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88% women say having children puts them at disadvantage

In contrast, 62 per cent of men think having kids has no effect on a father’s career in architecture

In contrast, just 15 per cent of mothers feel that having children places men at a disadvantage in the profession.

The AJ Women in Architecture survey revealed the perceived effect of having children remains a strong source of anxiety among women in the profession: one respondent even said she had hidden the fact she had kids from her employer ‘for fear it would hinder her career’.

Looking back at previous surveys, there has been a notable fall in the number of men who believe having children adversely affects a woman’s career in architecture, down from 74 per cent in 2013 to 64 per cent in 2014, suggesting there may be a shift in the male perception of mothers in architecture. Almost an equal number (62 per cent) of men in 2014 thought having kids would have no effect on a father’s career.

The number of female respondents with children working part-time has decreased by 14 points from last year – down from 46 per cent to 32 per cent. Of these part-time workers, 52 per cent earn less than £26,000. Fewer female senior staff are working part-time. The survey revealed that, while 56 per cent of female associates, directors and partners have children, of these, just 23 per cent work part-time.

WIA Survey

Most of the women architects with children are between the ages of 36 and 40. Forty per cent of mothers say they had difficulty resuming their careers after the birth of their children. Many did not take the full amount of maternity leave available, with some taking less than two months. While just 13 per cent of architect fathers cut down their hours after having children, 42 per cent of mothers returned to the same job with reduced hours after having children. In the survey, part-time and flexible working is often described as being discouraged by employers, with some respondents saying they felt it was ‘not necessarily welcomed’, or that the ‘office culture made it hard to take advantage of’.

Of architect-mothers, 14 per cent were sole practitioners, and 13 per cent had set up their own practice after the birth of their children. Many cited the flexibility of working for themselves as beneficial, with one respondent saying: ‘As a sole practitioner I can tailor my schedule around my children, working at night if I can’t work during the day.’ Almost 10 per cent of new fathers set up on their own after having children, just 3 per cent fewer than mothers. Of those male respondents who went solo, most cited ‘flexibility’ as the reason. It suggests both sexes would benefit from a profession with more opportunities for flexible working in practice – a move likely to increase staff retention of parents in general and reduce the number of architects setting up alone.

WIA Survey

Does your work provide any child-related benefits or other areas of support and understanding?

‘Part time mothers are able to start and finish early but often work through lunch breaks to get work done.’

‘We are just flexible. If something comes up and they need to leave the office to attend something then it is allowed.’

‘Flexible hours and part time work are tolerated but not necessarily encourage of welcomed.’

‘I have no benefits. I am self-employed, if I want compressed hours I have to pay more to collaborators.’

‘Some young mothers have different schedules, like not working on Fridays. We also have a lactation room.’

‘At university – yes. In practice – no.’

‘In theory the company offers flexible hours and it is utilised in most studios in the company. In our studio it is frowned upon by the director in charge as he claims that we need to be available during the same periods as our clients. No other childcare support is offered. That fact that just 10 per cent of our workforce are female speaks volumes.’

‘Benefits exist in theory but office culture makes it hard to take advantage of them.’

‘Flexible working, compressed hours, childcare vouchers – whatever it takes to retain our people.’

‘As a sole practitioner I can tailor my schedule around my children, working at night if I can’t work during the day. It works for me. I don’t know how women work in architecture otherwise.’

‘Flexible schedules and a windowless room in the basement to pump breast milk – definitely provides support and understanding.’

‘I have my own practice. I take the time I need for my kids. But I also take the hit with my practice: I can’t carry a full project load and I have mixed success supporting employees.’

About the survey

More people than ever completed this year’s AJ Women in Architecture online survey: 926 respondents took part – 710 women and 216 men.

Fifty-three per cent of all those who responded to the survey are architects, but it was also filled out by developers, PRs, consultants, structural engineers, quantity surveyors, academics and students, giving a broad insight into the way women are perceived across the industry.

The respondents are predominantly young – 80 per cent are under 40. Half of these are architects, including associates, directors, partners and sole practitioners. More than a third are students.

Of the architects who responded, almost a third are based in London; 24 per cent are in the rest of England, 8 per cent in Scotland, less than 1 per cent in Wales, 2 per cent in Northern Ireland, and 4 per cent are based in the rest of Europe.

Interestingly, the number of respondents completing the survey in the USA has increased sixfold, from just four per cent in 2013 to nearly a quarter – 24 per cent of responses – this year. The increase is likely linked to the impact of Denise Scott Brown’s interview with the AJ last year, which sparked international coverage of the petition to have Scott Brown retroactively included in her partner Robert Venturi’s 1991 Pritzker Prize win.

This survey, now in its third year, is a vital part of the AJ’s on-going campaign to raise the status and profile of women in architecture. The data, collected annually, allows the AJ to track progress in perception, equal pay and position over time. The survey also informs the Women in Architecture campaign’s focus for the coming year in response to concerns shared by women in the industry.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Hannah Corlett

    Delighted that over 50% of those short-listed for the Emerging Woman Architect of the Year Award have children. Showing that it doesn't have to be either or.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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