Women in Architecture: Gap Analysis and Changing Dynamics

Architects Dated:  Aug. 7, 2015
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Women in Architecture, Source: arquitectura.estudioquagliata.com

The topic of gender inequality within the technological world is nothing new or ground breaking, but one that runs so deep within social structures that it deserves far more attention than it receives. Gender equality in Architecture, too, has become an increasing concern in recent years.

The paper aims to bring to light the trends in Architecture as educational course and professional arena w.r.t. gender. The objective is to find out and analyse how this idea of gender in profession works silently all over the world specific to Architecture. The research revolves around the aspects of gender biases, opportunities and issues of being a contemporary woman architect. It also measures women to men gap in the domains of practice, education and research. An interesting revelation shall be to learn how gender biases play role in even recognising good work through reputed awards in the field.

Is the profession really biased towards men? What causes imbalance between the numbers of girl-students and women-professionals in Architecture? What are the issues which force women to leave architecture as profession or prevent them from shouldering leadership responsibilities? Can these issues be resolved by examining carefully the reasons? The paper attempts to answer the questions and also identify related issues. Looking at the commonalities and specificities of issues related to women professionals across the world, the research provides a strategy to move forward towards achieving an ideal work environment for women architects.

To try to answer all these questions is just a beginning, the big idea of the research remains to inspire the women architects to keep up the good work and erase all question marks on their capability and competence. The possibility of doing so may be by simply being who we are and the way we are. The hope lies in the gender-sensitization of all the stake-holders and understanding the fact that best qualifications, however, is one’s own work in the form of buildings, projects and architectural research. That attracts attention, arouses expectations and challenges one to do more. May be, then your gender won’t matter anymore and the word ‘Architect’ shall be all inclusive.

Theoretical Framework:-

In the recent years, much attention has been paid to the careers of women in the construction and architecture in particular. Difficulties faced by women working in the architecture profession have been identified as long working hours, poor pay, paternalistic culture, sexism and task restriction. These are all measured against an assumed masculine norm, however, there is little or no work on what constitutes this norm or how it came to be established, other than an idea that it is due to the critical mass of men involved in the industry and related cultural assumptions. It has been argued that what it means to be an architect has been determined and tightly controlled by male architects and women are thereby excluded from these ‘masculine’ norms. It is important that the norm of masculinity in the construction industry must be critically examined. Through the exclusion of women from what is commonly seen as ‘manly technologies’, a vicious cycle has appeared where women are often intimidated to learn because they are viewed as technologically ignorant, or not capable. This in turn breeds a further lack of confidence. This common viewpoint where women are seen as less capable with technology than men, leads one to think of the gender imbalance within the architectural profession.  Although the numbers of women entering into architectural education are equal or sometimes even more than their male counterparts, these numbers do not carry through to the professional workplace. So why is still so difficult for women to break through a traditionally male dominated field when they are equally as educated and capable? A large part of the answer could lie with the vicious cycle mentioned above.

In January 2012, the British magazine, The Architects’ Journal (AJ), published the shocking results of a survey of 700-odd women working in architecture and construction. The findings reported widespread experience of sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and the gendered nature of architectural salaries, as well as other data, drawing a dismal picture of women’s professional experiences in the industry. The magazine’s public use of the term, ‘woman architect’, raises some questions about the different locations and uses of this identity category, particularly in relation to its other, the ‘architect’. The term ‘woman architect’ implicitly genders the term ‘architect’, as male.  At the same time, the architect’s masculine sex disappears or is disguised behind the word, architect. It is the woman part of the phrase that becomes identified with a gender when we apparently introduce gender into gender neutral architecture by affixing woman to architect. We reinforce the visible and invisible patterns of gender production by using the pair architect/woman architect.

Women and Architectural Education:-

“Architecture is inclusive of allied and applied aspects of humanities, aesthetics, built environment techniques and skills, technology and engineering sciences and allied management systems. While utilising relevant information and knowledge from these disciplines, it goes beyond them to be a unique and holistic discipline of architecture.” Humanities, social and building sciences and structure courses are kept as major papers to complement the designing process since architecture is also about understanding people and dealing with complex interpersonal relationships at all stages in the practice. The assimilation of the various related courses with the design curriculum should help to create more holistic studios ideally, the reality needs a check though.

