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Women 'forced out by overt sexism'

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Architecture is institutionally sexist and regularly flouts equal opportunities legislation, a new study has found. Many practices make working life untenable for women, forcing them to leave the profession early in their careers, the survey for campaigning group Women in Architecture will officially reveal in May.

The AJ has learnt that the 'Why Women Leave Architecture?' survey - commissioned to explain why women make up 37 per cent of architecture students but just 11 per cent of practitioners - paints an unpleasant image of working hours and workplace culture.

University of the West of England lecturer Anne de Graft, one of the researchers, said there is also 'very real overt sexism'. 'There are many reasons for the small number of female architects, ' she said. 'But a culture of discrimination is one of the most important. There is also a problem with over-work and long hours. Architects who are mothers are normally expected to work the same hours as single men.'

She branded the profession's attitude to motherhood as shameful. 'Many practices have failed to keep up with the new regulations. Few allow for flexible working or turning part-time. There is still the common perception, both from the public and from practitioners, of 'the architect' as a man, which will be very hard to overcome, ' she added.

The chair of the RIBA's planning policy committee, Wendy Shillam, founding partner of Shillam + Smith, backed the survey's findings, labelling the profession 'intrinsically sexist, racist and xenophobic'. But she disagreed with some of the reasons why. 'I do not think antisocial hours are the main reason. It is just that it can be a terribly sexist profession.'

Shillam warned that Britain could only suffer from the on-going problem. 'If we ignore 50 per cent of the potential architects in the country, then our architecture will only be 50 per cent as good as it could be, ' Shillam added.

However, Clare Baker, an architect at S&P Architects - a practice where females make up just 2.5 per cent of the employees - dismissed the report's findings. 'There are times when I have found it extremely tough working in this profession, ' Baker said. 'This is not down to gender, rather the changing complexity of the industry.'

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