive to women, where there is obvious room for continued improvement. What I believe is overlooked is when women are further marginalised though other factors such as race, physical impairment, disability, age, social standing, and even by being a sole parent or living in rural areas. Challenges faced by women who tick more than one such box are compounded, yet – and this has been my experience as a solo parent – are not really factored into the equation when it comes to discussions around diversity and inclusion. It seems to me these extra marginalised women are in the ‘too hard basket’. There is much room for improvement for women in these situations. To activate change, sometime these women just need an opportunity – that one chance to help them grow. That one person who believes in them and empowers them to back themselves.

5. Would you like to tell us a bit more about your thoughts/ comments?

I aspire to be a change-maker in the realm of improving equity and opportunities for women especially in construction related professions. My business Kaleidoscope Creative was established to be the vehicle for me to deliver professional services across a range of specialisations in architecture and project services. But my big vision is to develop bespoke products and services that draw on modern technology (data, machine learning and AI) and that can also tap into the broader female genius and in doing so, manufacture new opportunities for women. Opportunities that can offer better balance, while maintaining the value and meaning that comes from a career in architecture and construction. If you would like to connect with me, please go to www.linkwithkatie.com

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