The AJ’s women in architecture survey has exposed the abiding inequalities that dog the profession – time’s up, writes Emily Booth
The Presidents Club. Harvey Weinstein. ‘Walk-on girls’ and ‘grid girls’ and scantily clad women alongside the product displays at trade shows. The BBC pay gap. The country-wide, across-the-board pay gap. The ‘pay penalty’ that hits women in part-time jobs. The whole tangled web of perception, objectification, sexism, silence and thwarted potential.
It has been 100 years since women in the UK – those over 30 and ‘of property’ – were granted the vote. Nearly 50 years since the Equal Pay Act. A blink of an eye in terms of millennia of discrimination. But surely long enough for women to have equal professional opportunities as men – with equal respect.
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Source: LSE Women’s Library
This year, once more, the statistics from our Women in Architecture survey make for a sober read. Sober – not shocking. Why are we not shocked? We are sick and tired of it, but not surprised. One in seven female respondents have experienced sexual harassment in the past year. The pay gap persists – and gets wider with seniority. For women, having children is still likely to hinder, if not halt, career progression.
This year, there is a sharper cultural context to our Women in Architecture campaign and survey. A loud voice of social protest has been growing: beyond architecture, beyond specific industries and countries, and epitomised by drives such as #MeToo and #TimesUp.
If the status quo relies on silence, an important remedy for that power imbalance is voice. Naming. Showing. Calling it out. Ironically, it is social media, which can be used to troll and silence and shame women, which is also facilitating and magnifying that voice.
We need to question: Who is on this panel? Who gets that pay rise?
Still, the status quo is hard to shift. Cultural norms find ways of persisting, of wiggling around laws – even newer, tougher ones about pay transparency. Unconscious bias afflicts us all. Associations and prejudices are mapped onto our brains since childhood – this stuff goes deep. So we need to put in processes, and sense-checks, at moments of decision-making. We need to question: Who is on this panel? Who gets that pay rise? Who is not being heard in this debate – and how can we encourage them? Why must we work this way – why don’t we try a better way instead?
Because every female director, every mentor, every mother who also has a successful career, every woman whose work is rediscovered and celebrated, makes a difference to what we know and understand to be possible – and normal. Our survey results call out the issues. Our Women in Architecture awards inspire change and offer role models.
Change can seem to come in fits and starts, even if there has been much effort by many people and for a long time. But until there is lasting change for the better we can’t – and we mustn’t – rest.
This article appears in the Women in Architecture issue – click here to buy a copy