Inequality still a serious issue in US architecture, say female architects

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American Institute of Architects' Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey

Women are being driven out or held back from careers in architecture by long hours, childcare, unequal pay and the likelihood of being passed over for promotion, according to a major new survey by the American Institute of Architects released to coincide with International Women's Day.

More than 70 per cent of female architects and architecture students in the US feel that women are still underrepresented in the profession, according to the American Institute of Architects' (AIA) Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey.

Half of all the female respondents also said that women were less likely to be promoted to senior positions within the profession.

Equal pay, which has been the focus of a number of high-profile campaigns in both the US and UK, was also still a serious issue in architecture, with 50 per cent of women reporting that women were less likely to be paid the same as men for the same role.

American Institute of Architects' Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey
Perceived representation of women in architecture as presented in the AIA's Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey – click for larger image

But less than half of male respondents felt that women were underrepresented, and even fewer felt that women were given unequal pay or were less likely to be promoted.

The vast majority of all the respondents agreed that people of colour were significantly underrepresented.



"Unlike with gender, both whites and people of colour clearly agree that people of colour are under-represented in the industry," said the AIA in its survey report. "Architects, industry leaders, and member associations could support a strategy for attracting people of colour to the profession."

"As for bolstering representation of women architects in the industry, a strong commitment and strategy will be required to overcome possible resistance from those that don't believe it to be an issue."

American Institute of Architects' Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey
Perception of career opportunities in architecture as presented in the AIA's Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey – click for larger image

The survey polled opinions on the representation of gender and race within the profession from more than 7,500 architects, architecture students who were studying or who dropped out, and people who had previously worked in architecture in 2015.

It is the AIA's first major survey on the subject in 10 years and was conducted in 2015 as a joint project with six other US national architecture organisations. The results have now been published in an official report.

"There is plenty of anecdotal information that suggests there has been progress in building a more diverse and inclusive profession," said AIA president, Elizabeth Chu Richeter. "Yet, the information is just that — anecdotal."

"We need data, not anecdotes. We need reliable, quantifiable, and verifiable data."

American Institute of Architects' Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey
Perceived factors contributing to an underrepresentation in architecture as presented in the AIA's Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey – click for larger image

The survey also asked both women and men why they thought there weren't more women in architecture.

Seventy per cent of female respondents said long hours made it difficult to start a family, 71 per cent blamed concerns over the work/life balance made possible by a career in architecture, and 64 per cent blames a lack of flexibility to work remotely, job share, or work flexible hours.

"It is notable that all architects (regardless of gender or race) consider work/life balance important, and many have low satisfaction with their ability to achieve it," said the AIA.

"This is one of the most important areas where associations could lead an effort to change the professional culture. Not only would it address one of the primary concerns of women in the industry, but also it would benefit the field as a whole."

Another major factors cited by women was a lack of female role models.

Of the respondents who had left their jobs, more than a quarter of the women said they had left to care for a child compared to less than 10 per cent of the men.

American Institute of Architects' Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey
Perceived factors contributing to an underrepresentation of women in architecture as presented in the AIA's Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey – click for larger image

Men were significantly more likely to have taken another job outside of the profession or have been offered something better paid.

But white men were 10 per cent more likely to have been made redundant than white women, while men of colour were six per cent more likely to have lost their job than women of colour.

"We have made progress but not fast enough," said Chu Richter. "We have a great opportunity now to look at how to achieve the equity, diversity, and inclusion in AIA member firms through a creative means and provide a framework for the profession to act faster and better to meet a growing demand for architects."

The results come on the heels of the fifth annual international Women in Architecture (WIA) survey, which found that one in five women would not encourage another woman to start a career in architecture.

Of the 1,152 women surveyed worldwide, 72 per cent said they has experienced sexual discrimination, harassment or bullying within architecture – up from 60 per cent in 2015 – and 12 per cent said that they experienced discrimination monthly or more often.

American Institute of Architects' Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey
Reasons for leaving the field of architecture as presented in the AIA's Diversity in the Profession of Architecture survey – click for larger image

Over 80 per cent of the female respondents also felt that having a child was a significant disadvantage for a woman pursuing a career in architecture.

The results of the WIA survey were published to coincide with the naming of French architect Odile Decq as the recipient of this year's Jane Drew prize for raising the profile of women within architecture.

