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Sexual discrimination on the rise - and happening in practices

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More than 60 per cent of female architects said they had been discriminated against while in practice

It is scandalous that three quarters of female architects say they have suffered discrimination at some point during their career. More disturbingly, the figure has continued to increase – up four points from last year and up by 14 points since the survey first began in 2011. The rise could, of course, reflect a greater awareness of the issues and of our annual campaign, as well as a growing willingness to speak out.

Surprisingly, 62 per cent of female architects said they had been discriminated against while in practice, and 56 per cent said they had suffered discrimination at meetings with contractors. Contrary to expectations, this was worse than on site, where 50 per cent said they had suffered discrimination. ‘Discrimination is rife in the architectural workplace,’ remarked one respondent, while another added: ‘I’ve experienced less discrimination from builders on site than from any other section of the industry.  The worst experiences have been from clients and colleagues.’

Women In Architecture discrimination survey

But one architect believed the situation was improving: ‘The norm is not generally accepting of young female architects but this is changing and is as much a generation issue as anything. The more traditionally male professions have a way to go in terms of eradicating gender issues, but in no way have I found any of these comments threatening or demeaning. They are often tied in with youth and inexperience, and things are definitely getting better.’

In the survey, discrimination is defined as anything from inappropriate comments to being treated differently because of gender. And it is occurring frequently, with almost 30 per cent of female architects witnessing sexual discrimination on a monthly or quarterly basis, and 9 per cent weekly or daily.

‘After a woman left the office, one man phoned a colleague to report what she was wearing’

After a dip to 27 per cent in 2014’s survey, this year the number of female architects who say they have experienced bullying has risen to 41 per cent. Bullying is largely happening in the office – with almost 70 per cent of those who have been bullied saying it occurred while in practice.

Women In Architecture discrimination survey

Respondents cited being bullied to stay long hours and take on additional workloads, while many said it was coming from more senior members of staff.

Bullying is not just a problem for women. The survey revealed almost a third (32 per cent) of male architects had experienced bullying, and of these nearly 60 per cent said it had occurred in the office.

Again unexpectedly, of architects who had experienced bullying, more men reported it happening in meetings with contractors or on site – 57 per cent, compared with 40 per cent of women. This is despite less than a quarter (24 per cent) of female architects feeling the industry has yet to accept the authority of the female architect, and many citing issues with contractors in their reasons why.

About the survey

The AJ’s Women in Architecture Survey has become a major annual event and this year, more people than ever have taken part – 1,104.

It hasn’t just been women responding: 20 per cent of responses came from men, allowing us to compare what male and female practitioners think.

As well as architects – who made up 56 per cent of respondents – clients, consultants, academics, engineers, PRs and developers also filled out the survey.

Now in its fourth year, the survey forms a vital part of The AJ’s on-going programme aimed at raising the status of women in the profession and celebrating their work.

The annual data, collected anonymously and focused this year on the UK profession alone, allows us to track progress in perception, pay equality, and gender balance over time. Previous results have been published widely in the national media, used by the RIBA, and referred to by government. 

The evidence published reveals the definitive picture of the life of a working, female architect today.

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