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The profession has to value women to become business-savvy

A profession that doesn’t value women as highly as men is never going to be business-savvy, write Rory Olcayto

Two AJ stories this past week, seemingly unrelated at first reading, are in fact closely linked. The first, ‘New survey: Architects are not business-savvy’, may not be the revelation our headline suggests - ‘Big Surprise here!’ one wag commented drily online - but as we approach our annual celebration of business success with the publication of the AJ100 in just three weeks’ time, it makes for a depressing read.

How can it be that six out of 10 practices in the RIBA-backed survey have no business plan? How come only 15 per cent bother to plan beyond one year? Small practices are the worst at this (of course they are: they’re not business-savvy enough to grow): 20 per cent of firms with less than five staff do not even bother to track their cash flow. It seems the origins of architectural practice in the UK - as a leisured gentleman’s hobby - still inform everyday practice in the 21st century. And in more ways than one: another of the survey’s findings is that only 13 per cent of practice partners and directors are women.

Which brings us to the second story: ‘Women architects earn 25 per cent less than their male counterparts, new figures released by the Office for National Statistics have revealed’. As our reporter Laura Mark notes in her story, the figures are even worse than our own findings in the AJ’s last annual Women in Architecture Survey, which showed a 14 per cent pay gap. It’s obvious that a profession that doesn’t value women as highly as men is not business-savvy.

Nevertheless, the news, when it broke online, was met with incredulity by some: one commentator refused to accept the figures and even challenged the integrity of the AJ’s reporter before conceding he - I’m guessing it was a man, because the author chose to remain anonymous - was wrong and the report was correct. Other commentators - Malcolm Hecks of Malcolm Hecks Associates and Joe Morris of Duggan Morris were similarly shocked - but demanded firm action: name and shame the firms who choose to abuse the employment rights of their women architects, they said.

The AJ, and its editor Christine Murray, who is currently on maternity leave, have consistently raised awareness around these issues. We launched our Women in Architecture campaign in 2012 and, while it has been a great success, there are always dissenting voices, some of them women, who feel gender is not central to the profession’s problems. But the dissenters must surely agree this pay gap is intolerable. RIBA president Stephen Hodder hits the nail on the head when he says not paying women the same as men for doing the same job is illegal. Think of it as a type of theft.

RIBA must act immediately and decisively. Insisting practices draw up an equality policy, as Hodder has suggested, will have no impact whatsoever.

Adieu, L’Obscurier

Since the beginning of the year we have published the diaries of L’Obscurier ‘the hugely influential artist, architect, sculptor and social engineer [who] revolutionised the way we think about the built environment and then drowned in the Mediterranean’. We celebrate the great architect’s final entry with a cover illustration by Hannah Melin that records the last moments of our hero before his fateful final swim.

If you’ve overlooked L’Obscurier, we recommend you dig out the back issues and read his diaries in one sitting. In case you hadn’t guessed, L’Obscurier is the creation of AJ regular Ian Martin, whose scriptwriting for HBO’s Emmy-nominated comedy series Veep landed him a Writers Guild award in February. Ian has been writing a weekly architecture column for very nearly 25 years now. Check out his website: martian.fm.

 

Readers' comments (3)

  • J Burden

    It's interesting to see the issues linked in this way.

    Unfair payment is a form of bullying and indicates things are dysfunctional in the leadership of that practice.

    I wonder to what extent the issue of paying women less for the same work is part of a wider orchestration. A large part is probably down to Architects' disinterest in good management procedure which allows this behaviour to go unchecked.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • It would be nice if the AJ could write an article that offered a different point of view rather than hammering bosses over paying women less than their male counterparts.

    Employers will pay their staff as little as possible, whilst maintaining the illusion of progression and fair pay, much like a carrot to a donkey. I personally have been on the receiving end of the unfair pay gap and have had to fight like mad to get myself on an equal footing (or at least I think I got level). It took several attempts and the threat of leaving before I gained equal pay with my colleagues. All bosses have favorites and all bosses are reluctant to increase their overheads, so it won't come easily.

    But instead of moaning about the issues and using manipulated survey results (comparisons need to be far more comparable than just stating women earn 25% less) , the underpaid (male and female) should directly confront their boss and be willing to take drastic action if required. This may mean leaving a practice, interviewing elsewhere to see what the market is offering or just taking a hard line with your employer.

    If as a profession we all started to have a bit more backbone and demanded a proper salary, we wouldn't have reduced our net worth as dramatically as we have in the past years. Since when has a project manager been worth more than the architect... isn't that what we used to do as part of our role???

    Unequal pay is unfair and unjust, but sadly it is rife and until we all unite and demand more as individuals, low pay and long hours will remain.

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  • Is it small practice bashing week? There is an article in BD expressing the opinion that a small practice cannot possibly change into a large practice. Here is an article saying that small practices do not have the business 'savvy' to grow. Many of the large practices around today started off small. Some practices prefer to stay that way. There are some very large practices whose lack of business acumen far surpasses anything seen in small practice: not paying their employees at all, for example.

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