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The glass ceiling is still in place

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But we are beginning to see the signs of a change in attitudes towards equality in the workplace, says Laura Mark

More than three years have passed since the AJ launched Women in Architecture, but the glass ceiling is still in place. You could be forgiven for thinking things were getting better.

If they are, it is at a snail’s pace. A shocking 20 per cent of female architects who answered our 2015 survey still said none of the senior staff at their practices were women. Women continue to go largely unrecognised. The Pritzker jury’s failure to recognise Denise Scott Brown when her husband, Robert Venturi, was awarded the coveted prize in 1991 was shocking. But last year the BBC repeated this mistake, ignoring the central role Patty Hopkins played in establishing a world-beating practice with her husband, Michael.

Patty was barely mentioned in the broadcaster’s The Brits Who Built The Modern World show, despite her unambiguous inclusion in the RIBA exhibition of the same name. This lack of recognition is detrimental to the profession. How can we expect graduates to stay in architectural practice where they can see no role models nor prospects of career progression?

Why should your gender hinder your chances of making it to associate or director level? We cannot deny this is happening. It is the reality in the profession of architecture. Nevertheless, we are beginning to see signs of a shift in attitudes. Women in practice are being recognised and celebrated. Already this year we have seen more women pick up management roles.

This year Make announced it had made Katy Ghahremani a director. Ghahremani, who has played a lead role in the practice since it was founded in 2004, joins Make’s three other board directors (all male). Elsewhere the new chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, replacing Paul King, is Julie Hirigoyen. Rachel Haugh has also finally been recognised for her contribution at Ian Simpson Architects, now Simpson Haugh and Partners.

The industry has long known the key role she has played in the practice, yet it took 20 years for her name to appear above the door. I hope that the AJ’s Women in Architecture awards also go some way to showing what women working within practices can achieve. Having been closely involved in the awards since they began, I can see a shift. Typically, the WIA shortlists have been made up of women running their own practices.

Yet this year all but one of the UK-based women shortlisted for Architect of the Year are from AJ100 practices. They may not have their name above the door, but all of them are partners, directors, and founders. These women are responsible for the running of some of the UK’s biggest architecture firms. Yet, looking forward, if architecture is to be a sustainable profession, the way it recognises women has to change. Practices that aren’t promoting women into senior roles need to learn from those that are. Look to the practices that employ the shortlisted candidates and see what a difference these women have made to their employers’ success.

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