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Number of women architects on the up


The number of women architects joining the profession is rising, according to the latest figures released by the Architects Registration Board (ARB)

There are now 7,538 female architects registered with the ARB – up from 4,339 ten years ago.

The figures for the year ending 31 December 2013 show that almost 570 female architects joined the register - a 62 per cent to 38 per cent split male to female for the year. However the overall percentage of women architects remains less than a quarter of the profession - 26,728 men (78 per cent) to 7,538 female (22 per cent).

The increase was cautiously welcomed by architects who warned that more still needed to be done to reach an equal profession.

Julia Barfield, managing director of Marks Barfield Architects, said: ‘From 13 per cent to 38 per cent in 100 years - assuming that this kind of change is exponential it should only be about another 40 years to 50:50.’

While Angela Brady, RIBA past-president, added: ‘To make it to 50:50, we need to continue to encourage more women into architecture, show off more role models, adopt a school and show the talents of women architects celebrated like in the AJ Women in Architecture Awards.’

Claire Truman, associate at EPR Architects, warned that the figures showed there is a growing pool of women architects, but that they are still struggling to make it to the top of practices.

‘The news that 38 per cent of architects registered [in 2013] were women is welcome relief. These figures perhaps put flesh on the bones of anecdotes that a growing pool of talented women are there for promotion but are still often overlooked. A sense of increased frustration in the last couple of years in the slow shifting of the traditional male dominated practice culture has seen a reinvigoration in campaigns focusing on this issue’, she said.

The rise has been put down to better working practices and growing student numbers.

Brady said: Practices are more family friendly and women have less obstacles now than ten years ago.’

While Lynne Sullivan, founder of SustainableBYdesign, added: ‘The working woman’s status has changed with better childcare access. Also people’s working lives are getting longer and there is more interest in an absorbing career as a real life choice.’

Further comments

Claire Truman, associate, EPR Architects

When I qualified almost 10 years ago I recall the percentage of female registered architects being approximately 14 per cent. A 24 per centincrease in this time is a significant step change - hopefully the momentum is now with us to witness a reshaping of practice.

Any speculation of reasons for this shift must start with significant pan-industry changes that have seemingly opened up greater opportunity for women to qualify. Intake at universities remains constant and women are often reported to be high performers there. This places sharp focus on the effects of the recession. Practices have had to make thorough and honest self examinations and look to retain its high performing staff to make it through the downturn. Tight fees have seen those with less experience having to ‘step up’ responsibility - opportunity for women to demonstrate their skills and get into more positions that provide vital Part 3 experience. Perhaps the introduction of university fees has made more women less embarrassed to talk money and more upfront about fighting to keep their job to maintain an income, choosing to delay starting a family. Certainly many factors must be coming into play to see such a change in figures.

Will we see 50:50 qualified women and men in architecture? This probably will need forces outside the industry to play their part to improve the shared responsibility of childcare and men raising their hands to admit often they too want a key role in family life.

This shift is hopefully permanent which should work its way through to board level within 15 years or so. Quite rightly we want practices to recognise the business advantages of diverse management and look for ways to develop and keep talent - women at least are keen to take the challenge on.

Angela Brady, RIBA past-president

These figures are most encouraging and shows the rise in women coming into the architecture as a worthwhile profession.

If we have 50:50 parity at universities now then lets hope that this figure comes through into practice in the next 5 years time.

Practices are more family friendly and women have less obstacles now than ten years ago.

To make it to 50:50 though, we need to continue to encourage more women into architecture, show off more role models, adopt a school and show the talents of women architects celebrated like the AJ Women in architecture awards.

My mantra remains ‘women and men together make the best architecture’.

With our third women president coming in to lead the RIBA next year, it shows that women can do as good a job if not better than their male colleagues and why not!

Lynne Sullivan, founder, SustainableBYdesign

This is good news - women are around 22 per cent of the profession - but still a way to go!

My perspective from my work on design review panels is that a lot more women are fronting projects these days. Having women leading projects has a big effect potentially in changing preconceptions and acknowledging that women have the skills and commitment.  

The changes in workstyle, with the ever-increasing number of design and build projects, mean that the single point of contact ‘The Project Architect’ (as contract administrator) is a relatively rare phenomenon these days. This allows more flexibility in working as part of a team, and more collaborative skills, which possibly allow more women into the driving seat and allow more resourcing flexibility which always used to be a reason for worrying that women architects would not last the course of a long project (eg worrying about them going off with a big bump in their tummy etc).  I also think that during the course of my career the working woman’s status has changed with better childcare access, also people’s working lives are getting longer and there is more interest in an absorbing career as a real life choice.

Jeremy Till, head, Central St Martins

I think this is a fairly straightforward translation of the demographic of students - in the last ten years there has been both a growth in student numbers, and an accompanying increase in percentage of female students (I guess now over 50 per cent nationally), so one would expect more female students to be registering. However, we should not be too complacent - the number of female students dropping out before Part 3 is still too high, and it will of course take years for the 50 per cent in education to be translated into 50 per cent in practice, particularly so long as practice generally is not female friendly.



Readers' comments (3)

  • The news of a slight rise in registrations is of course heartening, but the core issue is retention of these architects. Attrition rates are still deplorable, glass ceilings still exist, and practices need to put in place people and work/life friendly cultures to retain the best employees. Guidance on it's way from RIBA.

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  • Going in the right direction at last but recognition of female led practices is needed so that everyone can automatically recount practice names run by females in the same way as we do with male run practices. (AJ Women in Architecture is a positive step). We are currently highlighting many of the female led practices through our media channels as part of this year's Open House London including established and newcomers such as Studio Weave, Walters and Cohen, Anne Thorne Architects, Laura Dewe Mathews etc etc

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  • While encouraging to some personally I have heard of too many women colleagues in their 30s overlooked for promotion as they may have children or have them. In my experience the buck stops with the bosses not outside influences as to who they promote. Most practices only pay a minimum maternity pay but of course they may not be as willing to work late after having children.
    Pay needs to improve in architecture to allow women to work and pay for childcare as it is often not worthwhile to work if you have more than one child in london.
    After all we do not want to end up like japan with no young people working to pay our pensions.

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