As a follow-up on the video interview [here] published on our interaction with Agnes Ofosu-Appiah, we bring to you the transcribed version of the interview. This is due to the complaints received from a section of our readers and since we are here to serve you, we hope this makes it better. We apologize to all those who could not enjoy the audibility of the video interview. We hope you enjoy this one.
AP: Can you share with us your perception on how the architecture profession treats women, the challenges you have encountered and ways you dealt with them?
AOA: “I am Agnes Ofosu-Appiah, Project Coordinator for ArchXenus company and I have been an architect for the past decade. So in architecture in Ghana, I think traditionally there are not many female run or majority female companies. I have been blessed, straight out from school I worked under a female architect and so I didn’t go through a male boss to know what a male boss will be like. You do notice even from architecture school that we are in the minority, because in my class we were 80-something in first year with 20-something of us were females, so you know we are in the minority. In my opinion, it should not matter because if the man stands for excellence and you [the female architect] stand for excellence, it is the excellence that will be the product, so it should not matter.
However, if you are on site and often you are the only woman on site between the male consultants, male artisans, male contractor; then you start noticing that people do not ask the male architects for their phone number or you do not do ‘cat walks’ when you are walking across the site. If you learn to block these out then you are good. My main life is that when you show up anywhere, you give up the best you can be and in as much as we are in a culture where there is a slight prejudice against women [that people do not want you to hear]; then the onus is on the woman to work a little harder, to study a little more, to work a little faster so that you can make a difference. Additionally, men do not have the problem of a ‘menstrual cycle’ or maternity leave or any of our ‘special’ women issues. What I constantly tell the young architects particularly the females is that if you want to be respected the same as your male counterpart, when you have menstrual cramps take a pain-killer and sit down and do the work because you won’t have some days off for that reason. Once you know these and you figure out how to navigate, it should not be a problem.
Here in our office we allow 3 months maternity period but if you choose to, you can go home with the laptop, you can go home with work; because from what the mothers tell us after a couple of weeks when you have only had baby conversations you need your brain to be stimulated and so you can work alongside. We do a lot of internal correspondence on WhatsApp so irrespective of where you are, whether on maternity leave or holiday; you can make inputs, suggestions and review work mostly via email. One of our administrators I think went with a printer and laptop where she would work, print and sign works for someone to pick it up. The main thing with ArchXenus too is that we try as much as possible to make work convenient because traditionally there is always a clash between work and architectural work is all-consuming. So we even encourage husbands or wives to come and visit. We try as much as possible to give the ‘family feeling’ so our spouses do not feel like they are ‘encroaching’ in our space”.
AP: How do the male staff feel about the ‘privileges’ given to the female staff?
AOA: “Well, we do not see it as a privilege because if it was a man going on leave, he will take his leave, but mostly their leave will not be a 3-month period and so they do not require a laptop or printer on leave period. We have a nursery upstairs which allows parents to bring their children to work. It is used more by the women and currently we have a staff that returned from maternity leave last week. She has a 2-year old son as well as a baby and they are on vacation so both are with us at the same time. So she can check in at anytime during working hours, go breastfeed, and it is not a problem because it is conveniently set up with an area for children to eat. We also have male staff who have their children with them at a certain period so they are allowed to bring their children as well. I have witnessed one of the days that we were working back to back to meet a deadline, where a father came with his two children and we had a lot of fun because of the nursery. So it is both ways just that traditionally the burden of children is often on the woman because traditionally the man would work and the woman would take care of the household and children. As a result even when the woman is working, because of biological reasons [breastfeeding] the children will be with the mother”.
AP: What is your view on the perception that male architects are paid more than female architects even at the same level and how does ArchXenus deal with this issue?
AOA: “With the equal pay issue I find it surprising that it was an issue particularly in the developed countries because it is my assumption that as they were developing certain issues like this should have been ironed out. Here at ArchXenus, we have put together a matrix which irrespective of male or female, once you are considered for employment, the things you have done that or achieved give you certain points which then translates into a salary bracket. For instance if you have an undergraduate degree it gives you a certain number of points, if you have done a postgraduate diploma or masters it gives you certain points. If you have done any other relevant architecture thing which may have a positive influence on the way you work, it gives you another point. Work experience also gives you another point, and so when all these are tabulated there is already a figure as to how much the individual should be paid and gender is not one of the parameters we are checking. So at any level, male and female should be receiving the same salary”.
AP: Do you have any message for the architecture community?
AOA: “I will start with the students who are training to become architects. I will encourage them to see themselves as a point of excellence and that how much they learn is mainly dependent on them. You may be in school and expect your lecturers to give you information but you cannot control what someone is giving you but you can control how much you can assimilate. Hence, if they have that at the back of their mind then in internships or even in school they will be hungry to learn more, see more, read more, ask more questions, challenge the status-quo because that is the only way we will get better and that is the only way the next generation becomes better than the current one.
The second thing I want to mention is that, in my training there was very little business training in architecture school and so we learnt the architecture but we get to real life and there is the business angle of it. This side can become so consuming that we forget the spirit of quality and a sense of place when we are designing and sometimes it can become commercial because you need to finish quickly and get paid; this then affects our built environment. We need to find a way where as we are mastering the business aspect we do not lose the quality and uniqueness of architecture.
Generally for the females as I mentioned earlier, because of our cultural setting less is expected of women. So for everyone especially the females, life throws things at you and you may not be where you desire at a certain time in your life; but wherever you find yourself make sure you are giving the best of your ability. Wake up in the morning and tell yourself ‘I am a really good architect, the world should watch out for me’ and make that day count”.
AP: Thank you Agnes for making time.