This year Zaha Hadid also became the first woman to receive the Royal Institute of British Architects' Royal Gold Medal in her own right.

RIBA president Jane Duncan said the organisation was acting "to right a 180-year wrong".

"We now see more established female architects all the time. That doesn't mean it's easy," said Hadid.

  • Amanda

    It is the same in many professions. Most of this inequality is down to government policy. Things undoubtedly have improved in the last 20 years though.

  • Concerned Citizen

    I find anecdotal surveys to be worth less than the paper on which they are printed. Virtually every statistic is preceded by “women FEEL that…”

    How do women know they are being underpaid as a group? Enough of the feely, squishy stuff. Let’s hear incontrovertible facts. Let’s expose all the W-2 forms. Let’s track performance and advancement. On what basis has anyone decided women are underrepresented?

    Is there some ridiculous claim that because women make up a percentage of the total world population, that should be the same percentage of women in architecture? Is desire not a primary motivator?

    We have been hearing this diatribe since the beginning, in spite of the fact that women typically make up 50% of the student body in college. That is not to say that all of them graduate in the same field, or that they desire to pursue a career in the field.

    • Natasha

      What!? This is a serious issue. How can you be so dismissive of it? Can you provide any evidence to support your views?

      • andrew.s

        If women, as the study shows, are put off by long working hours, personal life sacrifice or lack of flexibility, then they’re not entitled to complain about unequal representation or unequal pay.

        They’re the ones choosing to under-represent their group within the field. The onus is on the individual to respond to the requirements of the job, not the other way around.

      • Danillo

        Triggered.

      • Concerned Citizen

        Opinions cannot be considered as fact. That should be clear, without having any need for references. I will throw the evidence finding back to you. Where is the evidence that there is not enough women in architecture, that is not based on opinion?

        Asking for evidence is not being dismissive. Asking a woman if there are enough women in the architecture is akin to asking a chocolatier if there is enough chocolate in the world.

    • Julia Errens

      How does studying towards a career in a profession not imply a desire for that career?

      • Jess Thinkin

        I see nowhere in Concerned Citizen’s post where he(she?) makes that implication! Please try again.

  • Guest

    An industry that doesn’t like giving workers flexible working hours will always be difficult for women who have children.

    America has next to no holiday allowances for workers either, so it’s no wonder the industry is a tough place for them to work.

    • H-J

      Well, to be honest it’s not only the women who have children. Last time I checked it’s also the men who have them. I’m sick and tired of this assumption that when it comes to taking care of families we need to give special treatment to women only.

      • Jess Thinkin

        Why does “special treatment” need to enter the equation under any circumstances?

  • rrrrich

    On first glance, I thought this study was about rich vs poor students access to architecture. I feel this would perhaps be more interesting as it seems architecture is a particularly elitist profession regardless of gender.

    • DavidGoldiee

      Hear hear! With all these discussions surrounding the Oscars (and more) pertain to race and gender, class is always at the bottom of the barrel and often not mentioned at all! I love how your name is rich too.

  • E

    Is it not possible that to be good at some professions you need to sacrifice a part of life? It is only because women want everything nowadays. Like the survey suggests, men are more prone to sacrifice personal life for the job.

    If women believe that the attitude of society needs to change, then the attitude of women needs to also. We can’t have it all.

  • Emergency Message

    The pay gap is a fallacy. Most studies conclude women don’t work as long, prioritise their family (choosing lower-paid jobs/working hours), maternity leave; even one study taken from the early 2000s found that female graduates from Yale and Oxford (56%) actually continue full work with their degree compared to men where the figure was close to 90%. If you were to analyse jobs on an hour-to-hour basis on an equal job there is no discrimination.

  • H-J

    “Why women don’t make less than men.” http://i.imgur.com/t1xgmkH.jpg

  • Jimmy Thornton

    My experience at three different firms shows the complete opposite point. My very first firm had a female principal, as well as two female associates. The second had a nearly all-female core of lead designers, and at my current office, the staff is half female, with the second in command also being a woman. One is an example, two is a coincidence, and three is a trend.

  • guest

    What about the UK? Are women represented equally?

  • Lee Farnan

    I always found the ratio of male:females quite balanced in school and practice, in terms of access to architectural education anyway. I did however notice a lack of balance between socioeconomic backgrounds, and it seemed to become more unbalanced the closer to fully qualifying you get. I would concede that my bosses and overwhelmingly my tutors have been male.