Architect celebrates opportunities for women in Hong Kong

Working mother sees no gender barrier and need to sacrifice family time unlike in the US

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 October, 2014, 10:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 October, 2014, 6:19am

After a four-year stint in the United States, architect Phiyona Au Yeung Ming-sze went back to the drawing board with her career options. That meant a return to Hong Kong to escape a sexist work culture.

"Hong Kong offers better promotion opportunities for female architects, compared with the US. In Hong Kong, the boss is not concerned whether you are female or male," Au Yeung said. "But in the US, when my boss allocated work, he would tell me that he gave me the opportunity because I'm a woman."

In 2003, she left her Seattle employer to join Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers (DLN), a major player in the Hong Kong industry, and was made a director within five years.

"The best working environment is when the bosses forget your gender," said Au Yeung, who likened the environment at her former US employer to "a men's club".

About 40 per cent of architecture students in Britain and the US are female, a survey by the British Architects' Journal in 2012 found. But most do not stay in the profession.

Only 20 per cent of British-registered architects are women, and they account for just 16 per cent of architects in the US.

The need for more flexible work arrangements was identified as a factor by women for leaving the industry.

In Hong Kong, women make up about 29 per cent of the membership of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects.

Au Yeung is one of three women among the 14 directors at DLN. Like her, the other two are also working mothers.

"Many female architects drop out after they become a mother. It is a waste," she said. "Our company respects those colleagues with families and children. We (working mothers) don't need to sacrifice our family time.

"All of my colleagues in my department are able to get off work by 6.30pm every day. I can spend at least three hours with my son and daughter every day."

Aside from better gender attitudes, Hong Kong also provided more work opportunities for architects, Au Yeung said.

"We are very lucky in Hong Kong," she said. "We have more design opportunities and variety of jobs available. In the US, the work of an architect is like that of a lawyer. You have to spend lots of time to defend your design. We have to please all parties for the design."

She cited the design of a 30-storey commercial project in Seattle that took her four years to complete due to objections in the community over the building's impact on city views.

She believes the opportunities for Hong Kong architects will only increase in the future, thanks to the growing mainland market and the company's strengths in high-density and mixed-use projects.

Phiyona Au Yeung shares her views on building design in Hong Kong and the company's development strategies