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Women in Architecture: Mind the pay gap

Wia survey index
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The AJ reveals the results of its latest Working in Architecture Survey and asks: how can the profession close its persistent gender pay gap?

Architects are calling for greater transparency over pay as new research by the AJ underlines the extent to which men are paid more than women for doing the same work.

Data from the AJ’s latest Working in Architecture Survey, completed by more than 3,000 professionals (1,443 women and 1,598 men) shows how pay gaps persist from entry level all the way to the top. The survey shows that female architectural assistants at Part 1 and Part 2 level earn 2.8 per cent less than their male colleagues, a gap that widens for female architects, who earn 5.7 per cent less than men, an average of £2,073 less.

The figures, described by Maggie Mullan of Maggie Mullan Architects as ‘depressing’, also show wage stagnation in the profession for both men and women, echoing the results of previous AJ surveys as well as research by recruitment firm 9B Careers. Yet there are bright spots. Year-on-year comparisons reveal the pay gap is shrinking at some grades. The gap between male and female architects has narrowed by 8.6 per cent since 2017. The difference at director level has also decreased.

For the first time, the survey asked architects how employers should tackle the profession’s stubborn pay gap, including increasing the number of women on recruitment and promotion shortlists, publishing NHS-style salary bands and hiring diversity managers.The results reveal a clear demand for greater transparency – 82 per cent of respondents back the government’s 2017 gender pay gap legislation. Grimshaw’s Kirsten Lees calls this a ‘whopping endorsement’ of the policy, which calculates the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings.


A problem of perception: half of men think there is no pay gap

While the national debate over pay has grown louder, the survey results show that over half of male respondents – nearly 53 per cent – thought men and women are paid equally. For women, the figure is just 25 per cent.

It is an interesting disparity, said Paul Chappell of 9B Careers, who questioned why, despite ‘stark’ results, so many men still think there is no pay gap. ‘A solution will never occur unless people believe there is a problem in the first place,’ he said. 

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One way of tackling the problem, according to Chappell, is for practices to focus on closing the gap at entry level. He said: ‘If female architectural staff are paid less than men at this level, even if for the rest of their career they receive the same percentage rise each year, the salary difference will only ever widen.’

‘A male colleague of mine with one year less of qualification is currently paid more than me. We have the same tasks and I have been leading a project through construction and completion. The reason for the pay gap is unknown, but I asked for a further review of my salary more than one year ago. I’m battling for a fair and transparent explanation, which at present I still don’t have.’

The survey results show that men and women are equally likely to ask for pay rises and that 46 per cent of respondents negotiated their salary when they accepted their latest job (men 48 per cent, women 44 per cent). Women were only marginally less successful in their negotiation of salary.

Lees said this ‘busts the myth’ that women are less likely to ask for more money and places the responsibility on practice directors to address the pay issue. 


Calls to extend gender pay gap reporting 

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The go vernment’s pay gap reporting – now mandatory for all UK firms with more than 250 employees – was met with mixed reactions when introduced last year. While many architects supported the measure, others said its metric did not compare like with like.

Over all, 82 per cent of survey respondents backed the policy, with significantly more women in favour (91.4 per cent) than men (73.7 per cent).

Respondents said some issues needed ironing out: the threshold of practices obliged to disclose data should be lower, many said. Respondents also said the ‘anomaly’ in pay gap reporting, whereby LLPs do not have to take partner pay into account, should be resolved.

‘Every company should have to publish its gender pay gap, as this might, once and for all, shame directors into actually trying to close it. When there is no concrete evidence within a company of a gender pay gap, it is very hard to argue that there is sexism in the way that people are paid, even if it seems clear to the women working there.’

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Some expressed disappointment at their practices ‘brushing off’ the inaugural reporting figures. Others said the introduction of reporting had led to firms promoting simply to ‘balance the books’. One anonymous comment read: ‘Women are being pushed ahead of men for promotions to even up the percentages.’  

Emma Flanagan, director of London-based pH+, said: ‘If we are to go any way towards changing pay discrepancy, a commitment to publishing and tracking gender pay gap data should be introduced, irrespective of company size.’

So could the policy be bearing fruit? In its first year it revealed a 16.3 per cent pay gap across the 11 practices big enough to qualify. Among 2019’s early filers there are signs of improvement. Foster + Partners shaved 0.7 percentage points off its 2017 pay gap, Sheppard Robson 1.2 points and BDP 4.8 points. Helene Reardon Bond, an expert on UK gender equality who worked on the legislation, gave the figures a cautious welcome but said it would be a few years until trends fully emerged.

The new regulations had been a catalyst for meaningful and open initial discussion on pay, said Reardon Bond. ‘It’s the first time that senior executives and managers are actually looking at their gender pay gap figures and considering what action they need to take to close their organisation’s gap.’


Calls to include more women on recruitment and promotion shortlists

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Beyond pay gap reporting, what else will help? Polled on a range of actions recommended by the Government Equalities Office, a near-even split of men and women, 48 per cent and 54 per cent respectively, said putting more women on shortlists for recruitment and promotion would have the biggest impact.

