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‘Alarm’ as number of women architects falls for first time in nearly a decade

Statistics from the Fees Bureau show only 19 per cent of the profession is female, and twice as many women architects are unemployed compared to men

The number of practising female architects has dropped an ‘alarming’ five per cent since 2008, new figures show.

According to the latest UK statistics from the Fees Bureau, the number of women in practice fell from 25 per cent in 2008 to 19 per cent this year – the first drop since 2002.

The news comes despite statistics recently released by the ARB that suggest an increase in women registering (AJ 21.10.10).

The UK remains behind Greece and Spain, where 40 per cent of architects are women, and Scandinavia, where the figure is closer to 50 per cent.

Aziz Mirza, author of Architects Earnings 2010/11,said: ‘We’ve had two years of recession and that’s two years when women have been affected more by redundancy than men.

‘We have also noted the percentage of women not working for other reasons is six per cent this year, which is an increase on last year’s figure [of three per cent].’

Mirza speculated: ‘This could be [due to] raising a family, doing a caring role, having a year off, or going back to full or part-time education.’

Jane Kennedy, chair of Purcell Miller Tritton, said: ‘A five per cent fall in two years is a really alarming drop, when making redundancies there are more women working part time and they are the first to go.’ Just 68 per cent of female architects work full time compared to 86 per cent for men.

Worryingly, twice as many female architects, six per cent of those questioned, are now unemployed compared to just three percent of the men polled.

Architects' employment by gender

Source: The Fees Bureau

Architects’ employment by gender

Alison Brooks, director of Alison Brooks Architects thinks the cost of childcare is the ‘number one reason’ women leave the profession. She said: ‘This is a policy issue requiring government legislation and is the obvious way of addressing the female “brain drain” affecting the UK work force.’

Collated from a sample of 1,800 respondents, the survey shows salaried male architects in private practice receive on average seven per cent more than their female counterparts. Among sole practitioners, men’s pay is nearly 17 per cent higher than women’s.

RIBA president-elect Angela Brady, who organised the Women in Architecture conference earlier this month, argues architecture’s ‘long-hours culture’ is to blame. She says men shouldn’t be paid more ‘because they do the same job in longer hours’.

She said: ‘People should ask more: “Am I being paid the same salary as someone with the same level of responsibility of work?”’

Architects' median earnings by age and field of employment, 2010

Source: The Fees Bureau

Architects’ median earnings by age and field of employment, 2010

Pascale Scheurer, founding director of Surface to Air Architects, thinks men ‘overvalue’ themselves in interviews whereas women accept working for less. She added: ‘Men are also more likely to ask for a pay rise at every performance review.’

Universities have achieved close to 40 per cent female participation on architecture courses, indicating that the profession is still failing to make use of the pool of qualified labour. Nigel Coates, head of architecture at the Royal College of Art, said: ‘These are surprising statistics, especially since women are often more articulate than men, and think laterally more easily.’

However Robert Adam, director of Adam Architecture said: ‘If there is no impediment to joining the profession, the fact that construction is dominated by men may be telling you something else: they have different preferences.’

 

Jessica Reynolds, director, vPPR 

Jessica Reynolds, director, vPPR

Jessica Reynolds, director, vPPR

It was a clear part of our business plan, as an all-female firm, to kick-start our practice at a relatively young age before we became committed to family and children and while we have the considerable amount of energy needed to put into a new venture. Because we have an all-female directorship we can set up an equal structure with regards to maternity leave and family commitments in the future.

In running a business it is clear that men of a childbearing age are more employable because the terms of maternity and paternity leave are different. It is not an accident that many well-known female architects are childless.

Architectural education is so long that it is difficult to become fully licensed before your late twenties, which is also the time when many women are thinking about starting a family. The current economic situation exacerbates this trend, as many women who have recently been laid off would rather start a family than try to re-enter such a difficult marketplace.

 

Sherin Aminossehe, vice president, HOK Planning Group

Sherin Aminossehe, vice president, HOK Planning Group

Sherin Aminossehe, vice president, HOK Planning Group

We need to challenge the ridiculous stereotype that says construction and architecture isn’t for women by encouraging girls at schools across the country to understand that it’s a great career path just like law and medicine which have similarly arduous professional registration and long working hours.

 

Soraya Khan, founding partner, Theis + Khan 

Soraya Khan, founding partner, Theis + Khan

Soraya Khan, founding partner, Theis + Khan

The perception of architecture being a ‘man’s world’ is not actually the reason that women have been leaving the profession, because I don’t believe this is the case anymore. The real reason is that it’s the person with the lowest salary in a family with childcare needs who is most likely to sacrifice their job and this points inevitably to women. The combination of poor salaries and long, inflexible working hours push women away from the profession.