The architecture profession has long been dominated by men. This does not mean, however, that many women have not become architects. Women make up between 25 and 50 per cent of the student population in architectural schools in Europe, Australia and the United States. The majority of these women complete their degrees, however recent studies conducted in Australia and in the UK have sought to find reasons why, after they have completed their education, many women apparently leave the profession.

England:- The RIBA commissioned an annual survey providing statistical information on schools of architecture. The 2000/2001 report indicated that the proportion of female students steadily risen over the past decade to 37%. Females represented 22% of the teaching staff in 2000/2001. (Mirza and Nacey 2001)

The United States:- The research depicts the decreasing number of women in higher positions of Architecture, a condition not limited to only the United States. The October 2014 ASCA report (http://www. acsaarch.org/resources/data resources/women) talks about the same and asks, "Where are the women?" It's evident from the report that there is a disconnect between the fairly high number of women in architectural schools (43%) and the lower number of women entering the profession (25%) and leading their own firms (17%).

Australia:- According to the research source named ‘Summary’ by Gill Matthewson and Kirsty Volz. Statistics extracted by Carol Capp, National Education Co-ordinator, AIA, from Australian Institute of Architects, “Architecture Schools of Australasia” 2000 to 2011 editions, November 2011, there are 18 Architecture Schools in Australia. In 2011 there were 9222 students in total out of which 42% were women.

India:- According to the data by Council of Architecture website, the number of girl students in Architecture has been constantly rising from 70’s till date. In 70’s the average number of girl students getting registered with the Council was around 550 and in 2014 it was the maximum of 4034.

Women in Architectural Practice - A Global Perspective:-

It is worthwhile to take an overall perspective of Women in Architecture around the world for which the comparative analysis of four regions: England, the United States, Australia and India is being presented.
 
England:- In England, after the First World War, opportunities opened up for women in architecture. It was after the Second World War that critics began to question the male dominated nature of the profession. RIBA also started holding exhibitions on women architecture in 1984. A survey with about 170 respondents was conducted in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, America, Australia, Germany, Singapore, Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand with women in various arenas of and around architecture. 37 respondents were not working in architectural practice. Of these 1 was engaged in architecture research, 6 were in education and remaining were not working in architecture practice as they either chose alternate careers or were not working at all. When asked about the legal contract, most did have a written contract, but some did not. This leads to concerns about lack of clarity around the agreed basis of employment.

The idea that men and women should be treated alike in terms of salary and other rewards seems an elementary notion of fairness and consistency of treatment but for most people lack of knowledge made it difficult to demand this straightforward right. Lack of transparency in relation to pay was a crucial consideration as most interviewees were completely unaware of the salaries obtained by colleagues so it was difficult to argue any case about the consistency of treatment. Responses to the questionnaire indicated that there were instances where males were favoured over women in obtaining promotion. Only women that are prepared to be men (behaviourally) had a slight chance of promotion. A concern raised from the questionnaire was that some women suffered from loss of confidence because of their treatment. Replies to questions on working hours demonstrated many offices endorse a long-hours culture which employees felt forced to go along with to show their ‘commitment’. It was evident, particularly from the interviews that many women would have appreciated the opportunity to work in a more flexible way. Long hours and inflexibility were cited by some interviewees as reasons for their departure from the profession. It was clear that many people felt that the work/life balance and the long hours culture had contributed to their decision to leave. The RIBA commissions an annual survey providing statistical information on schools of architecture. The 2000/2001 report indicates that the proportion of female students has steadily risen over the past decade to 37% and that the dropout rates for male and female students are similar. There were 14 respondents who are currently involved in teaching architecture and one who had left. 3 of the 14 were also working in practice.

Answers to questions on equal opportunities were generally inconclusive but one respondent did state that she had been advised that women are not in senior enough positions to sit on the University equal opportunities committee. 28 students currently studying and 18 women who have studied in the last 10 years responded to this section of the questionnaire. It is significant to note that on being asked whether they wanted to leave architecture because they had chosen the wrong profession no respondents said ‘yes’. They all gave other reasons for leaving and none said that they hated the activity of architecture.

The United States:-  Women make up more than half of the professional and technical workforce in the United States. While the status for women in the workforce has improved over the last several decades, many women still struggle for equality in many occupations. However, many still face overt or subtle employment discrimination, contributing to continued inequality. In December 2014, there were over 73 million working women in the U.S. While women were just under half of the general workforce (47%), they represented a majority of those in professional and technical occupations (51%). The proportion of women to men in the workforce changed dramatically from only a generation ago. In 1972, women represented just 38% of the workforce. After years of steady growth, the number levelled off in the mida1990s and has remained close to the current percentage for the last two decades.

