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Pay gap widens: women architects earn less than men

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This year’s survey shows more women believe they are paid equally, but the data shows they are wrong

Thirty-seven per cent of women thought they would be paid more if they were male, compared with 44 per cent last year – a seven-point decrease. Seventy-one per cent of men believe they are paid the same as female colleagues.

But the recorded salaries show that the largest proportion of UK full-time women architects (27 per cent) earn £27-32,000 a year, while the largest proportion of UK full-time men architects (27 per cent) earn £37-42,000. There is a 14-point difference in the full-time salaries of men and women architects at the lower end of the pay scale: 44 per cent of UK women architects earn less than £32,000, a year, compared with 30 per cent of male architects. There is also a 14-point gap at the higher end of the pay scale: 56 per cent of female architects earn more than £33,000, while 70 per cent of men are paid more than this. The disparity continues further up the pay scale: 26 per cent of full-time male architects earn more than £56,000, compared with just 10 per cent of female equivalents.

At director level, pay for full-time women in the UK has a wide spread, ranging from £21,000 to £99,000, whereas male director salaries are clustered around the top of the pay scale, with not one male director earning less than £37,000. Thirty-five per cent of UK-based male directors earn more than £68,000, compared with 15 per cent of female equivalents – a 20-point difference. Entry-level positions also show a pronounced pay gap. Among Part 1 year-out students and Part 2 architectural assistants, the majority of full-time male respondents (58 per cent) are paid between £21,000 and 26,000, while just under half (49 per cent) of women respondents are paid as much. At the lower end, 30 per cent of these women are paid £16-20,000, compared with 13 per cent of men.

WIA Survey

When asked the question ‘Do you think everybody should know their colleagues’ earnings?’ the answer was a 50:50 yes:no split. Men are less inclined to favour pay transparency: 57 per cent of them say ‘no’. Just 4 per cent of women respondents think unequal pay in architecture is not an issue, compared with 15 per cent of men. A quarter of women believe male colleagues doing the same or a similar job earn more. Although this is down 7 points from last year, the percentage who answered ‘don’t know’ to this question went up five points – to 49 per cent from 44 per cent last year – suggesting growing doubt and uncertainty surrounding equal pay. But in essence these figures have changed little.

On the whole, architects’ salaries remain low: 39 per cent of those working in the UK who took part in the survey earn less than £32,000 full-time – at the lower end or lower than the RIBA-recommended scale of £31-43,000 for architects.

The pay gap between male and female architects is the most effective barometer of gender inequality in the profession. Its persistence is likely to aggravate the gender imbalance due to related issues of the rising cost of childcare compared with a mother’s take-home pay, and high tuition fees for students combined with low salary expectations.

Do you think the downturn is harder on women or men?

Women respond:

‘The recession has called for longer working hours at lower pay levels. Women with children therefore struggle with non-flexible working hours and balancing childcare.’

‘Employers see women as a high risk so are less likely to employ them when times are bad.’

‘Job losses are happening equally between the sexes. However, women may find it harder to be retained should they decide to take maternity leave during this current downturn.’

‘Women have to juggle children, home and work more often. Companies are less flexible about working arrangements.’

‘The downturn is affecting everyone. Women are more likely to take low paying jobs and get exploited. Whereas men are more likely to see their job as part of their identity and can cope badly with changes to this. I’ve seen male colleagues facing redundancy look like they are facing a firing squad.’

‘In a downturn, women’s choices between careers and family become even harder. Pressure for consistency becomes more and so deciding to take time off to have a child can do far more harm to your career.’

‘While the economy seems to be recovering, my feeling is that, should another financial crisis strike, male employees would be more resilient and use power of tone of voice to maintain their position or pay level.’

‘If you are working on a project that is on-going you are likely to be safe from redundancy, but if your job is coming to an end or never starts then you are a more obvious target. This essentially boils down to luck of the draw.’

‘Employers have become less committed to supporting women when they choose to take career breaks.’

Do you think women can have a healthy work/life balance in architecture?

Women respond:

‘Regular work hours are needed for this to be possible. It is not the sort of job that can be done 9-5.’

‘Only with a complete revision of the current system. Right now only very few women are able to make it, through a combination of luck, talent and foresight.’

‘A few exceptional women may be able to, but for us normal human beings, if committed to delivering our best, will always have our non-work life affected. When delivering a good building, this is an acceptable part of life, but when churning our meaningless tender applications it erodes the soul.’

‘Right now there is too much pressure to be a workaholic and for less money.’

‘Work for a firm that respects the fact that you have a life outside the office.’

‘If the profession were paid properly like other professions women could afford childcare assistance to ease these problems.’

‘I think a good work/life balance is what we should all strive for, men and women alike. Architecture is a profession that does not easily adopt this idea, but we should keep trying. It makes for better lives and architecture.’

‘I don’t believe there is a healthy work/life balance in architecture at all for both male and female. Long hours, low professional fees and poor remuneration make it hard especially in a poor economic climate.’

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.

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