SBA CELEBRATES WOMEN’S HISTORY WITH A FOCUS ON WOMEN IN ARCHITECTURE

 

In honor of Women’s History Month, SBA will be presenting a blog series on “Women in Architecture and Design,” where we’ll showcase the great work of our many female designers and team members. In our first post of this series, we explore the current status of women in the architecture and design industry, asking whether and why women seem to be leaving the field.

The current status of women in the U.S. workforce has gained a lot of attention lately in the media. The “wage gap” looms large: even after decades of advocacy and social progress, women still earn an average of 20% less than men. Between The Paycheck Fairness Act and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's bestseller Lean In, the political hype about women’s roles in the workforce is at a pinnacle. This issue has likewise affected the architecture industry, where we are realizing that we simply cannot wait around for change, but that we must be working towards it in active and constructive ways.

While architecture remains a traditionally male-dominated profession, much seems to have improved over the past few decades. The number of women earning architecture degrees has grown exponentially, from less than 10% of graduates in 1970 to nearly half of all graduates today. But compared to other burgeoning fields like law and medicine, architecture has not made as much progress in diversifying its gendered workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), only 25% of working architects are women—including both licensed and unlicensed professionals. The number of women who are legally registered as AIA members and licensed practitioners wavers between only 15 and 18% of the total workforce. So while the number of degree graduates has certainly increased, we have not yet experienced a significant rise in the number of women who are actually working in the profession. In that way, little has improved since the mid-1990s.

In this sense, many women who earn architecture degrees seem to be subsequently dropping out of the profession, never obtaining their licensure or going into active practice. The organization The Missing 32% was founded to question why this might be the case. The project aims to study why architecture has suffered such a depletion of talent, and they have already suggested a range of potential issues, from the dominant masculinized attitudes in the A/E/C industry at large to the long working hours, competitive atmospheres, and lack of mentorship often found in today’s firms. While these issues of course plague workers regardless of their gender, the fact that women have been leaving architecture seems to spring from this range of complicated and complex industry standards.  

In England, the signs of such problems are strikingly similar. London’s Architects’ Journal recently published its fourth annual ‘Women in Architecture’ survey, to which the architectural blogosphere has expressed its dismay. In their survey of female architects, the Journal demonstrates just how far we need to go for gender equality. According to their survey, a remarkable 76% of female architects report suffering some level of sexual discrimination during their careers, while 41% claim to having been outright bullied during their practice. More and more women feel that the current systems of training are disadvantageous to women and that women feel the building industry has not yet accepted the authority of female architects. Unsurprisingly, almost 90% of the women surveyed believe that having children puts them at a disadvantage in the workforce.

As those behind The Missing 32% have argued, “equity starts with action.” What we need first, though, is information. To find that information, research projects like the Missing 32% have emerged on a global scale, from the Australian Institute of Architects’ Gender Equity Policy (Women, Equity, Architecture), to the Royal Institute of British Architects’ report on “Why do Women Leave Architecture?” It seems that everyone is asking the same questions; but do we have any answers?

Some suggest that a more diverse representation in the public realm would go a long way towards sparking the respect and visibility of female architects. For instance, the Pritzker Prize—architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel—has historically been slower than other national industry awards to acknowledge work by women. Only two female architects have been received the award during its 35-year history. Out of all the top architectural awards in the country, female architects and architectural educators together have received a mere 18% of the awards given out over the last decade. Many have noted that women’s desires to succeed in this profession might be boosted by the kind of public recognition that institutional awards could be providing. But that is, of course, only a preliminary step in a much larger industry-wide investigation into why women—and men—might be departing this richly creative field.   

As journalist Mark Lamster remarks, “Those who would defend the status quo should consider how much we have to gain by a reordering of priorities — the contribution of 50 percent of our workforce… [W]omen bring a different experience to the practice of architecture.”

“One can’t help but wonder,” Lamster asks, “How different would our cities be if the architectural profession was more equitable? Frankly, we shouldn’t have to wonder. It’s time to find out.” Yes, indeed.

But at SBA, we’ve long had a different sense of this quandary. For many decades, women have played a key role in SBA’s practice at all levels, from senior leadership to student interns. Today, approximately one half of our entire staff represents female professionals, and nearly 40% of our licensed architects and AIA members are women. While some of the inevitable problems facing young professionals today are often unavoidable, we have tried to incorporate a culture of mentorship that can enable and empower developing designers, whether women or men, to contribute actively to both the profession and their own careers.

In this blog series, we’ll be interviewing some of our female architects to get their perspectives on the profession, its pros and cons, and their own personal journeys in the field of architecture. Stay tuned…   

 

 

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