With International Women’s Day just around the corner, we’re looking at the field of architecture and its desperate need for female representation; particularly in the upper echelons of major architecture firms, where women occupy only 10% of high ranking jobs. In fact, of the world’s leading architecture practices, 16 have no women in senior positions at all. These are both statistics lifted from a bumper survey by Dezeen in November 2017.
Requiring a relatively long period of study, fresh-faced architecture graduates are older than in other professions. With parenthood being more burdensome on the female career, these extra few years of study matter a great deal to ambitious female architects.
Perhaps predictably, then, the male to female ratio widens steadily at each ascending tier of management. Combining senior and middle management positions in the World Architecture 100, or WA100, women hold just 18% of those roles. To contextualise this, 39% of new architects in the UK in 2016 were women. This indicates that there’s still a way to go when it comes to attracting women to study architecture, but the disparity between new female architects and female architects in middle management positions and above is cause for serious concern. It is also clearly cause for embarrassment, as some of the WA100 went so far as to delete web pages after the Dezeen survey exposed the gender imbalances in their respective organisations.
In medicine and law, two other disciplines that are historically male-dominated, there is nearly twice the rate of female practitioners. Why, then, is architecture such a tough field in which to be female? When it comes to the use of architecture, the people inside buildings are not overwhelmingly male. They are simply the populace, irrespective of sex or gender.
By now, there’s enough credible evidence to show that diversity in senior teams makes for more successful businesses. Firms that continue to pursue an outdated approach to gender in the architectural workplace are, in the long run, working against themselves. If the medical and legal professions can progress towards a truer representation of female talent, it’s time for architecture to step up.