Why Are There So Few Female Architects?

In past articles, I have written about gender discrimination against women in the law, economics, and medicine and physics. New research reveals similar patterns that discourage women from staying in the field of architecture.

As in many other professions, such as those mentioned above, women account for half of all graduates from architecture schools but represent only 20 percent of licensed architects and 17 percent of partners or principles in firms. Allison Arieff, writing for the New York Times, reports on a recent survey of 14,360 respondents conducted by Equity by Design, an initiative of the American Institute of Architects. The survey included architects in every state and across six continents, and it found the following:

  • Female and minority architects and designers earn lower salaries than their white male peers and are less likely to hold positions of leadership.
  • Mothers in particular lose out on career and salary advancements.
  • Firms have been slow to follow best practices regarding equity and worker well-being.
  • Assumptions are prevalent that women will quit to marry.
  • Women’s competency and qualifications are often questioned, and they are unable to command authority on job sites.
  • Female role models and mentors are scarce.
  • Male colleagues complain that they do not want to take orders from a woman.

What needs to change? Arieff points out that the culture of male dominance runs deep in the architecture profession. In fact, she explains, “Until 1972 and the advent of Title IX, which forbade gender discrimination in federally funded education programs, most American architecture schools refused to admit women.” Arieff cites Ila Berman, dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture, who said that the challenge is to “change a culture that will only be changed through representation, when 50 percent of the people in the room are women.” Caroline James, founder of the Design for Equity advocacy group, suggests that women need the following:

  • Tools for dealing with sexism
  • Mentorship
  • Access to salary information
  • Equal pay
  • New definitions of success as an architect

Last but not least, the #MeToo movement made a contribution to shifting the toxic culture of the industry when several male architects were accused of harassment in an online list. Arieff reports that one prominent architect, Richard Meier, was forced to step down from a leadership role in his firm after allegations from five women. A manifesto titled “Voices of Women” calling for an end to “pervasive prejudices and disrespectful behavior” was also introduced by a group of female architects in 2018.

Change is coming.

Anne Litwin, Ph.D. is an Organizational Development and Human Resources Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together.’

Originally published at www.annelitwin.com on February 11, 2019.

Author of ‘New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together', OD Consultant, Keynote Speaker, and Workshop Trainer