Women In Architecture: By Women In Architecture

Over the last couple of months Tom Mallory co-founder of OpenBuildings.com and an author at the Huffington Post has been interviewing women to talk about their underrepresentation in the industry. I was lucky enough to share my opinion on the topic. The full interview can be found here and includes projects and opinions from prominent women including Shelley Freeman of MAKE architecture studio, Cary Bernstein of Cary Bernstein Architects and Deborah Berke of Deborah Berke & Partners.

I was also happy to share with the Huffington post the recently completed 1 Bligh St, located in Sydney. While employed at Architectus I worked on 1 Bligh Street from project inception to completion. Winner of the DEXUS/City of Sydney design competition, 1 Bligh Street is designed by Architectus and Ingenhoven Architects. 1 Bligh Street is Sydney’s highest green star rated building and features Australia’s first high rise double skin facade. The building also contains a full height naturally ventilated atrium, tri-generation system, specially formulated high strength concrete and on-site blackwater recycling.

Below I have posted my full responses to their interview questions:

Did you ever face more subtle or direct gender discrimination in architectural school? Do you think lecturers/ co-students regarded you and your work differently, because you’re a woman?

During my time at Architecture school, I did not face direct or indirect gender discrimination from co-students or lecturers. Through the process of intense study, I developed a close and supportive relationship with like-minded individuals.

I do not believe lecturers or co-students regarded my work differently because of my gender. They were supportive on the individual merit of ideas. The goal of the lecturer is to harvest the best work possible from their students irrespective of their gender.

Females represent 40% of Architecture students, therefore I did not feel out numbered by male co-students.

The male Architecture graduate receives on average salary $7000 higher than the equally qualified female graduate. This indicates that directly after graduation the male is perceived more valuable to the workplace than his female counterpart. In this case, I believe the organization assumes they will offer more to the company based on generalized male characteristics (assertive, business minded, confident and authoritative) which are highly valued in the Architecture industry.

In work, have you ever felt a particular attitude from co-workers/clients/employers because of your gender? Do you think women and men receive the same chances for professional development?

It is undeniable that the Architecture industry is top-heavy with males – less than 1% of directors in Architecture are female. I believe this leads to a core problem for females in the industy. Male employers tend to support and mentor other males (instead of females) because they are similar to themselves. Males tend to stick together based on their perceived gender specific interests and commonalities – as a female however, I ride dirt bikes, I love sport and I work on cars (I am currently building a 1971 Holden LJ Torana). I can definitely contribute to the conversation, yet despite this, most of the time it is my equally skilled male counterpart who is given the opportunity to dine with the client, attend important meetings or network at social events. It is this attitude which I believe makes it easier for young males to progress into better roles within the company. Typically, the female is not given the same opportunity for professional or personal development.

Male co-workers also tend to stick together. This is in evident through their ‘boys only’ soccer and run clubs. Clients are not as transparent – their goal is to have the project brief met and building occupied. Irrespective of gender, the client will be satisfied if the Architect does a good job.

Why do you think there is the large discrepancy between the number of female architecture graduates and practicing professionals? What happens to the other 38%?

It is evident that after graduation females choose to leave, work outside or move sideways within in the Architecture industry. The profession is task-disciplined – projects are completed over a duration of time. I worked for over 5 years on the same project (from competition to practical completion). I worked intensively for the duration of the task in order to prove my status and build a reputation. After completing the project I left the company in order to leverage my strong portfolio and move to a better position in another company. This means that when I begin my new job, I once again need to establish the same status and reputation.

It is this type of career building which males tend to leverage in order to obtain better pay and to secure positions of management, this however provides a challenge for women as they begin to raise a family. The industry is not well suited to family commitments – Long hours, intense competition, and generally low pay provides a slightly dysfunctional profession which is often incompatible with the demands of raising a family.

Because of this, approximately 70% of females in the profession will take extended time off or reject offers for career advancement. If the female is not in a position of management then it is likely the cost of child care will outweigh their income.

Additional to the large percentage of women who take time off (or leave altogether), I believe it is more likely for females to move sideways in the profession because it is more inline with their family requirements. Females are more likely than males to enter broader fields of architecture criticism, teaching or marketing because the structure, pay, and measurement of success and individual growth within these industries differ to that of the task-disciplined format of Architecture practice.

Is architecture a ‘Man’s World’?

I believe Architecture has always has been a ‘mans world’. When asked to name a successful female Architect aside from Zaha Hadid, many will struggle. However, to name a successful male Architect is easy – Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Meis Van der Rohe, Louis Khan or Frank Gehry to name a few. Each obtained the height of their fame in their 60’s or 70’s. With the average female Architect retiring at age 60 it is likely the female will never reach the super-star status of their male counterpart (regardless of their talent) because they simply retire too young!

