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Q&A with Katherine Grez – Senior Architectural Technician and BIM Bureau Team Leader

The lingering gender divide in some of the more traditionally male industries is a widely accepted issue. In Australia, women account for only a third (31%) of architecture roles, and only 28% of ICT roles, compared to 45% across all professional industries.

But although we’re still a long way off gender parity, the tides are definitely turning. In fact, for some younger women in the field, such as Hames Sharley’s Katherine Grez, gender has never been a consideration. Having recently been promoted to Senior Architectural Technician and BIM Bureau Team Leader, it hadn’t even occurred to her how rare it was for a female to be promoted into a leadership role with such a technical specialisation.

For Katherine – who grew up poring over the floorplans of her mother’s real estate brochures – working in building and design simply felt like a rite of passage. We sat down with Katherine Grez to find out more about her career to date and what it’s like to work in the world of BIM.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into architectural drafting

As a kid, I loved floorplans. My mum was a property manager and would always have real estate brochures lying around, which I loved looking through. But it wasn’t the beautiful houses or the immaculate gardens that caught my eye - I was obsessed with looking at the floorplans. Analysing their shapes and seeing how the rooms interconnected, imagining what it might be like to walk through the properties.

In school, I was really drawn to the more technical subjects like woodwork and metalwork where I could create things with my hands – I much preferred these subjects to theory-based ones. Then I discovered Computer-Aided Design (CAD); a computer program that allows you to design products, building them from the ground up. I loved creating things from scratch and enjoyed the class so much that when they threatened to remove the subject in year 12, I petitioned to have it stay and ended up one of the top of the class. Through this software I learned about structure and how small design tweaks could affect the finished product. This blending of computer software and design ticked all the right boxes for me, and I think that’s what’s led me to where I am today.

Tell us about your new role as a leader within the BIM Bureau. What does your day-to-day look like?

A lot of my day is spent managing the local team, our resources, and managing the projects coming in and out. From a technical point of view, I’m working with the software, identifying the best systems to use, helping with Revit questions (our BIM software) and trying to find gaps in the systems that can be fixed and help streamline the process better.

I like to do things a little bit backwards – to reverse engineer a problem. I want to understand the expectation and the final outcome, then work backwards to create the processes. If you can start from the end result and work your way backwards, you can know how to start smarter to reduce abortive work later. I’m very process-driven, very detail orientated. I need to understand the ‘why’, rather than the ‘what’ – and when I understand the why, it gives me the clarity I need to develop the overarching strategy.

Although I’m based in Adelaide, I work with Hames Sharley’s studio leaders from all over Australia. They check in with me if they have questions about Revit or want to run some technical questions by me and I’m happy to help. I seem to have become one of the go-to people to ask about Revit, which is funny because I didn’t know anything about it when I started!

Everything I know about Revit learned on the job thanks to the amount of on the job training available, and to Cameron Mack, who was the original BIM Bureau Leader when I started. I pride myself on being a quick learner, and I probably asked a lot of questions but I think that has helped me understand how to teach others.

So, what exactly is BIM?

That’s a big question, in short… BIM is short for Building Information Modelling – it’s the digital transformation of architecture and it’s completely changing the industry. BIM has completely transformed the design phase, giving you the ability to build and view designs in 3D. It describes the whole package from coordination between disciplines, to drawing outputs, render and everything in between. You can even go onto a building site with VR goggles and pull up a virtual plan of the building to walk through in real life.

For us, however, one of the most helpful aspects of BIM is the facility management side of things. If you embed the right information in the design phase, you can design buildings that can alert building managers when they need to redo the paintwork or when air conditioners need to be checked, or any other repairs or improvements that might need to be made across the lifecycle of the building. It’s essentially designing a building with a digital footprint which ‘speaks’ to building managers, allowing them to maintain the building for peak performance over the course of its life.

For me personally, a lot of what I do is helping to streamline the process of how we use BIM in both design and facility management. We’re always learning and the processes change over time, so I’m always looking for ways we can do things smarter and more efficiently.

Katherine Grez – Senior Architectural Technician and BIM Bureau Team Leader

It’s quite rare for women to hold a leadership role in such a technical field in this industry – what has been your experience as a woman in this area?

Honestly? I’ve never really felt like a woman in a ‘man’s world’. And I almost feel bad for saying that, because I’ve seen the statistics – I know how much of a male-dominated industry this is, or at least used to be. But in my personal experience, it just hasn’t been like that for me.

Hames Sharley is the first place I’ve worked since graduating, so I can’t speak about the industry more broadly. And I don’t want to downplay anyone else’s experiences and pretend that the industry is perfect. But I just can’t really speak to overcoming any kind of gender bias, because I personally haven’t experienced it myself. Even looking at the BIM Bureau (drafting is traditionally viewed as the more ‘male’ side of architecture due to it being more technical) we have four men and seven women on the team. It’s not a boys’ club by any stretch.

But even if it was an all-boys team, I just don’t think we’re living in a world where a girl has to ‘be like the boys’ in order to fit in with the boys anymore. I don’t want anyone growing up thinking they need to ‘just fit in’ to be able to get anywhere in their job. Besides, gender is so fluid now – it’s no longer a black and white concept and I think, particularly for the younger generation, it doesn’t hold the same meaning it once did. When I look around me, I see women leaving to have babies, and come back and pick up their career right where they left off. Similarly, I have male colleagues who are working part-time to care for their children.

I know this isn’t the case for everyone in the industry, but I’m so happy to be working for a company that is so proactive about inclusivity that being female isn’t a hurdle I have to overcome. It’s heartening to know that we have support available when we need it, and that things are only going to get better. At the end of the day, I can just focus on getting the job done and doing it well.