Ruta Benetyte is a concentrate of energy with a contagious smile. As it happens with bright people, the conversation took off about work and it took quite the effort to steer back to our topic.
Ruta is from Lithuania and moved to the UK to study architecture at 17 years old, and now leads Vita Architecture with her business partner Ben Lee. She also teaches architecture in Lithuania.
Teaching helps me keep involved with new things coming into construction, as well as sharing experience and knowledge with others.
She grew up in a family where she never felt that being a woman could make a difference in what opportunities she would have in her future life.
In a way she was lucky, probably because of her strong character and her amazing physical presence, that allows her to tower over the listener. She never felt uncomfortable or out of place when working in an environment where almost anybody else is a man.
It’s more of an afterthought, when you rethink of a conversation or a meeting and you realise something sexist happened.
It happens with clients, I remind her of a conversation we had months ago. There are times where people call in and assume she is her business partner’s secretary; or a client keeps reaching out to Ben, even if she’s the one who did all the work on their project.
At work, she thinks the mentality must change.
Even when it is not openly stated, employers still have the feeling that a woman won’t have as much time to dedicate to her career as a man will.
She agrees with corporate policies that try to break the bias, conscious or not, to improve representation of women and to increase diversity in general: “It’s an unfortunate necessity”. But government and institutions must do more: society should invest in women who have children. How can a society even have a future if we don’t support mothers?
Society, as a whole, has a responsibility to encourage women to grow and contribute their skills and knowledge to the world. Restricting women, restricts 50% of creativity and contribution.
And yet, even women without children who dedicate all their life to work still struggle.
Women reason differently, be it by nature or nurture. We research more thoroughly, we want to cover all the basis before asserting ourselves, we are more diplomatic.
She says: “That can be a disadvantage, can be perceived as a weakness. But it’s the way the workplace has developed over the years that we should change.”. Instead of forcing women to conform to set traditional institutional rules, it is important to integrate their perspective and outlook on how business could be managed, as the diversity encourages growth.
“Examples of successful women are often depicted as superheroes” and we laugh, and I am thinking no, who wants to be a superhero? I bet she’s thinking the same.
Men and women should just support each other.
Yes. That sounds like the right thing to do.
I run to my next meeting. On the pavement we hug, and I walk away smiling, thinking of how Ruta has to bend, to reach down to my short self, and wishing we had more time to chat. She planted so many new thoughts in my mind.