While a larger proportion of women are entering the workforce, uneven representation across occupations and industries persists. In 2013, 15% women were in architectural practice. Women have a lower workforce participation rate than men at every level of education; however, the gap shrinks at higher levels of educational attainment. Approximately 32% of women over the age of 25 with less than a high school diploma were in the workforce in 2013, compared to close to 60% of men with less than a high school diploma. Those not in the workforce either chose not to work or were no longer seeking work due to labour market conditions. Among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 71% of women and 80% of men were in the workforce in 2013. Despite high levels of education, and strong representation in professional and technical occupations, women still face a persistent wage and earnings gap. While there are a number of factors that may influence the differences in earnings between men and women in the aggregate, (such as higher proportions of women in lower paying occupations) the wage gap continues even within individual occupations. Amongst professional and technical workers, the wage gap persists in almost all occupational groups.

Australia:- There are 18 Architecture Schools in Australia. In 2011 there were 9222 students in total across the two degrees. 42% of them were women. The proportion of women graduating from Architecture Schools increased rapidly from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. It then levelled off. From 1990-1999, women averaged 40% of all graduates. From 2000-2010 this increased to 41% of all graduates.  At the end of 2010, 975 students graduated, 427 of whom (44%) were women. 4 If we take registration as a measure of women’s participation in the profession, there are 10,516 registered architects in the Commonwealth and 2,286 of them are women (21.7%).  In 2004, women were 14.3% of registered architects. At work the membership of the Australian Institute of Architects can also be assessed. In 2012, there were 11,738 members of the Institute 3,020 were women. This constitutes 26% of Institute members. However, there are different categories of membership and the pattern of membership differs quite markedly for each gender.

The Indian Perspective:- Women architects have been participating in the field in increasing numbers as designers (and as teachers/researchers) in contemporary times. However, even today, there are very few large practices where women are the sole principals. In the past 25 years, many women architects have opted to establish successful partnerships with their architect husbands or male/female partners. Some women work in governmental and municipal organisations. Many of them devise alternative models to mainstream practice or diversify into nonatraditional roles. However, they are much less visible in terms of leadership, academic success and excellence in practice. This is universally applicable, in varying degrees, including to the situation in India as women professionals continue to face hurdles at various stages due to their gender in glaring contrast to other design fields such as media, fashion, graphics and textiles. Many women graduates give up the idea of working for someone or independently practice after a while. Many others branch out in related fields. As a result, women in architecture have not yet developed a critical mass in practice. This is ironic because their intake has been steadily increasing – from two/four women students in the 1940s – in the 280 odd colleges of architecture for the past 25 years. The key question is: Can anything be done at the level of education? The popular opinion of this situation is that processes in architectural education are biasafree and give equal opportunity to all for success. The women students’ percentage of admission ranges from 50 per cent to 80 per cent today. In spite of this fact, the number of women in professional practice drops substantially to about 15 per cent to 17 per cent.

What are the hidden barriers for women? First of all, there is the equality myth. Without gender sensitivity, the built environment is commonly treated as a neutral background. In an attempt to be ‘mainstream’, most of them stay away from ‘women’s issues’ for fear of being labelled as feminists or not being accepted as a ‘true’ professional. This makes us take the situation for granted, adding to the marginalisation of the subject and its solutions. By contrast, in the USA for instance, by accepting the fact that there is direct/indirect discrimination towards women professionals, much has been achieved. Most famous and celebrated architects that students study and see in publications are male. There are relatively few women in high positions such as heads of departments of architecture or principals in firms. It is not often that women find representation in national architectural competition juries, in lecture series, as inauguration guests, on interview panels or on college inspection visits except as tokens. Central bodies like the Council of Architecture (CoA) or the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) also have very few women on their boards or in a position of leadership. All these factors combine to undermine the confidence of the woman, ultimately affecting her performance in practice. 

The architectural course is increasingly perceived as a ‘feminine’ profession with the assumption that girls will be able to work from the office and also handle the home front. Both men and women graduates face difficulties in the real world. At the same time, women students have restrictions imposed on them due to their social conditioning and strict family conventions. Although this attitude has been changing in the last few decades, in most communities it has still not come to mean that women can become predominantly career/business oriented. The absence of research is reflected in lack of theoretical development on gender. Ignorance of these issues in practice gets reflected in design. This is compounded by the fact that gender is not acknowledged in built environment history and in related contemporary publications.

