Women in Architecture: Reflections on International Women’s Day

While observing International Women’s Day on March 8 we were able to look around our office and take comfort from the fact that women make up seven of the 11 members of technical staff employed at Harrison Pitt Architects.

However, this example of female staff outnumbering the male staff in an architectural practice is a rare one.

Women in Architecture – The state of the profession

In 2015, the Architects Journal reported in their annual Women in Architecture survey that 19% of women worked in practices where 31-50% of employees were female, with 47% of women working in practices where only females make up 10% or less of the workforce.

These statistics provide us with a very clear indication of the presence of female architects within the industry at practice level.

At university level, however, this is a very different story. During my four years of undergraduate study at university, female students made up 50%, if not more, of the course population.

Nevertheless, this presence of female students is not maintained throughout Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 studies. RIBA education statistics for 2014-2015 demonstrate that while there has been a long-term increase in female students across all parts of the architectural education, this drops off between the different stages.

There is historically a female drop-out rate of about 2-3% between Parts 1 and 2, and another 2-3% between Parts 2 and 3. In the year 2014, this gap increased to 4%.

What does this mean for women in the industry?

What these statistics help us to understand is that, engaging with young women and encouraging them to begin their careers in architecture is not the problem, as we are continuing to see great numbers of female students starting university courses in architectural design.

According to a recent article in the Architects Journal – the latest UCAS figures demonstrate that 2,300 women were accepted to study architecture at UK universities in September 2016, in comparison to 2,425 male students, therefore a ratio of 49:51 percent.

It is, however, the declining numbers of women in Post-Part 2 and practice level that suggests the problem women are encountering is due to factors encountered at this transition stage.

I researched this topic in some depth for my undergraduate dissertation ‘It’s a Woman’s World? How can Architecture learn from the discipline of philosophy in responding to the issue of the underrepresentation of women?’.

How do we keep women in the profession?

During my research, I found that common factors for women leaving included; the wage gap, unsocial working hours, gender discrimination, lack of respect for the roles and authority of women in architectural practice and childcare.

In one of my dissertation interviews, the woman I spoke to bluntly told me that for her “becoming a mother that didn’t sit with becoming an architect”.

Therefore, the question we must consider is this; why are women continuing to leave the profession and what can be done to persuade them to stay?

Written by Abigail Patel, Architectural Assistant at Harrison Pitt Architects

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