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International Women’s Day: Count her In!

This year for International Women’s Day, I was invited to speak alongside Senator Elizabeth Watson Brown and Kirsty Volz at the Institute of Architects event at the Calisle, Brisbane.  The theme of the event was ‘Count her In’ – I opted to speak about my journey architecture and why I decided to say, “Count me out” of industry norms and forge my own path.  Referencing 2023’s Gold Medal Award Winner Kerstin Thompson, I spoke about my passion to bring good business and good architecture together to make a vibrant and sustainable industry for women to build their careers.

The room was packed with vibrant, passionate women and allies – it made me feel optimistic about the future of our profession and women’s leadership within it. The below is a precis of the speech given.

I’ve sought to affirm an approach to architecture that…links design and business as mutually supportive endeavours. With the right conditions in place – especially the right level of fees – practice can reap the benefits of proper resourcing: thriving people and thriving practice = better buildings and a more resilient profession”

-Kerstin Thompson A.S Hook Address, 2023


(Yes, I realise this is a terrible photo of me – but honestly it was the best of a bad bunch!)

“Ten years into my architectural career, I had already seen enough unpaid overtime, burnout, and power-based communication to last a lifetime.

After launching Maytree Studios in 2012, I came to firm up not just what I didn’t want my life as an architect to be, but to put my hand up and count myself into some guiding values. The funny thing about all this is that by saying ‘count me out’ and forging my own path, Maytree has become a place where other people can put their hand up to be ‘counted in’. 

Our business of 8 people has an employee share scheme, 9 day fortnight, we can afford to pay parental leave and have always paid superannuation above award.  We have a relatively flat structure in our business where the most recent casual student is welcome to put up her hand and inform the environment or processes that make up their work day. 

The Problem

The thing so many people don’t know about our industry is the pervasive belief that good design and good financial management rarely (if ever) go together. There are good businesses – but they must be sell outs as Architects. 

I want to talk today not about how this myth has damaged our profession, but what steps we can take to make sure our industry is vibrant and attractive to talented people and to the public.  I don’t believe that good design and good business mututally exclusive – I believe the opposite – that good business makes space for good architecture. 

It is one of my driving passions to help other architects see a model of business that occurs in this overlap.  It is here that we experience a resilient, positive, well paid industry that supports women to stay in architecture and pursue meaningful careers here. 

Good business and Good Architecture – never the two shall meet. 

Our Approach 

Maytree Studios is essentially an inversion of the typical model of architecture.  Rather than go out to create my own brand of buildings and letting the business naturally evolve, I have learned to be intentional about the kind of business I want to create. Over time, that has made an increasingly generous space for the architecture itself to flourish.  

To push these two circles together, we have strong guiding principles that underpin our decision making around the work we do, who we do it for and how we go about it.  This hasn’t happened overnight!  I have had to do a lot of inner work to be confident in my own skin and my own approach to architecture. 

 I’d like to cover a few of principles of our work and approach.  These are the forces that constantly push these two circles together.  You could call them compromises. Perhaps they are. Kerstin Thompson her Gold Medal address calls it ‘acccomodation with intent’ – I like that. 

“I have learned to be intentional about the kind of business I want to create. Over time, that has made an increasingly generous space for the architecture itself to flourish.”

So what are some of these values we are putting our hand up for? 

Humans First Architects Second 

Putting people first in our approach means valuing relationships, respecting each individual’s needs, and prioritizing their wellbeing over architectural ego and business decisions. 

Architecture should be Accessible 

We make architecture inclusive by offering a range of service options, simplifying architectural language and running short, sharp sessions where 100% of proceeds go to charity. We are trying to broaden the types and scales of private homes where we can add value and find ways to help people feel confident joining in the conversation about architecture. 

Knowing when is Enough 

Knowing when to stop striving for perfection allows us to maintain a healthy work-life balance, avoid unpaid overtime, and build a sustainable industry that rewards architects fairly while challenging norms and embracing technological advancements. 

Redefine what ‘Good’ is 

We redefine good design by prioritizing sustainability, client satisfaction, team wellbeing, and fair labor practices over aesthetic appeal alone, proposing a shift in industry standards to include measures of architect and client satisfaction in award criteria. 

Profit is not a dirty word 

Profitability is essential for sustaining a business and investing in quality design, while also ensuring clients receive tangible, achievable outcomes within their budget, fostering long-term stability and trust in the architectural process. 

The funny thing is that by saying ‘count me out’ – I’ve built a practice where my team can put their hand up for growth, leadership, experience and most importantly being valued for their unique contribution. 

So, what about you? 

In 2012 when I started Maytree, I was enormously privileged. I was freshly divorced, had no debt, low living costs and a supportive family. In other words, I had little to lose and a safety net if I fell.

Not everyone has this. And not everyone wants the trajectory I’ve taken in small business. So I just want to address those of you who will remain in larger firms or commercial practice. How do you count yourself out of the status quo? 

  • Find a mentor.  Find a kick ass woman you respect in any profession, and ask her out for a coffee. 
  • Manage up – keep boundaries around your time and when you’ve been resourced for 120% push the 20% back up the line. 
  • Don’t shrink from challenge and promotion – please just say yes and trust yourself to work out the details later. 
  • See a psychologist or coach – do the work to be confident and comfortable in your own leadership style 
  • If all else fails, leave and find or create the space that works for you.  

Here’s to breaking the mold, embracing imperfection, and counting ourselves in – on our own terms. Cheers to that! 🥂


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Herston QLD 4006

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