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Pay and hours put girls off design

Low starting salaries and long hours are the main factors which deter schoolgirls from pursuing a career in architecture, a government-backed workshop into alternative careers for women revealed last week.

The findings, from a group of about 20 London pupils aged between 14 and 16, show that the profession is facing an uphill struggle to improve on today's 11 per cent representation of women in the qualified ranks.

The girls were shocked to be told that starting salaries could be as low as £12,000 for a newly qualified architect. Many revealed that alternative career options, such as law and medicine, were more attractive because of their better financial rewards, even though architecture offers the attraction of design work.

The event, hosted by Pringle Brandon Architects, was part of a 'taster day' initiative by women's minister Tessa Jowell to introduce women to careers which defy gender stereotypes. In architecture, this culminated in more than 80 schoolgirls descending on the RIBA headquarters this week to design and plan an entire streetscape. Arup and the Richard Rogers Partnership have also organised events.

At Pringle Brandon the girls were taken around two projects and given an opportunity to fire questions at a panel including partner Jack Pringle and other staff.

The girls asked if architects have time for a social life; was it hard to set up a business on your own; and whether there is a really competitive market for getting a job.

Pringle told them that the hours are long but a social approach to work helps generate more commissions and better ideas; it took six years, often working 16-hour days, to build up his practice; and that recessions can hit job prospects hard.

The answers left many thinking that architecture sounded interesting but is a hard slog.

Traditional barriers to entry for women in the profession were played down by many of the girls. Charlotte Murrain, 14, said that the length of the course does not deter her. Meanwhile, Tazmyn Marks-Wolsey, 15, said that the desire to have children would not put her off a job in architecture: 'I want a steady career before I have children.' However, for Murriam Hussain, 16, the lack of female and ethnic-minority role models in the profession was an issue.

'It looks like it's a lot of hard work.

It is money that worries me the most.' Niamh Brennan-Brenatt,15 'Being able to travel is a major incentive, the minus would be the low salary.'Charlotte Murrain,14 'I'd be worried that you work so hard you'd run out of good ideas.'

Tazmyn Marks-Wolsey,15 'It's just not enough money and there's no-one here as a role model for me.' Murriam Hussain,16 (left).'I've enjoyed the day but I'm not going into this line of work, there's too much hard work.' Amina Begum,16 (right) 'The salaries are quite low, I suppose they don't matter if you're doing something you like.' Funda Yilmaz, 15 (left). 'It looks cool because you get to design stuff and see it through.' Rubeka Luthfa,15 (right)

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