Even when thinking of Architecture young-guns including Bjake Ingels or Andrew Maynard it is difficult to name a young-gun female Architect – don’t worry, I aim to change this! Males do however, have better odds of moving up the company structure and to then obtain a professional position where they can start their own successful organizations.

I believe that for these reasons the profession will continue to move forward for some time with female Architects who obtain success but will remain in the shadow or be forgotten when compared to their successful male counterparts.

How do you think the profession can change to encourage equality?

In order for the profession to encourage equality, I believe it needs to address a number of issues.

The profession needs to appeal more directly to the requirements of female Architects. The profession is task-disciplined and dysfunctional – it is both qualitative and quantitative. Employees are expected to work long hours, under intense pressure and receive a generally low income – I believe this leads to many employees feeling they are under-appreciated.

Talented female Architects continue to reject directorate positions in organizations because the role requirements do not align with young family commitments. Organizations may need to reconsider the expectations and requirements which they place on their employees if they do not wish to discriminate against females in the industry.

The profession can further encourage equality through the introduction of mentoring and advisory programs which encourage females to interact with company directors, and vice versa. This would aim to give females equal opportunity to grow within a company and to extend their professional development, confidence and other skills.

For females who choose to leave the industry for an extended period of time in order to have children, the profession would benefit from workplace return to work programs in order to up-skill their knowledge of current practices.

Architecture is often represented to the public with male figure-heads. A more diverse and accurate representation of the profession to the public and school students would benefit the perception of the industry. This would provide females with a more accurate understanding of what the profession actually entails before they enter Architecture school. I believe this would help increase the retention rate of females in the industry because they enter Architecture school and the workplace with knowledge of the industry, their expectations and role requirements.

Full responses from the other women are posted on the OpenBuildings Blog.

I’d love to know what you think about the topic and my opinion in the post comments below!


6 comments for “Women In Architecture: By Women In Architecture”

  • Archi-Sugar

    As working this industry almost 7 years in a largest company and mid-sized company.

    As female, I experienced my team were supportive on the individual merit of ideas and I have worked with male colleagues and developed a harmony relationship. The goal is to harvest the best work possible in order to reach the project deadlines.

    Most of the male senior project leader characteristics, which I experienced, are soft, social; patient and confidant contribute to the female conversation (as me). For instance: Fashion, Food and TV show,etc.

    Truly, when males stick together, it become their common topics for the conversation for soccer or discotek. Surprisingly, female leader do stick to male conversation but lack of interest in feminine topics.

    In contract with female leader characteristics which I experienced are aggressive, emotional, “slips of the tongue”, “catty comments” and assertive. Keep it in mind that they are singles and no family commitment. Perhaps, there have intense competition with ‘man world’.

    For young female or male colleagues, it may be divided into 2 groups, the former are hard-working, skilled and social, the latter are assertiveness in order to pleasing other and of being liked, less skilled and critical to the others.

    I believe that there have no discrimination on gender at workplace but develop their personality and attitude into profession and responsible to community which is critical.

    To try and change the methodology to work qualitative which is key to keep the balance of healthy life style rather than overloading our brain functioning,.

    For raising family, not only females choose to leave the industry in order to have children but male do.

    Most of them would work-home to suite the family commitment. No matter you are female or male; all profession should work with their weakness and intergrade their strength.

    Final words, I do enjoy to work with Male colleagues unfortunately. Work with female on my own experience, my brain run amazingly fast metabolism.

    ********** my chi-cha view only *********

    • architecture on my mind…

      It’s important to open your eyes and tell the truth!!!
      Sexisim is very common in architecture firms. As a woman practicing in the Los Angeles area I see it at my current place of work. All the top positions are men, most project teams exclude women, they never listen to the women when they have input, they never follow through on tasks when asked to do so by a woman, they snap at women like they are speaking to their wife… It’s total disrespect.

      Let me clarify by saying it’s most of the older men at work. But the younger ones just look the other way and follow along.

      Any person has the right to chose their career and family, I am tired of hearing people blame having children as the cause.

      Its the architecture business model. It’s low bids to get the project, low pay for employees, lots of hours of work. It weeds out people who care about other people, women. It breeds bottom line, get the job done, types of people who don’t care if you stay all night to finish a task. They just want pretty buildings and money. Don’t we all, but at what cost?

      Women are great at task oriented jobs! Architecture is still a boys club. Let’s face it!

      Women need to support each other in the workplace, not compare themselves and belittle each other. It’s hard
      enough as it is.

      • Tina Gina


  • http://www.schoolarchitects.org.uk/ school architects

    Being a woman is not a hindrance to become a good architect. It depends on the idea a person has. Those people with lots of idea and continuously innovate things has the best right to be an architect.

  • Pingback: Gender discrimination in design | COM 323: Cultural Studies()

  • Pingback: 8 reasons to rejoice + 8 reasons to fight: 8 March and women architects | die architektin()