Gender Biases in Recognising Good Work Through Reputed Awards:-

It is important to unravel why the gender identity of ‘‘star architects’’ tends to be male while recognizing the works of professionals. It posits that this masculine dominance has to do with a dovetailing of different factors. First, the traditional role model for architects has been gendered male, especially when that role model is manifested through the concept of ‘‘genius’’. Second, the words used to describe the performance of the avant-garde in architecture - cutting edge, innovative, daring, original - are more in line with ‘‘masculine’’ than with ‘‘feminine’’ features. Third, the idea of authorship, crucial for the self-conception of the profession, benefits men more than women.

This hypothesis is backed up by a discourse analysis of the jury citations that legitimise the selection of the Pritzker Architecture Prize winners from 1979 onwards. There exist many contributing factors reinforce one another, making for a system that produces many heroes and few heroines. The Pritzker Architecture Prize is now more than 30 years old yet the list of 37 laureates to date features only two women—Zaha Hadid in 2004 and Kazuyo Sejima in 2010 (as a partner in SANAA).

A worth mention case is of Denise Scott Brown who was passed over in 1991 when it went to Robert Venturi alone, on the grounds that only an individual was eligible. From a feminist point of view, the favouring of individual authorship as exemplified in the Pritzker Prize poses multiple challenges. First of all, as is clear from the above analysis, the architect genius is traditionally gendered male and it is thus inherently difficult for women to fill these shoes. Second, even though the actual practice of the profession might evolve towards more collaboration, both with other architects and with other professions, the cultural system of merit necessitates the continuous production of role models—reinforcing rather than diminishing the importance of authorship. Third, the gender bias is so intimately interwoven with the very conception of the profession that it seems an almost insurmountable task to change it.6 To gauge career trajectories of women primarily through the prism of gender invites us to produce more subtle theories of identity, lived subjectivity and mechanisms of gender identification in feminist architectural research. The term, woman architect, invites us to think about the hyphenated nature of identity.

Issues Related to Women in Architectural Practice:-

The architecture profession has long been dominated by men. This does not mean, however, that many women have not become architects. Women make up between 25 and 50 per cent of the student population in architectural schools in Europe, Australia and the United States. The majority of these women complete their degrees, however recent studies conducted in Australia and in the UK have sought to find reasons why, after they have completed their education, many women apparently leave the profession. The reasons why women leave architecture tended to be a combination of a number of factors. Some of the key issues are as follows:

  • Low pay/Unequal pay
  • Long working hours
  • Inflexible/family-unfriendly working hours
  • Side-lining/ Glass ceiling
  • Limited areas of work
  • Stressful working conditions
  • Protective paternalism preventing development of experience
  • Macho culture
  • Redundancy and or dismissal
  • More job satisfaction elsewhere

There is little evidence that women left because they were incompetent designers or that they no longer wanted to be architects. One major concern is the extent to which some architectural practices are operating outside current legislation in relation to employment practice.7 In 2002, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) appointed the University of the West of England to conduct a qualitative survey to investigate this. They found that the low pay in the profession has deterred women and men alike from practising architecture, but they also cite women architects who describe the profession as having a predominantly male identity reflected in what they describe as arrogance, bullying and misogyny. These factors, they wrote, ‘‘contribute to gradual erosion of confidence and de-skilling, leading to reduced self-esteem and poor job satisfaction’’.

Summary:-

From the data found in the process of research, it is obvious that there exists some sort of apparent disadvantage being a woman architect, may be because of the reasons revealed like long working hours, dealing with numerous sorts of people, family-unfriendly conditions and so on. Yet, an important positive thing which needs attention is that the number of registered architects is increasing with passing years. The profession of architecture is changing in a positive way; it is moving towards being much more collaborative, pluralistic and inclusive. New modes of practices are emerging where an individual has a much more networked role in the design process. Simultaneously, women are also increasing as primary clients and patrons as their money/social power rises in different fields. 

