Is Architecture Still Driving Away Women? 1

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016
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In the wake of new surveys from bodies such as the American Institute of Architects indicating that gender representation remains an issue for the architecture sector, the question arises of what practices should do to foster greater workplace diversity.

While women are strongly represented at the tertiary student level, the architecture profession still struggles to retain women in proportionate numbers throughout the full course of their careers.

In the US, the numbers of women enrolled in architecture programs has surged within the past several decades, from under six per cent in 1972, to 40 per cent around the turn of the century, to 44 per cent at present.

These skyrocketing enrolment numbers did not necessary translate, however, into proportionate representation in the real world, with women comprising just 13 per cent of registered architects in the US by 2000, and only 19 per cent today.

In Australia the historical trajectory has been similar. The University of Queensland’s Women and Leadership in the Australian Architecture Profession: Prelude to a Research Project reports a steady rise in the number of female registered architects throughout the second half of the 20th century, from 2.7 per cent in 1950, to 3.3 per cent by 1970.

This steady increase led to a record high in the number of women embarking upon architecture careers by the end of the 20th century, with observers such as Julie Willis predicting that they could comprise as much as 40 per cent of members of the profession by 2018.

Other research uncovered a significant stalling, however, of growth in female participation in the architecture profession since the turn of the century. Paula Whitman’s study of female architects from 2005 found that women made up only 14.2 per cent of registered architects in Australia, a figure which many estimate has risen to only 20 per cent over the past decade.

Concerns about rates of female participation in the architecture workplace have been further heightened by recent surveys indicating that many in the profession believe there are still untoward factors at play leading to a stark underrepresentation of women.

Some 69 per cent of female respondents to the American Institute of Architects’ latest diversity survey believe that women are somewhat to very underrepresented within their profession, while the fifth annual Women in Architecture survey of more than 1,000 female architectural professionals around the world found that 72 per cent had experienced sexual discrimination, harassment or victimisation during their careers.

Many in Australia’s architecture profession are now making concerted efforts to redress this imbalance. The Australian Institute of Architects adopted a Gender Equity Policy in response to the findings of the Equity and Diversity in the Architecture Profession study from the University of Queensland, setting out principles that include acknowledging the professional obligation to accommodate diverse needs, communicating the value of women in leadership roles, promoting equality of employment arrangements, and supporting the development of alternative and flexible career pathways.

Leading firms themselves are also adopting policies to better foster gender diversity. GHD, which according to IBIS enjoys the biggest share of the market for architectural work in Australia, was the only architecture firm to be cited as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality by the Work Place Equality Agency (WGEA) in 2014 and 2015.

Fulton Trotter Architects is another leader when it comes to workplace diversity, with women comprising 60 per cent of Associates and 40 per cent of their Associate Directors.

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  1. R Fullerton

    Perhaps we need to educate our architects to recognize discrimination and how to deal with it. Effects of discrimination are cumulative – unless you address it, it doesn't get easier. It would be good to read articles on how to do this rather than just statistics which are dis-empowering.