The lack of female diversity in various industries is a common issue facing many countries, especially in male-dominated industries such as construction, building, engineering, and architecture. Most architectural firms with the most high-profile commissions only have a few female representatives. For instance, the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has only two female principles.
This sums up the problem that many women face in the architectural industry today. Unfortunately, this discrimination and inequality did not start today. Until 1972, most American architectural schools refused to admit women into their programs. Another survey shows that women account for half of the country’s architectural graduates. But, they only make up about 17% of principles in architectural firms and 20% of licensed architects.
Therefore, why aren’t more women putting an architectural design degree to good use? While there is no simple explanation for this, change can only begin with representation. 50% of the women in an architectural company need to be women to show others that females can be exceptional architects too.
What is the problem?
Currently, education programs and schools encourage women to take up architectural courses to have more women architects. However, the problem is not with the education system or the students but their adoption into the job market. Many female graduates have an architectural degree, but they end up working in completely different career fields such as marketing, business, and education.
Some common assumptions that affect the absorption of women into the architectural industry include:
- They will quit because they want to start a family.
- They are not as talented or as creative as men.
- They cannot command authority on job sites.
These assumptions contribute to unequal pay and minimal access to opportunities. Most women in architecture confirmed that men question their qualifications and competency, even when they have the experience and the papers.
In other cases, several women said clients assume that they are there to take notes and serve coffee. Another recalled a time when her male colleagues complained to the head department that they could not accept orders from a woman. While another confirmed that her co-workers undermine her work. Hence, the problem lies within our culture, and the role created for a woman, which is to nurture and become a wife.
The schools of architecture at Columbia, Yale, University of California, and Princeton, have in recent years, appointed women as directors or deans. However, it would be absurd to put the duty of transformation on a few token appointments when the problem is more widespread through the profession. Moreover, it’s insulting that these capable and talented architects landed their positions because they are female. With that said, these appointments begin to change the balance of power and alter how people perceive women in the field of architecture.
A viable solution
Solving the problem of gender inequality and lack of female representation won’t come overnight. It not only requires the change of our social and cultural ways but also how architectural firms handle female employees. For instance, it begins by paying female and male architects the same and providing more job opportunities to women.
Another solution is redefining what success means in architecture. A male architecture that designs a skyscraper or high tech corporate campuses is seen as successful while a woman in housing or low-income housing is a questionable architect. Such women may not easily land ‘successful’ architectural jobs such as designing buildings like museums.
We need to redefine what a successful architect is if we want more women to pursue it as a full-time career.