Chris Luebkeman, a structural engineer and architect
by training, is Director of Research and Development at Ove
Arup in the UK, a firm of consulting engineers and designers. His
current research initiatives include conceptual designs for the home and
office of the future. A motivational speaker who frequently gives keynote
speeches at major conferences, Luebkeman has something to say about the
special abilities of women in science. He recently gave an inspirational
address to a number of participants in the Growth programme.
"The area of sustainability - a key component
of the Growth programme - demands individuals that are capable, very multi-tasking
and sensitive to subtle impressions," says Luebkeman. "I think
that women, more than men, are very good at handling multiple tasks. These
inherent capabilities will eventually open up fields for them that have
traditionally been male-dominated. Sustainability is one of them - neither
pure engineering nor pure science, but something that embraces a range
of disciplines. It is no coincidence that our new task force for sustainability
at Arup comprises six women and four men. They represent the leading edge
in understanding of the subject, and come from a variety of backgrounds
- structural, environmental, mechanical and façade engineering;
marketing; and business development."
a team at Arup that focuses on development in design research, new
materials and technologies, and knowledge management. He has particular
responsibility for future projects within the group. His ongoing
industry-funded research that began at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT) explores the concept of the intelligent
home of the future, using interactive on-line modelling of building
performance. While at MIT, he devoted much of his research effort
to finding an effective way of integrating the building sciences
into the architectural teaching curriculum. As a recognised leader
in forward thinking in his field, Luebkeman may provide a valuable
insight into the new approach demanded of society towards science
"We evaluate projects simultaneously in terms of their economic
benefits, environmental impact, and social implications," explains
Luebkeman. "Therefore our decisions need to be made in order
to optimise this 'triple bottom line', as we call it. Sustainability
means really giving equal weight to all three elements. I must say
that in general women do seem better able to work with these principles
than men. Their better multiple-functioning and non-linear thinking
makes them more suitable for this type of work. Of course, women
are drawn to areas where their talents can be best utilised. Perhaps
that is why our environmental group is predominantly composed of
women, though too, the nurturing nature of women finds expression
in a response to concerns for the environment."
"I would like to see an extension of multi-disciplinary research.
Up till now, there has been much more discussion and the expression
of good intentions than actually putting it into practice. That
is because this kind of research very often gets the short end of
the stick - and we end up looking very deeply instead at one particular
factor. I think that this is changing as more and more women rise
to positions of influence in the profession."
industry is still very, very male-dominated in some countries,"
says Luebkeman. "I'm afraid that must be put down to rigidity
in the prevailing work culture. In this case, too much emphasis
is placed on the economics involved, and too little on potential
social and environmental benefits. Coupled with that, you find many
short-term views and very few long-term prospects. We need to ask
why there are big differences in the culture among countries. In
the Scandinavian countries, and Austria and Holland, for example,
women appear to share more equally in society than they do in some
other countries. I am frequently startled by the widespread acceptance
in the United Kingdom of sexual innuendo in the workplace, for instance
in the form of pin-ups from girlie magazines on the office wall."
"One can only hope that the situation will change as women
find more role models in the industry, and come to feel they can
find their place in it. The way to do this is by publicising the
achievements of women leaders and thus make female role models more
accessible to young girls. It is very important that science is
made attractive to girls at an early age, so they do not subsequently
become cluttered with old male sterotypes in their formative years."
"It comes as
no surprise that those countries with the most flexible, open-minded
cultures also have the most flexible attitudes towards work practices,"
says Luebkeman. "Flexible working hours, job-sharing, and home
working remain relatively rare options in some countries. Yet they
are hugely important for the future of women in the workplace. There
is no reason at all why women - and men for that matter - cannot
combine a career and a family. The accent has to be on what a person
is able to do - not measured simply by the time they spend in the
office. Corporations need to provide child-care for employees. If
you really want women to function as full partners in the workplace,
their individual talents and rights need to be respected."
Phone: +44 (207) 465 3003