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Gender pay gap 2019: Mixed results reveal architecture has ‘long way to go’

Shutterstock gender pay gap miniature figures

Architects have said the profession has ’a long way to go’ to reduce its gender pay gap after the government’s second year of reporting revealed mixed results across the sector

As the deadline for UK organisations with more than 250 staff to report their pay gaps closed this week (3 April), the average gap across the architecture sector was 13.9 per cent in favour of men, a small improvement on last year’s overall gap of 16.3 per cent.

The biggest improvement was posted by tp bennett, which saw a decrease in the disparity between men and women by 8.6 percentage points (a 12.8 per cent gap in 2018 compared with 4.2 per cent this time).

Meanwhile last year’s worst performer, Stride Treglown, also shrank its pay gap by 5.6 percentage points, to 22.8 per cent, down from 28.7 per cent last year (see table below).

However, while some practices recorded progress, others saw their gaps widen in 2018 including AJ100 big-hitters such as Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (a 4.4 percentage point increase), Zaha Hadid Architects (a 1.4 percentage point rise) and Hawkins\Brown (a 3.4 percentage point increase).

As with last year’s results, the data revealed huge structural inequality at the top of the profession with men dominating in the top pay quartiles. In most practices, at least two-thirds of the highest earners were men.

Many firms explained the disparity was due to a higher number of men in senior roles but also outlined measures they were bringing in to address the gender imbalance at the top.

In the second year of reporting, many firms also highlighted some of the issues which have emerged in relation to the way the government calculates the pay gap.

In AHMM’s explanation for how its pay gap had increased, it argued that ‘significant numbers’ of women in its upper pay bracket were on leave when the data snapshot was captured.

According to the RIBA, the fact that pay gap calculations do not take into account staff on maternity or sabbatical, or any employee on a reduced rate, is one of its ‘health warnings’ in its newly-published gender pay gap guidance.

The document, released alongside a pledge to #ClosetheGap, draws attention to how figures might be ‘distorted’. In addition to the warnings about those on leave and the absence of partners in LLP-structured practices, it also cautions that pay gaps might be inadvertently widened by employing more female staff.

‘Women in junior roles are likely to be paid in the lower half of the hourly pay distribution, and therefore the share of women in the lower half of the pay distribution will increase,’ it argues.

The RIBA claims this issue with how the data works on a practical basis emphasises the need for practices to ‘analyse the causes of their gap’, and to publish a narrative and action plan with their data.

The majority of architectural practices are too small to qualify for the reporting. This year the total number (excluding multi-disciplinaries) grew to 12 as Grimshaw’s UK office expanded above the 250-staff threshold for reporting. Yesterday it revealed its gender pay gap was 9.1 per cent in favour of men.

According the practice’s managing partner, Kirsten Lees, the pay gap reporting is a ’blunt tool’ but the noise it generates can be used to drive positive change.

Lees also pointed out that this year’s pay gap increases might be a result of hiring more female architects in an attempt to address the disparity. ’If targeted at younger levels this only serves to increase the gap’, she said.

She added: ’It is important that the pay gap statistics are not the only tool architecture practices use to address gender equality but part of a series of initiatives to promote […] an inclusive environment where diversity can be recognised as a strength.’

Selasi Setufe, of the Black Females in Architecture (BFA) network, said while she was pleased to see some practices have improved she was ’appalled’ at the increase in others.

She said: ’Overall I am somehow not entirely surprised that we clearly have a long way to go in achieving reduced gender pay gaps across the industry.’

Setufe said the BFA would like to see the data combined with how many women are in management or leadership positions within their firms as access to ‘top’ positions are often denied to women.

She added: ’We would also be very interested in seeing what the figures would reveal should an additional variable of race/origin be published as part of these efforts to reduce pay gaps across the industry. We expect that it would better demonstrate the extent of inequality and the lack of diversity.’

Reacting to the figures, Paul Chappell of 9B Careers said the data shows the pay gap will ’take a while’ to narrow. He said: ’Compared with 20 years ago, there are certainly far more women studying architecture nowadays but until they start moving into more senior, better-paid positions, the pay gap will persist.’

