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AJ survey reveals rise in workplace sex discrimination

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Three quarters of the 430 women architects surveyed in the AJ’s 2015  Women in Architecture Survey said they had suffered discrimination - a rise from two thirds of those polled in 2014

For the first time the annual survey asked where these issues had arisen. The results showed a shocking 62 per cent of female architects had experienced discrimination in the office compared with 50 per cent while on site.

Bullying is also on the rise. More than 40 per cent of female architects claimed they had been bullied, with 70 per cent of those saying it occurred within the studio environment.

RIBA president Stephen Hodder said the revelations were ‘unacceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated’, while architect Yasmin Shariff said: ‘It is alarming that the already poor performance figures are getting worse and happening in practices and in our institutes.’

She added: ‘Speaking from personal experience, no contractor would dare bully me but my peers would not think twice about having a stab.’

But the survey did show signs of hope elsewhere. Salaries are improving across the board for both men and women. The number of architects of either gender working full-time and earning £33,000-£60,000 a year has increased from 49 per cent last year to 60 per cent.

However, there remains a pay imbalance between men and women, with the problems starting on entry to the profession.

Fifty per cent of full-time male year-out students earn £21-26,000, compared to just 41 per cent of their female counterparts. Almost 30 per cent of female year-out students earn below £20,000 compared to 8 per cent of men.

Yet, despite this discrepancy and evidence of a glass ceiling, when women do reach the top positions they fare better than men.

Fifteen per cent of female partners and directors earned more than £100,000 compared with just 10 per cent of men – a distinct change from last year’s results when only 8 per cent of female partners and directors earned more than £100,000.

Further comments

Jane Duncan, RIBA president elect and equality and diversity champion

‘There is no question that both the recession and poor management practices contribute to a less than healthy working culture for many architects. There is a world of difference between actual bullying, which clearly should not be tolerated in any workplace, and a professional culture which seems too often to demand long hours and exploit staff loyalty to remain profitable, something that is unhealthy and a sign of poorly managed firms. Harassment in the workplace is illegal, whether it’s on a building site or in the office.

‘Coercion of employees comes from the top of an organisation. If this is widespread, as this excellent survey seems to demonstrate, it shows up poor management practice and sadly smacks of desperation. This is something that the RIBA can certainly help with both from an awareness perspective and business skills training.

‘A good business is nothing without its staff. We need to demonstrate that good management practice and a happy staff bring bottom line benefits. This will encourage a wider diversity of people to enter and stay in our industry as they see that a sensible work/life balance is encouraged.

‘Of course every business has periods of immense pressure, but overtime - in particular unpaid overtime - must not become a norm but an occasional request. With an appropriate business plan no firm should need to pressurise staff to work twice their contracted hours in order to meet unsustainable fees.’

Stephen Hodder, RIBA president

‘Firstly I congratulate the AJ for their ongoing work on championing women in architecture. We are doing our part to ensure that one day in the future such campaigns will be no longer be needed.

‘It’s distressing to learn that many of those who have taken part on the AJ survey this year have experienced bullying in the workplace, and let’s be clear, any bullying in the workplace is unacceptable and shouldn’t be tolerated.

‘Any harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. This not only applies to a person’s gender, but also to their sex, disability, gender, marital status, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation.  I would urge anyone experiencing bullying to contact either their manager or HR department.  If this doesn’t work and the harassment continues then seek advice from Acas. As a last resort they could consider legal action though an employment tribunal.

If the employer is an accredited RIBA Chartered Practice, then it should have a written employment policy in place which addresses the principles of the RIBA policy statement on employment. This covers best practice in employment, and requires as at a minimum that the practice follows the principles of ‘Investor in People’.

‘RIBA is working hard to champion change in our profession, and we have a range of activities planned in 2015 under the themes of ‘Corporate values and leadership’ and ‘Driving change in the profession’. We will continue to develop more mentoring programmes, we have an exciting upcoming ‘Role Models’ programme highlighting existing diversity in our profession and we are working on improved Best Practice guides for those at a leadership level within the industry. There will also be improved nationwide CPD on equality and diversity and more support and focus for our member and industry groups like ‘Architects for Change’ and ‘Chicks with Bricks’. I’m also looking forward to supporting Jane Duncan’s upcoming social media campaign which will help focus greater awareness of the role of women in the construction industry.’

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