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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Cross-disciplinary projects > Women and science: Engendering European research culture > Chris Luebkeman
Graphic element Chris Luebkeman: Confronting sustainable change
Chris Luebkeman

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."

Triple bottom line

Luebkeman heads 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 and technology.
"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."

Role models

"The building 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."

Flexible solutions

"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."

Ove Arup
Phone: +44 (207) 465 3003

Triple bottom line
Role models
Flexible solutions

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