Lindsay Urquhart, founder of Bespoke Careers, said she had seen lots of practices take positive steps to reduce the gap. She added that, while progress was being made, it was the ’meaningful changes’ that were key to avoiding the pay gap reporting becoming a tick-box exercise ’whereby gender is overriding suitability for a post’.

The RIBA’s new pledge, which the institute is encouraging all chartered practices to sign up to, commits practices to several actions including operating unbiased recruitment procedures, supporting flexible working patterns and appointing a diversity champion or taskforce.

Its president Ben Derbyshire said tackling gender equality was a ‘top priority’, adding: ’There is no place for discrimination in our profession. Yet, almost 50 years after equal pay legislation came into force in the UK, significant instances of inequality remain. Change is long overdue and all of us – employers, employees and the RIBA – have a vital role to play.’

Practice2018 Median pay gap2019 Median pay gap
AHMM 12.3% 16.7%
Allies and Morrison 10.5% 7%
BDP 25.5% 20.2%
Foster + Partners 10.5% 9.8%
Hawkins\Brown 2.6% 6%
PRP 21% 19%
Sheppard Robson 10.9% 10%
Stride Treglown 28.7% 22.8%
Zaha Hadid Architects 19.6% 21%
Pick Everard 24.3% 21.5%
TP Bennett 12.8% 4.2%
Grimshaw N/A 9.1 %

Readers' comments (3)

  • How long until the AJ realises that its insistence on propagating a tired gender pay gap inequality narrative that has been critiqued and debunked again and again just cements reader's opinions that it too has become part of an establishment propaganda routine.

    At least this time AJ has highlighted how errors in the way statistics are interpreted as well as a lack in consistent controlled variables can account for the inequality. That's before we even get to the fact that the clear differences in psychological traits in men and women result in both sexes ON AVERAGE gravitating toward vastly difference career paths, having different philosophies toward competition within the workplace, and work unequal hours. Then there is the fact that the majority of women decide starting a family is more important to them than climbing to the top of corporate ladder, and therefore choose part-time work or switch to a lower paid position/ or career with more flexible working hours.

    If you even stop and think about London for example which is where the majority of these practises are headquartered and base the majority of their employees. It is one of the most progressive capitals in the world that has done more than almost any other to overcome any kind of discrimination. Even if you took the regressive/brain-dead opinion then people who are progressive are the only ones who champion social justice, then the idea that systemic racism and sexism is rife in our liberal democracy, is totally laughable.

    Why do the neo-marxists insist that every inequality of outcome must be because of some vast structural injustice perpetrated against woman or minority groups? Put simply, it is because they can't except that not everyone has equal abilities and the idea that individuals and their life choices or even their cultures may result in inequality of outcome is too frightening to consider. Therefore it's just easier to blame it on sexist and/or racist patriarchal tyranny, resulting in policies that require so much social engineering that goes against the natural tendencies of men and women when allowed freedom to define their own path, that it quickly becomes destructive to productivity and the effectiveness of the economic system.

    Do woman really want to think that perhaps they only got a position because of their sex? Is that not destructive to their mental health if they consider that their skills and abilities are irrelevant when applying for a job position? Dare I say it, does that not turn women into a commodity? An object taken on by an office to signal their virtue?

    Critical thinking conveniently seems to fall short when questioning the ideology that gave birth to it.

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  • What a wonderfully refreshing comment Scarlo!!
    Common sense has not yet entirely vanished from our land.

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  • Scarpa, Ian- its not so cut and dried. I lived it and I will write about the 'playing field', such as it is. No, women do divide their time between family/home life AND a stimulating career in Architecture, but there is a cost to one's health, physical and mental, not to mention a rousing sex life, anyone in the biz after a day of problem solving at this high level, even with the lubricant of a stiff vodka Martini- is exhausted. Men, in such a demanding career, can be all in- while women cannot. MANY of my successful colleagues opted for NO children- that's a start, unless one enslaves another woman to mind, feed and raise her children while she produces some mighty fine built form. From where I have sat, around board room tables, Men just don't like a Woman who has the gift of designing and the POWER to act like a Queen Bee and slay everyone to shut the eff up, and stand back and watch while they create (all hail Zaha).

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