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Almost 90% of female architects say having children puts them at disadvantage

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A shocking 87 per cent of female architects said having children hinder their career progression in architecture

Having children remains a key issue for women in architecture. Inflexible hours, childcare costs, maternity leave, and being ready to have a family at a key time in an architect’s career were all cited as problems by respondents to the survey.

A shocking 87 per cent of female architects said having children would put them at a disadvantage. This has changed very little since the survey first launched – down just 1 per cent from last year’s results. There is no shift in the result when just mothers give their opinion. 

When female architects with children were asked, 87 per cent again said it would put them at a disadvantage. ‘I was told by a director that I wouldn’t be able to manage being a project architect because I had to work part time due to having kids,’ recounted one woman architect. Another claimed the ARB did not help the situation. ‘The ARB does not provide an intermediate registration option designed for mothers with small children who may decide to have a short career break,’ she said.

Over two thirds of male architects (68 per cent) felt that having children would affect a female architect’s career. And, while 45 per cent of male architects with children thought it put them at a disadvantage, just 11 per cent of mothers agreed with this perception.

Women with children make up 41 per cent of those surveyed and, despite fears that having children would adversely affect a female architect’s career, they are making it to the top of firms. More than two-thirds (67 per cent) of female directors have children but of these, just 23 per cent work part time.

‘Offices are not set up to deal with part-time or flexible working’

The number of female architects who have children and work part time has increased to 40 per cent from 32 per cent in 2014, although many still remarked that practices struggle to accept part-time working among staff.

‘Architecture as a profession has been completely resistant to, and unable to embrace, part-time working as a concept and a practical reality’, said one respondent.

Another added: ‘It is a matter of trust. I feel no matter how well I prove that I can meet deadlines and get work done, working part-time, flexible hours and sometimes remotely, I am still not trusted by the partners.’

Salaries for part-time mothers are low – 51 per cent earn £27,000 or less. This is almost unchanged from last year’s results when 52 per cent had a salary in this bracket.

Female architects are also finding that wages do not cover the costs of childcare, adding another barrier to returning to work full time.

One mother commented: ‘Salaries struggle to keep up with childcare costs to make it worthwhile for many women to go back to work. Plus the time constraints and inflexibility of architectural practice make it so difficult.’

Most female architects with children are between the ages of 41 and 45, with just two per cent having children before the age of 30 – a sign that many women are waiting until they have established their careers before raising a family.

Almost half (48 per cent) of women said they had difficulties returning to their jobs after maternity leave, with some – concerned about the effect it might have on their careers – taking as little as two weeks off.

Just over half (51 per cent) of mothers reduced their hours in practice after having children, while 8 per cent left their jobs to look for work with more flexible hours.

The number of mothers setting up on their own after having children is on the rise – up to 19 per cent from 13 per cent last year. Many cite the advantages of flexibility, with one respondent saying: ‘I set up my own practice when I was pregnant with my second child because although my office were supportive, I knew I would never be able to work in the way that I would find interesting and fulfilling whilst also having the time to be with my kids.

‘It was a hard decision to choose a less secure career path when job security is arguably more important with children, but I felt I had reached a ceiling in my old office, and that being a mother became my label.’

In comparison, 21 per cent of male architects reduced their hours after having children. This has risen markedly from 2014, when it was just 13 per cent. With changes to maternity and paternity leave set to come into force in April 2015, including shared parental leave rights, we must wait to see the effect the new rules could have.

About the survey

The AJ’s Women in Architecture Survey has become a major annual event and this year, more people than ever have taken part – 1,104.

It hasn’t just been women responding: 20 per cent of responses came from men, allowing us to compare what male and female practitioners think.

As well as architects – who made up 56 per cent of respondents – clients, consultants, academics, engineers, PRs and developers also filled out the survey.

Now in its fourth year, the survey forms a vital part of The AJ’s on-going programme aimed at raising the status of women in the profession and celebrating their work.

The annual data, collected anonymously and focused this year on the UK profession alone, allows us to track progress in perception, pay equality, and gender balance over time. Previous results have been published widely in the national media, used by the RIBA, and referred to by government. 

The evidence published reveals the definitive picture of the life of a working, female architect today.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Para 5 re male architects and the effect of having children has on careers. While it is tempting to regard the 45% v 11% male/ female perception as simply specious without further analysis I daresay that the big difference must be whether part time or flexible working in support of parenting is involved. That, in my experience, seems to blight either gender's career as an architect.

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