The ripple of disapproval over the practice’s behaviour, along with that of Austin-Smith Lord and YRM, is something new
Once again the spotlight is on RMJM, and once again it’s for the architect’s failure to pay staff on time.
Many of you have questioned the logic of the practice’s takeover of YRM when it’s having a hard enough time managing its own affairs. But the ripple of disapproval — over RMJM but also over the behaviour of YRM and Austin-Smith Lord — is something new.
Some of it is part of the general view that the implosion of the financial system in the US and Europe was caused by bad bosses at the top of large corporations — but in the fallout it’s those underneath them who are now being squeezed even harder.
This is happening everywhere but in architecture — un-unionised with a well-meaning but fairly powerless body to protect it — the disquiet felt by many architects is that the profession has actually changed, and that RMJM, however much it likes to believe it is the future, is the dinosaur. As a practice you can and should be business-like, even ruthlessly commercial, but you can’t be unprofessional.
This is not how most practices behave and there is justified outrage that one of the world’s biggest thinks it can get away with it
Professionalism isn’t just about hitting deadlines for clients, it’s about human factors like management ability, which has never been ranked very highly in architecture but is the chief reason why architects are badly treated by their employers.
RMJM staffers in the US have had their health insurance cancelled with no warning, and claim they can’t do their job properly because outside consultants haven’t been paid either and so refuse to work with them. This is not how most practices behave and so there is justified outrage that the one of the world’s biggest and best known thinks it can get away with it.
We accept that the line between what is going on and what is part of the rumour mill is a thin one — as one unfortunate RMJM employee found to his cost this week after allegations were made about the business to a Scottish newspaper.
But the lesson that RMJM needs to take from that, indeed from all the bad press it tends to attract, is that: first, you have to communicate what’s going on before it’s in the press; and, second, you can’t trade on the goodwill of your staff because eventually — as it is learning to its cost — they turn.
Women architects are in the news not for the old issue of pay but because they are losing their jobs rather quicker than their male colleagues. Sorry, but is anyone very surprised?
For the RIBA’s president and others who see themselves as championing women, this week’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, coupled with the RIBA’s own, are a good enough reason to have a periodic wail about the unfairness of it all.
They cite discrimination and gender imbalance among a long list of woes, but the reasons for letting women go before men are rather more pragmatic. They include the fact that women architects prefer to design schools, for example, rather than commercial projects, so are finding the schemes they’ve been working on are on hold or have come to an abrupt halt.
And while the lack of flexible working hours is seen as another example of discrimination, it is precisely because practices have bent over backwards to accommodate those women who want to work part time that when push comes to shove they’re the first out.