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Women of Influence – Sophia Leopardi

Women of Influence – Sophia Leopardi


Sophia Leopardi is a powerful driving force in the field of interior design, known for her audacious combination of aesthetic sensitivity and groundbreaking creativity.
A recognised name in the Australian design community, Leopardi consistently pushes the boundaries of design. As a judge and mentor of the 30UNDER30 Interior and Product Design stream, Leopardi is committed to nurturing the next generation of talent. In Australian Design Review’s Women Of Influence series, Leopardi talks candidly about her experience returning to work after having children, tackling the gender pay gap and successfully building her business to facilitate diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Australian Design Review's Women of Influence Interior Design and Architecture  Sophia Leopardi
Sophie Leopardi

ADR: What are your thoughts about being a woman working in the architecture and design industry?

Sophia Leopardi: From the beginning, I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience in my time in the industry, and on reflection of my professional journey, there also haven’t been insurmountable obstacles. I feel fortunate that I found my way early on into a supportive environment, which has pulled me through some of the more challenging moments I have faced over the years, in particular in navigating my return to work after having had children.

Perhaps due to timing, location, or a mix of both, I have tried to align myself with those who share similar values, which is always the basis of any successful and authentic partnership. As a result of the mentors and colleagues I have surrounded myself by, I have been able to direct my focus on growing my skills and, and turn, my confidence as a designer. So, when the time came when I had expressed an interest in extending my contribution beyond design, into business development, for example, this was embraced and helped shift my overall discourse.

ADR: Our industry (built world and construction) has a 32 percent gender pay gap –what are your thoughts on this and how we can close the gap?

SL: In a broader context, I feel keeping the conversation active and front of mind until the gap is dissolved, is an important step to any notable change. Further down, encouraging businesses and regulatory organisations to also champion positive change and equity is also crucial – highlighting the great female contributors in our field, and the richness that comes from that diversity.

On a personal level, ensuring there is pay parity within our team is where we can have an impact. Encouraging all new professionals to understand the value of what they can bring to a business and team, then helps us identify the strength of differing voices and contributors. It is then our job as studio leaders and decision-makers to recognise those contributions as the assets that they are.

ADR: As a working mother, how do you approach work-life balance?

SL: I have found that building your network (friends, family and colleagues) makes sharing success so much sweeter. In unlocking the value of a team, it is not just the effort that is shared, but the wins.

I think it’s important to acknowledge up-front that no matter what your life is comprised of, achieving the right balance, is an ongoing challenge for us all. Time and experience help with the management of that balance, even if it means seeing the need for help sooner. In the long run, it is about being agile and able to adjust along the way (bolstered by a support network).

The nature of the flexibility that’s required to fulfil competing demands, means that work and life very often cross over. In untying the tension between these two things, that is where true flexibility is created. It’s about finding out what matters most and reconciling that there will be times that will require you to sacrifice something, and this ledger is yours to own and adjust in alignment with your values.

ADR: Does the industry do enough for working mothers and those who care for aged parents and older kids (sandwich generation)? If not what more could be done?

SL: There is always more that can be done. Returning to work after children was a pivotal moment to reflect on where I best bring value to my team, clients, and collaborators and challenge the previous expectations of my role. This was a conversation with my business partner and leadership team to ensure alignment with our broader goals. I believe in advocating for your balance; each person has their circumstances, and we endeavour to extend this compassion and generosity to every team member.

On a more mechanical level, the broader acceptance of the WFH phenomenon within the profession has also brought an element of choice and intentionality to how and where the work is completed. The ongoing success of this model needs to be underpinned by establishing and maintaining strong and open communication, where the needs of the business are met alongside the individuals to deliver around life’s other commitments. It has been empowering evolution and has helped in so many ways with the finding and maintaining of balance for working parents, the needs of the family, those with older children and those caring for aging parents – roles that typically have also fallen to women.

ADR: How do you define success from a business/career perspective, and on a personal level?

SL: Across my personal and professional life, it always starts with a health check of my key relationships, and the state of these is typically a good sign of where my focus needs to be directed.

Success for me has always been about moving and about being in motion. In order to create momentum, I think it is an ambition that underpins continual growth. It is important to acknowledge the joy and micro-milestones along the way. Waiting for the end, without allowing yourself the opportunity to relish in the successful completion of stages that got you there can sometimes feel like a torturous wait. Breaking the larger timeframes down, however, helps link to a greater sense of fulfilment – in turn, fuelling the get-up to achieve the next milestone up ahead.

I also try and ask myself a series of questions to gauge progress.

Am I growing?
Am I learning?
Am I getting better?
Are we getting better?
Am I still excited??

And, if the answer is yes, then I know we are on the right track.

ADR: What is your approach to failure?

SL: I try to look at it as an inevitable part of growth.

I have become much better at not spending too long wallowing in missed opportunities and instead focus on taking the lesson for what it is and growing from the experience. Often, the more painful and uncomfortable, the more powerful the lesson, and the more tools you accumulate to face future challenges.

I am now 20 years into my professional working career, and my relationship with failure is still a work in progress.

For the month of March, in recognition of International Women’s Day, Australian Design Review will be shining a spotlight on Women of Influence in Architecture and Interior Design. While we pride ourselves on championing women, those who identify as women, and others from underrepresented groups at all times, we believe it’s necessary to recognise the achievements of individuals who have risen to the top, despite social or industry-related imbalances. As well as bringing you profiles and project features that celebrate the work of game-changing, innovative women, we’ll also lean into the very real, yet rarely discussed realities of working in an industry that still holds onto traditional modes of working that aren’t always inclusive or supportive. It’s our privilege this month to bring you profiles and features that celebrate the unique skills and talents that women bring to the Architecture and Interior Design industry. We congratulate each and every female member of the Australian design community for the important contribution they make.

Read: Neolith announced as major sponsor for 30UNDER30


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