Architect Tan Pei Ing is No Bob the Builder, More of Malaysia's Iron Lady of Construction

WOMEN IN ARCHITECTURE

Architect Tan Pei Ing is No Bob the Builder, More of Malaysia's Iron Lady of Construction

Women face myriad obstacles in construction and architecture but that has not stopped PI Architect founder Datuk Tan Pei Ing from scaling great heights. She tells AWANI Review’s Dania Zainuddin that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve great things.

"I'm an architect and working in the construction industry which is very gender-biased. As you know, it is a male-dominated industry," says Datuk Ar. Tan Pei Ing, who is a founder and Principal of the firm PI Architect.

"I always feel that sometimes women always differentiate themselves. I don't want to be called a female architect. Why do I have to? We have the same qualification, I went to the same university, all of us are individually different. So we should be treated based on our capability. They should not look at us and stereotype us as female."

Despite this bias against women in the industry, she has single-mindedly pursued her passion; lending her name to landmark properties in the IOI group such as the Mall, Business Park and Resort in Puchong and the JW Marriott Hotel in Puchong Jaya.

I was always told 'You're a woman, how are you going to go to the construction site and handle contractors?

"When I came back in the 1980s, basically women have no position in the construction industry. I couldn't even get an interview and when I got one, I was always told 'You're a woman, how are you going to go to the construction site and handle contractors?'. I couldn't get a job," recalls Pei Ing.

She graduated with Bachelors in Architecture (with honours) from the University of Melbourne in 1984. "I was quite let down in that sense but I'm very passionate at what I do. So I persevere, I work very hard. I think I have to work a lot harder to prove my capability. If you compare during the 1980s and now, yes, people do accept female a lot more. But there's still a disparity," says Pei Ing.

Today, this former President of both the Malaysia Institute of Architects (PAM) and the Architects Regional Council of Asia (ARCASIA), has been one of the forces behind the shape of Kuala Lumpur's skyline.

Pei Ing has also played a role in pushing for the Gender Equity Policy as the Chair for a sub-committee under Professional Practice Commission (PPC) under the International Union of Architects (IUA). "When you look at the developed countries like the United States and Australia, the gender disparity is still there.

"Although in universities, the percentage of female students is high, we're talking about 50-60 percent. Yet it doesn't translate into the participation of women in practice. In fact, the longer they stay in practice, the percentage actually drops."

"This is because the environment doesn't actually encourage women to actually stay, to practice. The fact that women are expected to look after the family, to look after the children, somehow they will dropout from practice," says Pei Ing.

Being a prominent advocate for advancing women in architecture, she believes an infrastructure and support system must be in place to encourage more women participant.

Quota system, in a way, encourage somebody to take a position they are not capable of doing it

"I don't believe in quota system. Because this quota system, in a way, you encourage somebody to take a position they are not capable of doing it. To me that actually promotes incompetency. But I think you should give the infrastructure, provide the facility to help the women to take that position."

"That's why we came up with this framework and policy. It was drafted and passed in the General Assembly in International Unit Architect last year in Seoul, says Pei Ing. "We are discussing on how we can take this policy further and how we should promote this to all member's section and get them to adopt some of the policies, to encourage more women's participation," says Pei Ing.

As a successful architect and businesswoman, she has received recognition for her contribution in architecture both regionally and internationally. She was conferred with honorary membership by the American Institute of Architects, Korean Institue of Registered Architects and Association of Siamese Architects.

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