Zaha was inspirational for engineers too

By Diversity Group

23 June 2016

Today is Women in Engineering Day, a time for promoting and celebrating the participation of women in the industry. Even though she was not an engineer, we’d like to reflect on the life and career of Zaha Hadid, a globally significant architect and trailblazer for women in the construction industry. In many ways, she serves as an inspiration to engineers as well as architects.

Much has been made about her fight against the gender imbalance within her profession. In an ideal world her gender would have been of no significance, but it is clear that to many with a narrow view of the world, her gender was very important indeed. How she was treated throughout her career might go some way to answering why there are so few women at that level, at every level, in the construction industry.

As engineers with a close and fruitful relationship with Zaha and her practice, we were always delighted with her frank and enthusiastic recognition of the consultants who helped her buildings come to life. In October 2012 she said, ‘I only stay in London because of the engineers’. That is both a ringing endorsement for our profession and a sorry lament for the difficulties she faced here.

Perhaps one of the reasons for her prominence, aside from her undoubted talent and skill, is that she differed from the stereotype of the 'solitary genius technician'. In many ways it’s a classic male stereotype from the worlds of science, music, film, or politics as much as it is in architecture. But those who worked with her know that is not how she operated, even if that was how she was perceived. She was forthright, but always prepared to embrace a good idea, no matter its source.

What the industry needs are more architects, engineers and contractors who are less solitary egoists, who are more willing to empathise and engage with colleagues and stakeholders. We need more entrants to the industry who are willing to admit that they don't know something; who will ask more questions. In short, we need a more diverse workforce and more diverse leadership. We need more women.

Although Max Fordham is considerably more diverse than the wider construction industry, we must do more. We must actively seek to attract those who might have a different point of view to us. A diverse industry encourages cross-pollination of ideas, which leads to new approaches. Dogma is a dangerous ingredient in design – it stifles free thought and innovation. A diverse design team challenges dogma. A diverse organisation is more receptive to what other, different, groups need - those different groups are our future building users, our future clients, our future collaborators.

If we fail to increase diversity of gender, race, religion and sexuality in the design, construction and engineering industries, we could be blindsided by unforeseen technological or commercial disruption. And what's more, unless we redress this balance, our future leaders will be much, much less inspiring than Zaha was.



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