In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I wanted to dedicate this article to the topic of women in architecture and perhaps give the issue a fresh perspective.
It’s well-known that Architecture remains a tough profession for women to break into. Despite all the attention and discussion on the topic, the gender gap has only become widerin recent years. While we can point our fingers at several reasons why this is so, such as lower salaries, a hostile work environment, fewer family-friendly career-building opportunities, and a shortage of mentors, the fact is that female architects are leaving the field in droves.
A Moral Imperative?
At my leadership recruiting firm, we are continually inundated with requests by architecture and interior design firms hoping to attract women for senior leadership positions. They are interested, so they claim, in female professionals who could potentially be future directors or principals. Perhaps things are changing…
But the reality is that the architecture industry as a whole is still way behind in terms of attracting and retaining talented women- especially women who return to work after maternity leave. The industry continues to be over-run by male-dominated firms with cultures that make it extremely difficult for females to take up senior positions and build a family at the same time.
Just how bad is it? Some women report returning to work after being on maternity leave, only to find that their positions have become redundant or they are denied their previous level of responsibility even if they had successfully fulfilled their roles for years. In fact, according to one recent survey, 60 percent of mothers claimed that having children had a detrimental effect on their architecture careers. Perhaps most telling is that this perception is especially high among associates and associate directors. These are professionals who have already proven themselves on the job.
Where is this coming from?
Changing Our Perspective
When it comes to the issue of women in architecture rarely do we hear why a more equal proportion of women is important. Instead, the focus is on the “moral obligation” architecture firms have to “fix” an obvious “injustice.”
And that is precisely the problem.
This is not about putting an ideological rubber stamp on the issue and saying that the only solution is to just bring in more women. In fact, surveys such as the one cited above, prove that this has only exacerbated the situation.
Diversity Benefits Everyone
The prevailing attitude towards women and the greater issue of diversity in the architectural workplace is the first thing that needs to be examined, because diversity at the senior levels of an architecture practice can benefit everyone: co-workers, partners, clients, and the people who use the built spaces.
Diversity of gender, race, and socio-economic background is notoriously lacking in the majority of architecture practices- even among the most forward-thinking ones. This uniformity contradicts a world full of increasingly diverse populations, constructs, and attitudes. If projects are being commissioned and used by a heterogeneous group of people- whether individuals, organisations, or communities- then it just makes (practical business) sense to have a diverse team of qualified professionals in place who can best serve them.
Think of it another way… Given that roughly 50% of the world’s population is female, then a lack of females on the job means that firms are out of touch with half the people they are trying to serve.
This is on top of the fact that women tend to excel in areas that are often difficult for their male colleagues. They can typically listen more easily to clients and team members, work collaboratively, and are not inhibited when it comes to asking questions in order to better understand something.
They happen to be great designers, too!