According to recruitment specialists the AJ spoke to, insisting on multiple women on shortlists is not widespread; but Grimshaw has introduced a policy requiring parity of male and female candidates on interview shortlists. And Swedish firm White Arkitekter said it was also in discussions to introduce the measure. Partner Linda Thiel, director of White’s London Studio, said: ‘Presenting shortlists with a 50/50 balance of men and women in recruitment processes is almost a necessity to be able to focus on competence instead of gender.’

While the poll revealed overall support for including more women on shortlists, some viewed the practice negatively. One respondent said: ‘Mandatory women on shortlists has not been implemented, as there is a lot of resistance from women in the business for any kind of positive discrimination, which might be interpreted as tokenism.’

‘Although our practice is active in advocating the advancement of women, there are very few concrete actions in place. There seems to be a preference for the informal, employee-led advancement, which I’m not sure is constructive, as it tends to favour men, who are more confident in speaking up for themselves.’

But Sophie Tait, global head of human resources at Bespoke Careers, said there was a clear difference between positive discrimination – recruiting a person based on their ‘protected characteristic’ instead of hiring the best person for the job – and ‘positive action’. She said: ‘While it is generally unlawful to set quotas to recruit a specific number of women, there are a number of ‘positive action’ approaches which are lawful and should be put in place in architecture.’ 

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These include helping women apply for promotions with career development mentors, assisting mothers returning to work after maternity leave with ‘baby bonuses’, and offering flexible working. 

Respondents also backed using structured interviews, in which all candidates are asked the same questions and then graded using a standardised criteria, as well as encouraging salary negotiation by publishing comparative pay bands. Hiring a diversity manager was the least popular option; only 25 per cent of female respondents approved. Many respondents called on the RIBA to take a lead by pressing chartered practices to publish pay bands. President Ben Derbyshire said there was ‘certainly evidence’ that structured interviews, gender-balanced interview panels, anonymous shortlisting and transparency in pay can make a positive impact.

‘My company does report to staff, but they say there isn’t a gender pay gap, they just don’t have many women in senior roles. This, of course, is part of the point!’

Driving improvements on equality was a ‘top priority’ for the institute, said Derbyshire, adding: ‘I would strongly encourage anyone in practice who is aware of an equal pay issue to raise it, directly with the employer or by blowing the whistle – we must stamp this out.’

However, Mullan queried whether the pay gap actions addressed ‘the right questions’ for the profession. She said: ‘Why would restructuring the interview process assist if all it does is grade everyone against the same outdated criteria?’

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Mullan said the profession should instead challenge what success means and look deeper into the sector’s reward structures. ‘Our economy is moving away rapidly from the job-for-life to a workforce that balance any number of income generators with the needs of their changing lives. 

‘That resilience is what will make our profession sustainable and relevant moving forward - irrespective of gender,’ she said. 

Echoing Mullan, Lisa Raynes of Pride Road Architects, said it was important to focus on mentoring, recognise soft skills and flexible working practices for men and women. ‘It’s not just about the pay packet, the whole approach to employment practices feeds into it. 

‘If there’s a general shift towards flexibility, common sense, transparency and education then the other pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.’

Debate over the most effective way of closing architecture’s pay gap continues to rage. However with calls for action from employers louder than ever, it’s clear that sitting back and waiting for change is no longer an option.


Comment: ‘No excuses – it’s time for action’

Kirsten Lees, managing partner at Grimshaw’s London officeKirsten lees

While many company statements rationalise gender pay gaps as being down to the disproportionate number of men in senior positions, what this survey shows, frankly, is that women are being paid less to do the same job. It’s also a bit damning to see that 80 per cent of survey respondents were in their 20s and 30s, which begs the question: why aren’t more senior staff engaged in the topic?

This year’s survey shows that there is a justifiable perception that women are paid less for the same role, and it’s time that practices were more open about this, both internally, and externally by sharing their findings with the wider industry. That 82 per cent of respondents think practices should report their gender pay gap is a whopping endorsement. Unsurprisingly, it’s more important for women respondents.

Transparency is crucial in changing the status quo. I’ve found it helpful to attend workshops with other senior women where we’ve discussed pay, opportunities, and flexible hours and have been able to swap ideas. 

There is some good news in all this in that awareness of the issue is improving, which could be an indication that things are changing. Since last year, it appears that both men and women are more attuned to the issues around the gender pay gap and wider discrimination. This is suggested by the greater level of uncertainty in 2019 about women and men being paid equally for the same work. This could be influenced by campaigns like MeToo and Time’sUp, making people reflect on what’s equal and fair.

The survey results show that both men and women ask for pay rises in equal measure, with similar levels of success. This busts the myth that the pay gap is due to women not asking to be paid more. The responsibility really needs to sit with partners and directors of practices to do what they can to address issues around pay and opportunity to keep women thriving in the profession throughout their careers.

While the gap is getting smaller year on year, there is still work to be done and we should all be revealing our salary bands to promote transparency and to encourage negotiation.

At Grimshaw, not only do we endeavour to recruit a 50/50 balance of male and female architects but we have a number of agreed actions to help move women up the pipeline with a diversity champion and regular reporting to hold us all to account. We will be releasing our report on the gender pay gap in the coming months and want to be part of the industry’s shift to equality. There are no excuses, it’s time for action.


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