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When we first asked the practices in our AJ100 survey to indicate how many women they employed, it was intended as a small silent reprimand, a statistical reminder of the extent to which large architectural practices were predominantly male. This year's figures (page 34-35) tell a different story. Taken as an average, 22 per cent of the qualified architects employed by the country's 100 largest practices are women; a far cry from the 46 per cent of the total national workforce which is female, but a marked increase on the number of female architects, which hovers at around 18 per cent.

A preponderance of women tends to indicate an employer which does not make unreasonable demands on its staff. As long as women shoulder the bulk of responsibility for childcare, they will gravitate towards employers who can guarantee proper contracts and fixed hours. There is nothing like impending maternity leave to focus the mind on the advantages of the corporate security blanket, and nothing like systematic sleep deprivation to put paid to the notion that there is something inherently romantic about working into the small hours of the night.

Large practices, of course, are well placed to grant such fundamental support. It is easier to cast a benign eye on maternity leave when the dent on the overall workforce is comparatively small, and to operate fixed hours when the workow is guaranteed. But there are signs that large practices are striving to offer rather more.

In this year's AJ100 Awards, Employer of the Year received more entries than any other category.

The winner, Assael Architecture (female architects: 25 per cent), offers an exemplary benefits package plus a few surprises, such as a couple of round-the-world air tickets and an additional 20 days paid leave for anybody who stays at the practice for 10 years. The architectural profession is starting to apply its creativity to the way it rewards its staff.

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