Way Forward:-

The big idea of the research remains to inspire the women architects to keep up the good work and erase all question marks on their capability and competence. The possibility of doing so may be by simply being who we are and the way we are. The following ways could be tried to encourage women students to take up the profession more seriously:

  • The success stories of successful women architects need to be shared to inspire young girls in the profession.
  • Special grants in term of scholarships for girl students could help and encourage more girl students to perform.
  • Girls should be encouraged to be capable of sitting in decision-making chairs for which some job posts could be secured specially for women, for some years to start with, in policy-making panels. That shall also help the designs to be more gender-inclusive which is the need of the hour.
  • Architecture students should be given special training to enhance their business capabilities along with design skills which would equip women to set up their own practice.
  • The practices like ‘’Flexible timings’’ and ‘’Work from home’’ for women architects could bring about considerable difference.

All said and done, but the real hope lies in the gender-sensitization of all the stake-holders and understanding the fact that best qualifications, however, is one’s own work in the form of buildings, projects and architectural research. That attracts attention, arouses expectations and challenges one to do more. May be, then your gender won’t matter anymore and the word ‘Architect’ shall be all inclusive.

Citations:-

  • Johnson, A. Manley, S. and Greed, C. (May 2003) Why do women leave architecture? University of the West of England, Bristol
  • Sinha, S. Diversity in Architectural Education: Teaching and learning in the context of Diversity. London Metropolitan University
  • Desai, M. (2007) Gender and the built environment in India. Zubaan
  • Summary by Gill Matthewson and Kirsty Volz. Statistics extracted by Carol Capp, National Education Co-ordinator, AIA, from Australian Institute of Architects, “Architecture Schools of Australasia” 2000 to 2011 editions, November 2011. Supplemented by data from the 2012 edition
  • Women in Architecture survey published by The Architects Journal, 2012
  • Hill, J. (2013) Short survey of women in architecture. world-architects (http://www.worldarchitects.com)
  • U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor statistics, a current population survey, “employed persons by industry, sex, race, and occupation
  • 2013 Annual report of National architectural accrediting board
  • UK’s Architects Registration Board
  • Architects Journal Reports
  • Council of Architecture, India website
  • A Short Survey of Women in Architecture (architecture news/insight/ A_Short_Survey_of_Women_in_Architecture_2758)
  • Annual reports, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi
  • The Board for Development of Post Graduate/Advanced Studies/Research in Architecture and Allied Fields of Studies. Unpublished report. The Council of Architecture, New Delhi:2005
  • Stead, N. (2011-2014) Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architecture Profession: Women, Work and Leadership. Australian Research Council Linkage project. The University of Melbourne
  • Heynen, H. Genius, Gender and Architecture: The Star System
  • Shepard Spaeth, M. and Kosmala, K. Identification Through Disidentification: A Life Co. Published online: 08 Feb 2013. urse Perspective on Professional Belonging. Published online: 08 Feb 2013. Architectural Theory Review
  • Gender equity in architecture: What can we do? | Architecture
    http://architectureau.com/articles/genderequityinarchitecturewhatcanwedo/Gender
    equity in architecture: What can we do?
  • Percentage of Bachelor’s degrees conferred to women, by major (1970-2012) June 14, 2014 by Randy Olson
  • Henry, N. (2012) Women in Architecture: We Need Them
  • Urban Omnibus » Women Shaping Our World: Architecture, Gender and Space
    http://urbanomnibus.net/2012/04/womenshapingourworldarchitecturegenderandspace/
    Women Shaping Our World: Architecture, Gender and Space
  • The Board for Development of Post Graduate/Advanced Studies/Research in Architecture and Allied Fields of Studies. Unpublished report. The Council of Architecture, New Delhi:2005
  • Johnson. A, Manley. S and Greed. C. Why do women leave architecture? University of the West of England, Bristol. May 2003
  • Dr. Stead N. Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architecture Profession: Women, Work and Leadership. Australian Research Council Linkage project, 2011-2014. The University of Melbourne
  • Internet source- http://thinkmatter.in/2014/11/05/architecturaleducationinindiawomenstudentscultureandpedagogy/
  • Heynen. H. Genius, Gender and Architecture: The Star System. Published online: 08 Feb 2013.
  • Johnson. A, Manley. S and Greed. C. Why do women leave architecture? University of the West of England, Bristol. May 2003
  • Shepard Spaeth. M and Kosmala. K. Identification Through Disidentification: A Life Course Perspective on Professional Belonging. Published online: 08 Feb 2013. Architectural Theory Review.

 

This paper is part of the WIA publication brought out at the Women in Architecture Conference organized jointly by the IIA Northern Chapter, SPA and SPA Alumni on June 06, 2015.

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