Claire Martin FAILA, AILA President, was recently included as one of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) 13 Female Landscape Architects Leading the Fight Against Climate Change. Claire was interviewed as part of this initiative, which we have shared with you here.
IFLA: Why women? Why climate change? Why Now?
Clare Martin: I think in terms of why climate change, it is because we are facing a climate and biodiversity emergency its certainly something that AILA and IFLA have declared and something we all need to respond to – an imminent, existential threat that demands action now. We have plenty of reports plenty of strategies, we know what need to do, and we know when we need to do it. And because we only have so much time to address what will otherwise be the irreversible impacts of climate change. Rather than why, I would say why not, women we make up approximately 50% of the world's population but are still underrepresented in leadership roles within the profession. There is a status quo that we need to change and that will necessitate us to think differently. Women bring a different lens so why wouldn’t we be more directly involved in making significant systemic change through that lens?
IFLA: What is the biggest challenge facing women leaders in male dominated field and how to overcome them?
CM: I think for me the biggest challenge is the notion of privilege. As a white woman, I need to check my privilege in relation to my ethnicity, and my culture. And I think, as a middle-class woman I have to check my privilege, and my assumptions in relation to how those structures have enabled me to succeed, and how those same structures, limit others. So, I think the biggest challenge facing women leaders, is to challenge those structures. I am a feminist and I think feminism is about equity for all, it is about participation, and addressing intersecting challenges. Certainly, in terms of the impacts of climate change, we know that that climate change will disproportionately impact women and especially women from lower socio-economic backgrounds. So, I think the biggest challenge facing women leaders within professions, is to ensure that we are part of the solution and not compounding the problem, that means challenging our own unconscious bias towards other women and creating the conditions that enable us to achieve significant structural change.
IFLA: What are the pressing issues you are contributing as a landscape architect for tackle climate change?
CM: Landscape architecture, as a built environment profession, has the capacity to contribute to the adverse impacts of climate change, but also to support climate mitigation and adaptation. So as a landscape architect, I am challenging myself to deal with this tension within our own practice and advocating for members of the profession in Australia to act with urgency in relation to minimising our carbon footprint. For example, that might mean using the Climate Positive Design Pathfinder Tool, pioneered by Pamela Conrad, which helps you to calculate the carbon impact of your work; as well as a practice developing sustainability policies and certifications. Specifically, that means through green infrastructure projects ensuring we are helping to minimize the adverse impacts of heat, the potential for flooding, and by increasing urban biodiversity, because in Australia, 30% of threatened species live in cities.
IFLA: How you approach your business/ your research as a woman who lead?
CM: I am fortunate to work in a practice that has enabled me to develop a practice within a practice. My practice combines built projects, landscape communication (through publications and talks), and advocacy through the Office of the Victorian Government Architect, and through the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects. I see advocacy as a growing part of my practice, as it is forces you to be more reflective, and to share what we learn, and to share it quicker. I think in terms of our studio the leadership is increasingly lateral and many of the shifts have been driven by colleagues. I am supportive of more distributed models of leaderships that are collaborative and that can grow and be sustained over time.
IFLA: What is the most frustrating moment/comment you’ve heard as a woman who leads in the profession?
CM: Four out of five directors on our current AILA board are women, and we have strong female representation and participation in academia, government, and private practice across the country. However, we still have demonstrable gender equity issues within the profession identified in AILA’s Gender Equity: Next Steps Report that builds on work prepared by Parlour (a research-based advocacy organisation who work to improve gender equity in the built environment professions) and includes an action plan developed by AILA’s Gender Equity Committee. So that frustration remains. In terms of moments, I have at times been in meetings where attendees have failed to acknowledge that women are in the room and experienced gendered language or innuendo, but I still think to this day one of the most disappointing moments was when I was sworn at in a meeting, by another woman. So, my frustration has certainly not always been, a consequence of comments that have been made my male colleagues or collaborators.
IFLA: What’s the most important risk you took and why?
CM: I studied English Literature and Fine Art in the UK before coming to work and holiday in Australia. I chose to study Landscape Architecture at the age of 31. So, I would say that was probably the most important risk I took in relation to what I do now. Because it enabled me to totally change direction, whilst recontextualising my earlier studies and my work experience. I would encourage people to consider studying landscape architecture as a mature age student, as it enhances the diversity of the profession.
IFLA: They say “Gender Equality Means Business” -- what do you think about that?
CM: Obviously as a play on words it acknowledges that gender equity is a serious matter, and something that we should all be focused on. And that gender equality will have positive impacts on business, that are not just aimed at benefiting women, and that by both men and women supporting gender equality it becomes integral to having an ethical business and an ethical practice.
IFLA: How your work contributes to other women?
CM: I would like to think that the way that our work contributes positively to other women is mainly through the way that it's used or it's appropriated. The way that it can positively impact on the communities who are able to experience the spaces and the infrastructure we design; whether positively informing the way young women might participate in outdoor informal learning spaces through our education projects, by enabling women to move safely through the city, the creation of more intimate public spaces, or through mental health courtyards designed specifically for women. I have also tried to help raise the profile of landscape architecture, and to demonstrate different forms of practice, and have been passionate around advocacy, so this may help contribute to other women in the sense of “you can’t be what you can’t see”. It has certainly made a difference to me over the years to see and know women in various leadership roles and to feel like I am part of a community of practice with other women in Australia and overseas.
IFLA: What advice would you give to the next generation of female design leaders?
CM: I'm always inspired by many young women in our profession. I certainly feel like I learn from their leadership. So, I wouldn't necessarily suggest that I'm in the best position to advise them, but I certainly have and do mentor other women. I would encourage them now to really step up. I think there is the need for urgent and significant change and that means all hands-on deck. I also think there is more opportunity than ever before to make an impact. Conversely there remains a lack of pay equity in the profession, so I think women need to support each other and have support from their male colleagues in trying to achieve gender equity. Whether through mentoring, profiling, or sharing stories through qualitative and quantitative methods. I think it means that when those young women are themselves in positions of power and responsibility that they take that responsibility seriously, and that they always try and act with empathy. It is critical that we put ourselves where possible in other people’s shoes, only by doing that can you really demonstrate effective and equitable leadership. So, I encourage the next generation of female designers to be empathetic and to focus on communication.