 

Further comment

 

Karen Cook, partner at PLP Architecture

Our profession is a creative one, but, it is also client service led.  As in many professions, clients demand a level of commitment which requires long hours. These unpredictable conditions can be difficult for everyone, but in particular women who have family commitments.

In order to preserve the best talent across the industry, it is important for firms to offer solutions. Allowing staff to work part time, particularly in the later delivery stages of a project, when the time programme is typically steadier, is one option. The economic downturn resulted in many jobs that were post planning permission, but pre-construction, being put on hold and may explain the temporary decline in the number of practicing female architects. This decline is not a reflection of the emerging talent in the industry.

Finally to maintain staff retention and ensure that women are represented at a senior level, architects in senior positions can mentor less experienced staff, both women and men, by giving them the confidence to build on their skills and assert themselves in leadership positions.

 

Adrian Dobson, RIBA director of practice

These figures are of significant concern to the RIBA, particularly because the findings corroborate closely with findings from the RIBA Future Trends Survey – in January 2009 women constituted 28 [per cent] of architects employed by the practices in the survey, whereas by September 2010 this had dropped to 22 [per cent].

This is obviously something the Institute is taking seriously, and we have a number of initiatives in place to help address these issues in the profession. The RIBA’s Return to Practice initiative is run in conjunction with London Metropolitan University, and helps qualified architects who have taken a career break refresh their architectural and business skills, equipping them to get back into practice. The RIBA umbrella group Architects for Change also contains the Women in Architecture group, which has been established for ten years.

 

Julia Barfield,managing director of Marks Barfield Architects

What is clear from the graph is that recessions hit women much worse than men. It seems that during boom times the gap narrows and as soon as hard times come, attitudes harden and we are put back years.  What I always find shocking is how far behind we are compared to the medical and legal professions.  (I have tried to find the latest statistics but failed I am afraid – maybe you can find them – I remember reading that those professions are virtually 50 /50 [per cent]).

In 20 years in practice we have never found it hard to employ 50 [per cent] women and it wouldn’t occur to us to pay anything other than parity.  I don’t understand what the problem is.

 

Cany Ash, partner at Ash Sakula Architects

Not having children and not working for larger clients is clearly not the answer. The level playing field supposed by European procurement regimes is voraciously time hungry and grossly skewed away from small practice and sole practitioners. Breaking down these artificial barriers which shroud the reality of a project is just very important if we want better design in the UK. 

The obvious next step will [be] opening the field to real competition; rewarding design and technical skill is the only way we can keep energetic enterprising women in the profession. Good architects are inventive and can work in an amazing variety of interesting and appropriate ways. They also hold out for the right fees and are not scared of challenging confused briefs. But women seem particularly bothered by waste and missed opportunities in architecture. If the sheer dreariness of risk-averse bureaucracy continues to waste our time, who knows how many more of us will leave?

 

Amy Bodiam, Bartlett part II student

[With] the recession comes cutbacks in staff and women are more likely to be the victims as employers look for employees who are flexible around busy schedules, can work long hours and who don’t have complex lifestyles to accommodate.

If men consistently receive higher pay than women, women will not want to stay in a work place particularly if the environment is very macho. Women are perhaps more sensitive to their surroundings and in order to produce their best work need a supportive environment.

Women are usually great at multi-tasking and like variety in their work. The option of working on a freelance and/or part time basis may well be more attractive to women, especially when they have young children rather than spending all day in front of a computer screen in an office.

Lack of job security is one of the effects of the recession. A limited number of vacancies offering full time/permanent work means women are more likely to look elsewhere in another field, or even country offering more stability.

Perhaps the building trade have not fully accepted the authority of the female architect - friends have experienced builders ignoring their opinions and criticising their views. 

I think the government should fund a large, meticulous research project to investigate the issue and draw up the number of recommendations to redress the imbalance. Guidelines on making offices more female friendly should also be published. Employers could be required by law to employ a certain percentage of women.

Women should be supported to set up their own practices.

Increasing awareness of women’s work and thoughts about their position within the profession will help promote the fact that women are competent practitioners who should be included at all levels, whether it be CAD, design work or meeting with contractors/client onsite.

 

Judith Loesing, director at East Architects

At East, 12 of our 21 employees are women. However at award events […] the room is usually filled with white males aged over fifty. Things clearly get difficult for women after they have children.

We found that being flexible with working hours, allowing time for dropping off and collecting children helps everyone to lead a life more healthy and happy. This is just as much about fathers not daring to speak up for civilized hours. Not many people like meetings before nine or after six, you just sometimes have to be the first to admit it.

 

 

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