The architectural profession is lagging behind other professions when it comes to closing the gender deficit. The AJ’s Women in Architecture survey for 2015 found that although the ratio of men and women in architectural education is relatively equal, this balance is not being transferred into the workplace where there remains to be a much higher male representation. Some sources estimate that in the US, men make up 80 percent of the architectural profession. So why is this?
One of the most obvious reasons for this could be that women in architecture are indirectly forced to choose between child care and their careers. In fact the AJ’s survey found that 87 percent of women felt that having a child would put them at a disadvantage in their architectural careers, subsequently meaning that more and more women are pushed towards starting up their own practice in order to allow themselves more flexible working hours. Many of those who stay in larger practices are choosing part-time work over full time. This means that the perception many women have is that in order to be a successful architect, they must commit themselves to their career. It would seem however that it is not only women whose careers suffer from the birth of a child; 45 percent of men are of the opinion that childbirth would put them at a disadvantage in the workplace, although only 11 percent of women agree with this perception. It is clear then, that for female architects to feel motivated to achieve the higher level jobs, it is the industry which much change its perceptions, not women.
The architectural profession is renowned for its competitive nature, leaving many people to believe that men, who are often arguably more inherently competitive, are better suited to prosper in such an aggressive environment. Could this then be the reason why 1/3 of male directors earn more than £75,000 annually compared with just 7 percent of female directors? Is this aggressively competitive nature the sole reason why 1/5 of all female architects surveyed by the AJ said that there were no women in the senior management of their workplace? Many women believe there is a much more baleful reason behind these statistics, one of a discriminatory nature.
76 percent of women surveyed by the AJ have experienced discrimination at some point in their career. 62 percent stated that they experienced this discrimination in the practice, a much higher figure than the 50 percent who experienced it on site. Again, the fault lies with the industry and its false perception of women, meaning that many men do not take them seriously in a business environment.
Amidst all of this doom and gloom, there is a glimmer of hope, as many pioneering female architects work to change the perceptions of the industry. The 2012 Olympic park in London was heavily influenced by women, the most iconic of which being Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre.
It is clear from these statistics that there is still a long way to go when it comes to closing this gender disparity, and a lot of male heads need to be knocked together to rectify this. If we do not act quickly we will be at risk, through our own social ignorance, of disregarding many extremely talented female architects, to the detriment of our own urban environment.
By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture