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’.