As with the case in any other profession, the concept that men and women who perform similar tasks involving similar levels of expertise and managerial authority should receive similar levels of remuneration is well accepted and understood within the architecture profession across Australia.
Yet it appears this is not happening on the ground.
In its 2017 National Salary Survey, the Association of Consulting Architects found that practising female architects earn less than their male counterparts across every level of experience and managerial authority except for the raw graduate level. Indeed, on a weighted average basis, that survey found that women who are registered architects with more than six years of experience earn almost 25 percent less than their male counterparts of the same experience level. Experienced directors/principals who are women earn almost 15 percent less while experienced male associates earn almost ten percent more compared with their female counterparts. Women are also short-changed by five percent or more at the levels of new associate, registered up to six years and registered up to three years.
In short, a gender pay gap exists across almost every level which cannot be explained by either levels of experience or managerial authority. Same work/same pay is not happening.
Consequences are serious. For women themselves, it means they are effectively being short-changed compared with their male counterparts by either thousands or tens of thousands (depending on level) each and every year. This has a compounding impact upon their degree of economic independence throughout their working life and into retirement.
At a practice level, unequal remuneration practices (along with any unfair practices regarding promotions) make it harder for firms to retain female workers and detracts from the incentive for their female staff to raise their hands for project leadership. This not only leads to higher turnover but also potentially missing top candidates for leadership positions. On design teams, male dominated monocultures lead to narrower perspectives and stunt creativity. As more women reach decision making positions across other sectors of the economy, male dominated project teams will find relating to and designing for their clients increasingly difficult.
At a broader level, the gender pay gap is one of a number of factors behind an enormous loss of skilled talent within the profession. Whereas girls make up just under half of all architecture graduates, combined data from the various architecture registration boards around the country as at June 2014 indicated that women made up only one in five registered architects. Apart from robbing the sector of skills, this, reinforces the aforementioned male dominated culture within the profession which not only stifles innovation but is incongruent with the need to create a built environment whose end-users are roughly evenly balanced from a gender perspective.
All this raises questions about what lies behind the gap and what can be done.
According to Kellie McGivern, an associate at Perth based architecture firm Cox Howlett & Bailey Woodland and co-chairperson of the Australian Institute of Architects National Committee for Gender Equity, the problem is not unique to architecture. Across industry and professions in general, McGivern said, women are undervalued and for their contribution and on an unequal footing compared with their male counterparts. This starts early on, she says (ACTU research published last year shows that young girls are paid 11 percent less pocket money compared with boys), and continues throughout a woman’s life and into retirement.
When it comes to work, McGivern says women typically do not experience any difficulty at entry levels but find this changes upon reaching childbearing age. When this happens, many find themselves overlooked for projects and promotion amid an expectation that they will eventually have children – irrespective of whether or not this is actually the case. This, McGivern says, impacts salary and remuneration.
When it comes to remuneration increases and promotion, McGivern says a number of women are less confident in asking for pay rises and undervalue their contribution when it comes to putting their hand up for project openings and assignments. Part of this behaviour, she says, traces back to childhood whereby boys are often taught to be more courageous whereas girls tend to be more sheltered. Those women who do put themselves forward, McGivern says, often find themselves being seen as ‘pushy’ or even ‘unladylike’.
Genevieve Lilley, director of Genevieve Lilley Architects and member of the aforementioned AIA committee, agrees that some women can be less assertive when pursuing project opportunities or pay negotiations. Whereas men had a greater tendency to ask for pay rises up front, Lilley said women often felt less comfortable doing this and tended to rely more heavily upon the value of their contribution being appropriately recognised and duly rewarded.
Furthermore, Lilley said there were issues within the profession itself. Tight competition deadlines and a culture whereby the expectation was that working ‘after hours’ is where firms make profit, for example, make it difficult for those who need to leave at reasonable hours.
Michael Smith, founder and co-director of Melbourne based architecture firm Atelier Red + Black, says the profession suffers from a culture of long hours being rewarded over output delivered. In addition, Smith says the fragmented nature of the profession means it has a high number of smaller practices whose directors have fewer resources to devote to HR related matters.
Going forward, Smith encourages firms to be aware of the problem and to audit remuneration practices to ensure that these are not only fair but base rewards upon output delivered rather than hours worked. In addition, he says the profession needs to tackle its engrained culture of long hours and unpaid overtime – a phenomenon he says is largely self-defeating at any rate since those who put in excessive hours are rarely productive during all of those hours.
Lilley meanwhile, says change could be helped along by an unexpected source as growing numbers of female tradespeople within the construction sector could help to precipitate a more measured and considered culture on building sites which could rub off upon and feed back into the design profession. In addition, she encourages firms to talk with staff who need to need to work part time and look at adaptable ways through which they can continue to advance in their career.
Finally, McGivern agrees about the need to talk with staff who need to attend to family responsibilities and look at how they can remain engaged with the firm. In her own case, rather than working three days straight, McGivern herself works on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and is thus never more than one day away from the office to attend to client or project needs. Important meetings and networking events, too, could be held at times which are convenient for those with family responsibilities. On hiring panels, McGivern would like to see at least one woman so as to avoid any opportunity for gender bias. Directors themselves can set positive examples by taking time out in respect of their own family commitments. Industry-wide, McGivern would like more information about where effective market salary rates sit for various roles. At a broader society level, she would like to see more young girls taught to have confidence and accept challenges.
For individual women, McGivern says it is important to fully and clearly understand their worth within the marketplace and to be able to demonstrate any case for an increase in salary during pay reviews. Having mentors from outside to challenge and guide them, McGivern said, is also helpful.
Throughout Australia, the architecture profession has a gender pay gap which is both unfair to women and damaging to the profession.
If it is to be addressed, change is needed on a number of fronts.