The 2020 NAWIC International Women’s Day Scholarship winner, Sarah Lawlor released her research paper findings at the 2021 NAWIC NSW IWD Breakfast, held in Sydney earlier this year.

Lawlor, a proud NAWIC Member and Registered Senior Architect at fjmt studio, utilised the Scholarship funds to explore her timely and relevant research topic: Is Sustainability Leadership in the Built Environment ‘Women’s Business?’ 

Her paper was based on the premise that gender equity and diversity in leadership has been proven to improve business profitability and explored whether this trend extends to sustainability related roles in the built environment. It also aimed to explore the diversity of the sector and to promote diversity in leadership as a mechanism to improve sustainability outcomes. Overall, the study uncovered a diverse sustainability sector, in which women participate at higher levels than in other areas of the built environment.

“While I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity this study uncovered, I found that gendered perceptions still affect women, and men, operating in the industry,” said Lawlor. “Sustainability has its own challenges in interacting with the established structures of the construction industry, where problematic and often gendered perceptions of the sustainability field are evident. Each of these perceptions is concerning, as they undermine and devalue the field, reducing the efficacy of sustainability outcomes in the built environment.”

Her report recommended continued efforts to improve gender equity and diversity in the built environment, drawing lessons from an ostensibly diverse sustainability sector.

“Equity demands mutual respect, and pervasive cultural change is required in the broader built environment to break down negative perceptions of the sustainability field, and improve the integration and uptake of sustainability,” she said. “The IWD scholarship offered an opportunity for me to explore a nexus between gender equity and sustainability. The scholarship opened doors for me to have conversations with industry leaders, which broadened my mind to the scope of our impact.”

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