Shock survey results as the AJ launches campaign to raise women architects’ status
Data from the AJ’s first Women in Architecture survey show that 47 per cent of women claim that men get paid more for the same work, and almost two-thirds believe the building industry has yet to accept the authority of the female architect
Nearly 700 women completed the survey, which quizzed women about career challenges as well as sexual discrimination, children, pay and role models. The survey was open to all women working in the built environment. The major investigation is part of a wider campaign by the AJ to raise the status of women in architecture, which includes the launch of three new awards (see report attached).
Worrying findings included claims by nearly two-thirds of women that they have suffered sexual discrimination during their career in architecture, and that 22 per cent experience sexual discrimination on a monthly basis or more often.
Zaha Hadid was named as the woman who had made the greatest contribution to women in architecture. But many felt that there was a lack of female role models, and Hadid drew divisive responses.
The Iraqi-born Stirling Prize winner was praised for showing how ‘female architects can be well respected and successful’, but criticised for failing to achieve a work/life balance: ‘She has achieved fantastic things over the course of her career, but at what cost? Sacrificing family for your career is not being a role model.’
Eighty per cent of women thought having children put them at a disadvantage in architecture. In contrast, only eight per cent felt raising a family would harm their male counterparts’ careers.
More than a third said that they had difficulty going back to work after starting a family, with many respondents lashing out at inflexible working conditions, ‘long hours and expectation of unpaid overtime’.
Although around 40 per cent of all architecture students are female, just 20 per cent of British architects in practice are women, according to statistics from the ARB. Richard Waite
Women in Architecture Survey Results in full
The AJ Women in Architecture survey was open for one week to all women working within the construction industry. 671 women responded; 48 per cent were architects, eight per cent architectural assistants, and students formed 24 per cent of respondents.
Low salaries and the disparity between what male and female colleagues earn remains a major issue within the profession, and a source of huge frustration for many of those completing the AJ survey.
An astonishing 47 per cent of female respondents believed that they would earn more if they were male, with 44 per cent claiming that male colleagues who do the same or a similar job at their practice earned more than them.
Anecdotal evidence backed up these figures on pay inequality. One respondent who gained a distinction at Part 2 was offered a position at a leading practice, with a salary £3,000 less per annum than her partner, who was also a Part 2 in the same firm. She said: ‘I negotiated a better salary but it was still £500 less than my partner, who only graduated with a 2:1 from the same university.’
Respondents’ remarks on the perceived gender salary gap also suggested that men might be more brazen when it comes to negotiating pay. One woman said: ‘Having to argue for every pay increase means some women are paid less. Men tend to find it easier to confront bosses.’
There is however a reticence to discuss earnings with colleagues, with 54 per cent stating that they did not think that everyone should know what their colleagues earned. Some believed that they will face disciplinary proceedings for comparing earnings, but since the Equality Act 2010 this has not been the case.
The level of pay in the profession generally was a concern for most of those surveyed. Nearly two-thirds of women, working both full- and part-time, earned less than £29,000 a year (60 per cent), with almost a quarter bringing in less than £19,000 per annum (23 per cent).
An alarmingly low nine per cent of those working full-time were earning between £41,000 and £50,000 (the typical pay for an associate being £46,000, according to the AJ100 median pay figures, see AJ 19.05.11). And just nine per cent of our respondents earned director-level pay, more than £51,000, suggesting the majority of female architects hit a glass ceiling at some point in their career when it comes to pay and promotion.
Of those women in full-time employment, 24 per cent earn between £30,000 and £40,000; the median pay from the 2011 AJ100 survey puts the average architect’s salary at £37,000.
For part-time workers, salaries which might also have to cover childcare seemed particularly low, with the majority (26 per cent) reporting earnings of between £19,000 and £25,000.
Many pointed out that some women will have only just finished their seven years’ training when they start considering maternity leave and the possibility of part-time work. ‘You generally qualify in your mid to late twenties, so it does feel like you don’t achieve a great deal before stopping.’
Thirty-five per cent of the women we surveyed thought that in the current economic climate, pay parity was likely to decrease. As one respondent noted: ‘The recession will have a greater impact on women – the profession finds it difficult to accommodate part-time working, a much more important issue for women with young children.’
