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No more excuses: we demand equal pay for women in architecture, says Christine Murray

Discrimination in architecture is insidious. Count the female directors in most practices and the glass-ceiling ratio tells its own story

I’m not one for conspiracy theories. I believe it’s simply laziness that allows the unequal pay and the diminished status of women in architecture to continue: laziness in questioning personal preconceptions and sexist attitudes, combined with the sinful habit, in the badly paid architectural profession, of paying people as little as you can get away with.

If there was any doubt of the need for a campaign to promote equal pay for women in architecture, the results of the second annual AJ Women in Architecture survey should quash it. The survey confirms that last year’s results still hold true - women architects are frequently paid less than their male equivalents, while female directors are almost always paid less, and by a considerable margin. I don’t need to remind you that paying unequal wages for the same job function is against the law.

During the making of this special edition of the magazine and while planning the upcoming AJ Women in Architecture Awards and Luncheon - which will take place on 22 March - I came across a seminal essay from 1975 by Denise Scott Brown, who will deliver a special pre-recorded address at the lunch event. ‘Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture’ chronicles Scott Brown’s experience of working as an equal partner in an unequal society. She writes:

‘Some young women in architecture question the need for the feminist movement, claiming to have experienced no discrimination. My concern is that, although school is not a non-discriminatory environment, it is probably the least discriminatory one they will encounter in their careers. By the same token, the early years in practice bring little differentiation between men and women. It is as they advance that difficulties arise, when firms and clients shy away from entrusting high-level responsibility to women. On seeing their male colleagues draw out in front of them, women who lack a feminist awareness are likely to feel that their failure to achieve is their own fault.’

In the context of our survey results, Scott Brown’s comments resonate. The implication is that discrimination in architecture is insidious - gradually worsening as you climb the career ladder. We don’t need Scott Brown or the Women in Architecture survey to tell us this - count the number of female directors in most practices, and this glass-ceiling ratio tells its own story.

The first step in making a change is observation. I urge all practices to have a look at their salary bands and determine whether they are treating staff equally. The next step is to enact salary bands: thresholds determined by job description and experience. This will ensure that project architects and directors are paid equally, regardless of gender.

As for preconceptions about parental leave and flexible working, these must be challenged. They are elements that reflect a lifestyle change that both women and men are calling for. It may take time for some of the more old-fashioned practices to see the light. In the meantime, in the words of Alison Brooks: ‘Never give up’.

Readers' comments (8)

  • Some philosophical banter if I may.

    I’d be for a complete reversal, but as a househusband (a veritable Mrs Bloggs nee Toner as explained later), i.e. as an unwanted/unloved architectural assistant male sole in search/need of a breadwinner - not unlike the female masses in the recent past, dared they [likewise] dream of having an architectural career...

    Society however doesn't change let alone equilibrate overnight, in a mere 100 years. It’ll take time for either ideal, including even to get back to the original husband breadwinners/housewives deal, perhaps not yet entirely a thing of the past... The salary discrimination, ethical or not, I think simply evidences an underlying societal system at play at any given point in our industry’s employment [or livelihoods] structure.

    If gender equality in salaries really could transpire in our society, sociology not my subject, would it be not in the hands of a society that can eventually and truly yield the elusive gender-less house-spouse, if possible (?)

    Further to my opening paragraph, if salary discrimination could ever be reversed, jokingly, i.e. reciprocally interchanged, wouldn't this require the following change: i.e. imagining if Ms was the new Mr; and Mirr as a new Miss, where the single male such as I would be happily referred to as a Mirr Joe Soap until that elusive Ms Bloggs comes along wanting to change his surname to Mrs Joe Bloggs. Won’t I be packing shelves before that’ll ever happen, damn?

    Let’s get Alain de Botton’s views on the topic too, teeheehee!!

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  • And for that matter let's also hear Jane Duncan's view too, the newly appointed RIBA Equality & Diversity Champion charged with the following agenda, that RIBA has just released here:

    http://www.architecture.com/TheRIBA/AboutUs/InfluencingPolicy/Policy/EqualityAndDiversity/DiversityNewsandEvents.aspx

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  • here's the missing part of the URL, which wouldn't paste:

    y/Policy/EqualityAndDiversity/DiversityNewsandEvents.aspx

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  • More to get more off my chest!

    Again hypothetically and jokingly, regarding my reciprocal discrimination scenario, if I weren't to become an architect’s househusband, spouse-less due to my shyness, then I’d quite happily accept a smaller salary as a dying (or resurgent) breed of worker.

    I'd accept either-or in a flash rather than having to claim much more unemployment benefit than I already have (almost 4.5 years since real permanent architectural employment), or should I say 7 months officially, i.e. from the date that the DWP refused to pay a week's benefit to me over unintentionally missing an adviser appointment with “...no good cause...” according to a recent tribunal over my appeal. And BTW that was incidentally a female judge who’d judged wrongly!

    How about having a meritocracy - rather than a kakistocracy - of gays, guys, gals, blacks, whites, rich, poor,... etc.?

    The principle of livelihood is quite simply coming before that of capabilities. Let’s indeed try to stop the rot RIBA or at least expose it for consultation: not forgetting there’s been over a century of how the anomaly has been dealt with in the past – let’s examine the history and facts transparently before a future generation (or dark ages) beats us to it!

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  • Great that many offices are maintaining livelihoods at all costs during the recession, whatever the discriminations might be. A bigger issue must be that it needs to do this feat on a fairer basis - for instance so that no capable person/s are left searching for career leads over the best part of a decade, if they opt like me not to give up on searching for leads. I’ll of course embarrassingly plod on applying anyway for architectural jobs for as long as possible. Whether I can continue to pay professional subs for equally long will depend on how badly the welfare cuts are going to be.

    Right, it’s off my chest now! Back to my quiet self again: the non-despairing one that farcically lives off JSA to pay a raft of other livelihoods beyond my means. Good luck girls in getting your fair share!

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  • Yasmin Shariff

    Lets get serious. 21% architects in the 21st Century getting paid 26% less is a scandal and against the law. If the lawyers, medics and footsie 100 companies can achieve over 40% representation and more equal pay then there is no reason why architects can't especially when 40% of the construction budget is public sector.

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  • Maybe these statistics are the result of an over-revered profession that too many want to belong to. Lawyers and medics are naturally exclusive to those with half a brain. Architects may be anything from brainless to brainy enough inter alia to get others [assistants with architecture qualifications in the UK] to do the actual work. These statistics therefore aren't really surprising... Architecture is a naturally collaborative enterprise that is open as much to dunces as the highly intelligent.

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  • My apologies Yasmin, I picked you up wrong on the 21% statistic. I hadn't realised that you'd been referring to the female gender rather than - as I'd presumed - 'architects in general' dropping their pay to win work.

    -

    21/79 female to male registrants is very revealing, when probably 50/50 are graduating with architecture qualifications.

    Why the imbalance? Are females naturally happier to be assistants rather than architects? Do they opt to devote energies elsewhere after graduating?

    Has the Part 3 final entry test exclusion been a factor? If so, then imagine this short hypothesis to set things straight: i.e. if practices could temporarily exclude more males than females from Part 3, e.g. 1 male for every 2 or more females, until ARB says the balance is restored.

    I wonder if the registrant ratio anomaly signifies any relationship to the ‘pay equality’ issue. If so, then how and why!

    Aren't societal issues, like the mockery on my initial post, relevant to an understanding of ‘inequality’ (its origins and impetuses), i.e. to have confidence in deploring them or in how they should be engineered out - or not?

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