Why gender-equity in the architecture profession benefits everyone

Australia has plenty of female architecture graduates but few make it to the top of their profession and many more leave the industry. Companies and advocacy groups want this to change.

Did you hear the one about the three senior female architects walking into a bar? Probably not, since few women make it into the higher echelons of the profession – although they make up about 40 per cent of architectural graduates in Australia.

Research by advocacy group Parlour shows that while participation rates for women in architecture have improved over the past two decades, female practitioners still face many career obstacles.

The latest census by Parlour shows that female architects do not enjoy the same remuneration as their male colleagues, often work part-time and rarely secure top executive positions.

Report author Dr Gill Matthewson says while there has been a steady growth in the number of women entering the profession, they continue to leave at an alarming rate.

“The past three decades have seen strong graduation rates, and yet the ski-slope of women’s participation persists,” she says.

Parlour believes that Australian women are not only entitled to pursue a career in architecture, but that female architects bring special skills and insights which help to strengthen the profession.

“Parlour’s research and advocacy is based on the premise that greater diversity in the architecture profession will improve its ability to meet the complex, challenging and changing needs of the future,” says Matthewson. “Bluntly put, diversity ensures a stronger profession that ultimately produces better architecture.”

This is a view shared by Brickworks, which recently hosted Parlour events in Queensland and South Australia aimed at encouraging and supporting female architects in Australia.

Matthewson says the 2016 Parlour Census paints a very mixed picture for female architects in this country – more women are entering the profession, but the pay gap between men and women persists and few female architects become senior executives.

“Women’s representation at senior levels is still disappointingly low,” she says. “As owners, women on the whole still tend to cluster in smaller businesses – although they have increased in numbers overall.”

The 2016 Census concludes that female architects in Australia continue to face gender-based bias and discrimination, and urges renewed efforts by the profession to address the situation.

“The message of the power and importance of equity needs to be activated in every nook and cranny of the architecture profession, individually and collectively,” says Matthewson.

Gender bias in architecture is, of course, not unique to Australia. A survey by Dezeen, the UK-based architecture and design magazine, found that only three of the world’s 100 biggest architectural firms are headed by women – and that women occupy only 10 per cent of the highest-ranking jobs in the top firms.

While the work of architects such as Gae Aulenti, Kazuyo Sejima and Zaha Hadid has generated worldwide acclaim, many other female architects still struggle to break through the glass ceiling.

American architect and commentator Lance Hosey argues that promoting and supporting more female architects is not simply about gender equity but has many other benefits for society.

“Women improve the entire triple line of social, economic and environmental value,” he writes. “Whatever the strategy, the profession of architecture urgently needs more diversity.”

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