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63 per cent) have experienced sexual discrimination in their architectural careers. Incidents vary from the subtle – ‘being given more secretarial work to do than my male Part 1 colleagues’ and ‘difference in treatment on return from maternity leave on part-time basis’ – to the blatant: ‘I have been asked if I’m menstruating, been told my salary will be reduced as a result of being pregnant, and have been taken off jobs on site when pregnant.’
Fortunately sexual discrimination does not appear to happen often, with respondents witnessing it either ‘very infrequently’ (32 per cent) or ‘never’ (18 per cent).
Contrary to many of the responses from leading architects published later in this issue (see for instance Cindy Walters on page 46), respondents to the survey claim discrimination is more likely to occur on site than within the architectural practice.
As one woman noted: ‘I’ve never experienced discrimination within architecture, but when working with builders this occurs approximately quarterly.’
Another wrote: ‘Even if the people in your practice and your client respect you, going on a site visit dressed appropriately and trying to appear professional is somewhat undermined when you are being wolf-whistled at by builders.’
Little wonder then that only 17 per cent of women taking part in the survey believe that the building industry has fully accepted the authority of the female architect. Most, a huge 61 per cent, believe that this hasn’t happened yet, while a further 22 per cent aren’t sure.
Others believe that professional associations are to blame for the demise in the authority of both male and female architects because, as one woman puts it: ‘Organisations that should be looking after the profession in the long-term (such as the ARB and the RIBA) are too archaic, and largely out of touch with the profession as a whole.’
Most agreed. A whopping 82 per cent said that the RIBA should be doing more to tackle the gender imbalance and improve the retention of women within the industry.
Raising a family and working in architecture is regarded as a big challenge for 80 per cent of women, who felt that having children put them at a disadvantage career-wise. By contrast, only eight per cent felt that children hurt their male counterparts’ careers. Respondents reported that there are currently few practice-based part-time positions, especially senior project-based roles, so having children harms the primary carer by virtue of having to decrease the amount of hours they dedicate to the profession. And, as respondents stated throughout this survey, this still generally tends to be women.
Most part-time workers who took the survey were aged between 30 and 40, and more than two-thirds (69 per cent) had children. They comprise mostly architects working in the private sector (32 per cent) followed by partners, directors and sole practitioners (13 per cent). Of those who worked for themselves, 46 per cent said that they became self-employed or set up their own practice since becoming parents – although not always willingly: ‘I experienced a lack of willingness to consider flexible or part-time working after I finished maternity leave, effectively forcing me to resign my post and set up as self-employed’.
However, others enjoy the freedom and flexibility that being their own boss can offer. ‘As a sole practitioner, I am able to work the hours I want to. This may translate into less pay, but I like calling the shots.’
Another respondent found employers’ fear of flexible and part-time work ‘ridiculous in this age of remote access, iPhones etc’. She added: ‘It is possible to arrange your week and manage your time to suit client requirements, but it takes a well-organised office which unfortunately does not describe many architectural practices.’
A male profession
‘Architects are seen as middle-aged men in waistcoats and bow ties, and often are!’ noted one woman. The architectural profession remains statistically male-dominated – and thanks to the recession it is now even more so. According to 2010 statistics from the ARB, 20 per cent of the UK profession is female – a rise of five per cent since 2008. The majority of respondents believe the profession is ‘too heavily male’ (63 per cent), although some stated that this merely ‘reflects the work culture, its demands and a woman’s other priorities’.
Some women outlined areas within architecture where women seem better represented – the ‘design’ side and the ‘softer’ side, such as residential and interiors. But it appears that some women are narrowing their field of expertise while still at university because, as one woman notes, ‘it seemed like architecture was 95 per cent guys’.
The ‘practical work’ and being ‘a lead architect on site’ is something that more women would like to experience, but survey responses suggest that especially for those who work part-time, this still isn’t an option. This might explain why most (55 per cent) felt that there are currently not as many opportunities for women as there are for men in architecture. Ann-Marie Corvin