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Cristina Gomes Architecture and Design - Cristina Gomes

Is this where you thought you would end up?

No. Not at all. I was born in Brazil and never really dreamed of living abroad. So running my own company in Australia was not exactly planned.

Professionally though, yes, I always knew I would want to have my own design company one day, but it did happen a bit quicker than I thought it would.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

I am an architect, and the building industry is still a very male-dominated environment. The engineers, builders, construction workers, even fellow architects, are still mostly males.

Having said that, it doesn’t seem to bother me. Being the only female on site is more the rule than the exception, and after 20 years in the profession, you just get used to it. 

But it does make you wonder, where are the other females? Why did they choose to leave the profession?

Who are the females that inspire you and why?

There are a couple of female architects I would like to mention here. The first is Lina Bo Bardi, an Italian-born Brazilian architect that was a fantastic modernist architect. It would have been much more challenging for her to establish herself in the profession than it has been for me. I am just grateful for the women that came before me and helped open up some space for the next generation.

The other architect that needs special mention is Filo Russo. Filo was one of the few female architect partners at Foster and Partners, one of the top 3 most important architectural companies in the world.

I worked for Filo while working in Foster and Partners and I was very impressed by her competence and amazed to see how far she had come in the profession. It makes you think “I can do it too.” She provided personal advice to me at a crucial point in my life when I was making the decision to leave London and move to Sydney.

How do you balance work and life responsibilities? What have you sacrificed (both personally and professionally) at each stage of your career?

I am the mother of two beautiful girls which I hope will take to heart the message that their mother wanted to be a professional and that this choice didn’t mean she had wished any less to be with her family.

Yes, time is limited, and you do have to balance your attention between your company and your family but I hope women can free themselves from the idea that you have to choose one or the other.

Sometimes I miss a day of work because my daughter is sick and that’s fine; other times my daughter goes to school with the wrong uniform, and that is fine too. We have to lower our expectations a little bit and concentrate on what is important.

My daughters play pretend “architect and builder” as well as “mums and dads.” Isn’t that fantastic? I want them to know they can be whatever they want to be.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

In my profession, I feel the female leaders will still have to deal with an unbalanced industry for many years to come.

My advice is not to feel affected by anyone that may quickly judge your abilities based on age or gender or any other preconception that takes from giving you the true opportunity to show who you are.

The positive side of this for me is that there is a lot less pressure on the underdog to win the game. So perhaps take advantage of it. Take some joy in witnessing people switch the way they see you after they have experienced what your abilities are.

If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

I don’t think I would change much. Every lesson came as the base for the next step in my career. All valuable lessons. I don’t wish I knew anything more or earlier and I will keep learning until I retire.

What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?

I am proud to be running my own company. It is not an easily achievable accomplishment and I have not done it alone. It takes many good people around you, believing in you and I am very grateful for all of them.

From supporting family and friends, amazing clients, competent engineers, knowledgeable builders, there are a lot of people I would need to share this achievement with. People that have made this possible by supporting my career path in different ways.

What’s one core message you received from your members?

When I graduated in Architecture, I was 22 years old and one of my mentors at the time said “Architects won’t get to do their best work till they are at least in their forty’s”.

Although this may not be the absolute truth for everybody, this statement helped me to think “ok…I have time. I have 20 years to learn how to be a great architect”.

This was an invaluable message, as I felt I should take my time to develop my knowledge instead of the typical message you get from society which is “rush, rush, dream big, get there quick”. I didn’t feel I had to rush anywhere, and I believe this has helped me a lot. Now I am in my forties though, so it is time to get that great work done.

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