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Sexual discrimination on the rise for women in architecture


Two thirds of women have suffered sexual discrimination, with 31% reporting monthly or quarterly occurences, and 11% once a week or more

The latest AJ Women in Architecture survey has revealed a rise in the number of women who have suffered sexual discrimination during their career in architecture

Two thirds of women respondents say they have suffered sexual discrimination at some time during their career in architecture – up three points from last year and up eight points from the first survey in 2011.

A staggering 54% of female architecture students say they have experienced sexual discrimination while at architecture school.

In this year’s survey, 31 per cent of women respondents say they have experienced or witnessed sexual discrimination on a monthly or quarterly basis, with 11 per cent experiencing sexual discrimination weekly or daily. Discrimination in the survey is defined as anything from inappropriate comments to being treated differently because of your gender.

Two-thirds (66 per cent) of women believe the building industry hasn’t fully accepted the authority of the female architect, and almost half of the male respondents agree. This shared perception could explain why male-dominated practices fail to promote women to higher positions or promote their visibility to the industry because they believe women architects command less respect. Several respondents to the survey mention the lack of women in senior roles as a major cause for concern.

WIA Survey

More than a quarter (27 per cent) of women respondents say they have experienced bullying while working in architecture, down from 38 per cent last year. A number cite other women as their tormentor, with one saying: ‘The problem is that, since we women in architecture are so few, there is a lot of competitiveness, rather than collaboration.’

But bullying in the industry is not solely a women’s issue. Although just 11 per cent of men had been subject to sexual discrimination, almost double that number (23 per cent) say they have experienced bullying.

More than three quarters (79 per cent) of women respondents think the industry is too male-dominated, and most men agree – 73 per cent say the profession is too heavily male. The number of women who object to the gender imbalance of architecture continues to rise – up 16 points since the first annual survey published in 2012.

WIA Survey

How often have you suffered or witnessed sexual discrimination in your career in architecture?

Women architects respond:

‘Women don’t have a high level of confidence. This, combined with lower self-esteem can put women at higher risk of experiencing sexual discrimination. It is sad that we have to be ‘tough’ to make it into this profession. It shouldn’t be like this.’

‘I have never felt discriminated by clients or contractors but I have from my own profession.’

‘My career in construction began in 1997, and inappropriate comments were more frequently made then. However, discriminatory remarks are still common, mainly because SMEs still struggle with maternity leave and I believe this will continue until the industry and society as a whole get to gripe with paternity (rather than just maternity) needs.’

‘Mostly in my younger days. Men tend to be more respectful to older women out of good manners. But you still have to prove your abilities more or less constantly to remain on a par with the opposite gender.’

‘For the most part I have had few experiences of discrimination in offices and have encountered more obvious sexism working with contractors in the field. I have received comments such as ‘do you get your way because you’re pretty?’ and ‘go home to the husband and kid’. I have also been interviewed for positions and offered a 30 per cent lower salary than a man with less experience.’

Do you think there are as many opportunities for women as for men in architecture?

Women architects respond:

‘It depends on what you are willing to sacrifice and tolerate. If you can stomach it then there are just as many opportunities.’

‘The opportunities are equal if you are ambitious, talented and have good people skills. But maybe you have to work harder for the opportunities as a woman.’

‘Men are more political and navigate the work arena far better. Women miss out on networking opportunities because they are not so used to talking business. They learn.’

About the survey

More people than ever completed this year’s AJ Women in Architecture online survey: 926 respondents took part – 710 women and 216 men.

Fifty-three per cent of all those who responded to the survey are architects, but it was also filled out by developers, PRs, consultants, structural engineers, quantity surveyors, academics and students, giving a broad insight into the way women are perceived across the industry.

The respondents are predominantly young – 80 per cent are under 40. Half of these are architects, including associates, directors, partners and sole practitioners. More than a third are students.

Of the architects who responded, almost a third are based in London; 24 per cent are in the rest of England, 8 per cent in Scotland, less than 1 per cent in Wales, 2 per cent in Northern Ireland, and 4 per cent are based in the rest of Europe.

Interestingly, the number of respondents completing the survey in the USA has increased sixfold, from just four per cent in 2013 to nearly a quarter – 24 per cent of responses – this year. The increase is likely linked to the impact of Denise Scott Brown’s interview with the AJ last year, which sparked international coverage of the petition to have Scott Brown retroactively included in her partner Robert Venturi’s 1991 Pritzker Prize win.

This survey, now in its third year, is a vital part of the AJ’s on-going campaign to raise the status and profile of women in architecture. The data, collected annually, allows the AJ to track progress in perception, equal pay and position over time. The survey also informs the Women in Architecture campaign’s focus for the coming year in response to concerns shared by women in the industry.



Readers' comments (2)

  • I would like to be included in next year's survey. Even after 30 years working as an architect I am still shocked by the gender discrimination in our profession.

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  • I would also like to be included in your survey. I have something useful to add about allied areas of work.

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