Africa's largest architecture firm pledges to take action on gender diversity
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Africa's largest architecture practice pledges to move the needle on gender diversity

Boogertman + Partners, Africa's largest architecture practice, has promised to tackle its gender pay gap in response to Dezeen's Move the Needle initiative.

The South African studio made the commitment after using Dezeen's simple calculator, which showed that it pays women 19 per cent less per hour than male employees.

"Boogertman + Partners saw Move the Needle not only as an opportunity to publicly commit to change as an industry leader, but also as a chance to bring local challenges to the ongoing debate on a global level," the firm wrote in a statement.

The firm, which employs 96 registered architects among a staff of 260, is the latest to commit to change following Dezeen's initiative, which highlighted gender imbalance in firms as well as among conference speakers, on awards juries and recipients of major industry honours.

Leading conferences and architects commit to change

Five of the world's leading conferences committed to improving the gender balance of their speakers, while three leading architecture and design award programmes promised that they will increase the number of female judges on board.

Last month architect Foster + Partners committed to improve equality in the light of our initiative, while three of the world's largest architecture firms – AECOM, IBI Group and HOK – all contacted Dezeen with commitments to improving gender diversity. Dozens more organisations have written to Dezeen expressing support and committing to make changes.

Boogertman + Partners and Populous redesigned Soccer City for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa

"Boogertman + Partners hopes that by taking up Dezeen's challenge and publicising its score on Move the Needle's online calculator, it will help lead the way and affect a broader change in the fields of architecture and design in South Africa and Africa," said Boogertman + Partners director Bob van Bebber.

Gender pay gap reporting "best starting point" to address problem

The firm said that it was surprised by its gender pay gap, particularly as it last year launched "a comprehensive exercise to assess levels of equality in the company" and embarked on a process of transformation to redress imbalances".

"Measuring the gender pay gap provides a transparent mechanism for benchmarking gender imbalances that go beyond tokenism," Van Bebber, added. "It is the best starting point to begin addressing the problem proactively and consistently."

Dezeen created its gender pay gap calculator (above) to give firms a rough-and-ready way of establishing whether they pay men and women the same rates. It was published to coincide with new laws in the UK requiring all firms with over 250 employees to publish pay gap figures each year.

UK architects that published their figures revealed mean pay gaps – one of the two key metrics for measuring pay disparity – ranging from 9.6 per cent in the case of Hawkins\Brown to 29.5 per cent for BDP. Zaha Hadid Architects and Foster + Partners published gaps of 20.9 and 23.8 per cent respectively.

"Meaningful change must go deeper" than equal pay

Dezeen's Move the Needle initiative was launched five months after we published a survey revealing "shocking" levels of gender inequality at major architecture firms. Women occupy just 10 per cent of the highest-ranking jobs at the world's 100 biggest architecture firms, while 16 companies have no women at all in senior positions, the survey found.

Dezeen's Move the Needle initiative was launched to improve gender equality in architecture and design. Illustration by Kiki Ljung

Boogertman + Partners acknowledged that while male and female employees are paid the same for equivalent roles, the firm had to go further to tackle gender imbalance.

"The result of our engagement with Move the Needle made it clear to us that the real issue we face is not an equal pay issue, because hour for hour, men and women receive equal pay at Boogertman + Partners, but an issue of transformation at all levels," said Van Bebber.

"In our own journey of transformation, we believe that real, meaningful change must go deeper."

To achieve this aim Boogertman + Partners has mentorship programmes and trying to address the reason women often do not reach senior levels – its Johannesburg office, for example, has a dedicated childcare facility.

Boogertman + Partners' Wangari Mutha Maathai House in Nairobi won an award at WAF in 2016

Established in 1982 Boogertman + Partners has offices in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban and Nairobi in Kenya. This year the practice was listed on architecture magazine Building Design's World Architecture 100 list of the world's largest firms for the first time – the only African practice on the list.

The firm has designed projects across Africa and the Middle East including the redesign of Soccer City stadium, which hosted the final of the 2010 World Cup, completed with Populous when the studio was known as Boogertman Urban Edge + Partners. In 2016 the studio's Wangari Mutha Maathai House in Nairobi was named best future cultural project at the WAF Awards in 2016.

Images courtesy of Boogertman + Partners unless stated.