International Women's Day brunch cancelled due to backlash over 'family cooking' tutorial

A group of female architects signed an open letter in which they expressed their 'heartfelt disappointment' in the event

Sabrina Barr@fabsab5
Wednesday 06 March 2019 11:56
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International Women's Day: when and how did the annual event start?

A brunch organised for female architects in honour of International Women’s Day has been cancelled following backlash over the event’s “retrograde” focus on “family cooking”.​

The event, which was organised by the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba), was due to take place at kitchen showroom Bulthaup in Mayfair on Friday 8 March.

The invitation outlined that in addition to being served a brunch spread, attendees would also watch a “useful presentation on how to prepare quick and healthy meals for a busy working family” by home economist Sarah Gardiner.

Led by architect Maria Westerståhl, more than 50 architects and academics signed an open letter addressed to Ben Derbyshire, president of Riba, explaining that the decision to put on an event for women centred around “kitchen design and family cooking” was an “astonishing misstep”.

“We would like to express our most heartfelt disappointment in the Riba endorsement of kitchens, family wellbeing and healthy eating as a general female prerogative and one that is of particular relevance to women’s professional advancement in architecture,” the letter, published in The Architects’ Journal, reads.

“These twin notions are pervasive in work places and wider society and continue to undermine women’s authority at work, their job security, pay and their mental and physical health.”

The letter continues, saying that the event is “damaging” to Riba’s members, which includes female and male architects that are raising a family.

In June 2018, it was revealed that women now make up a third of the architects at the UK’s largest architectural practises.

However, research conducted by the Design Museum in December 2018 found that just one in five designers in the UK are women, in fields including architecture, civil engineering, fashion and product design.

In the open letter sent to Riba concerning the women’s brunch, it states that if the organisation was “serious” about the issue female architects face, it wouldn’t solely choose to focus on them on International Women’s Day.

Westerståhl tells The Independent that in her opinion, the architectural body needs to place greater emphasis on women's professional achievements, as opposed to solely "their role as jugglers of work and family".

"This is important because it often translates into a perception that women with families are more distracted from their work than their male counterparts and therefore not as eligible for jobs or promotions," Westerståhl explains.

Dr Harriet Harris, a reader in architectural education who signed the letter, tweeted about the controversy after it was announced that the brunch had been cancelled.

“Forget sucking eggs – this time we needed to break a few to get women out of architecture’s kitchen,” Dr Harris said.

“Many more women were involved in this letter: credit to all of you for the invisible work behind vital direct action.”

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In a statement sent to The Independent, a Riba spokesperson explained that the organisation is “committed to celebrating diversity and helping people to progress and flourish in the architecture profession”.

“The Riba London event came about from a long standing relationship our regional team has with a manufacturer, which includes the use of their showroom for catered networking events,” the spokesperson states.

“The organisers hadn’t fully appreciated the concerns that the event would raise before the invitations were sent. It has now been cancelled.”

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