When there is a discussion in a group about the female architects, the one (and only) name that pops up is Zaha Hadid. Indeed, her works leave many architects spellbound. But often are the names of other female architects discussed as compared to the names of the male architects. To put it in other words, female architects often go unnoticed in the field of architecture. Why is it so? To understand it in a better way, let us look at it in a question-answer format.
What is the percentage of female architects?
In the male-dominated field, the percentage of women architects is relatively less. According to various surveys, it is observed that the percentage of females joining the architecture school is very high as compared to the percentage of practicing female architects. In India, 47.30% of registered architects are women. In the US the percentage is quite low, at 26%, in the UK it is 33%.
What is the reason behind the less percentage?
There are a few reasons for that. The first one is that there is still the thinking that women are less capable and that they would barely be able to handle the tasks given- like on-site and other management roles. This is not just the firm’s thinking but also societal thinking that women are not as strong as men, or are less committed.
The other main reason is that women would have to go on maternity leave and take care of children. Post the child-bearing stage, the ‘old-fashioned thinking’ of the firm is that the female architect would never want to return to work. In the case of others, there is also pressure on them to stay at home and take care of the household chores, before as well as after marriage. This happens majorly in India. These age-old beliefs also force the female architect to discontinue her career in the field of architecture.
Such things impose a thought on female architects to quit the career after graduation, or not joining the field at all. In many firms, their return after maternity leave is not taken positively and ultimately the female architect has to lose the job.
What is the life of the female architect beginning from ‘taking admission in architecture school’?
In this male-dominated field, taking up this as a course in itself rejected in many societies, especially in India where there is pressure from the families to take up another course owing to the fact that the entire career would have a workplace surrounded by male architects.
When they are graduated and apply for practice, there is gender discrimination in the firm employing an architect. Fewer of the many firms reject the application of female architects. According to studies, only three firms of the 100 biggest firms in the world have female architects either as heads or managing teams.
It is observed that female architects are well represented in junior-level positions, but scarcely climb the ladder to becoming the heads or getting a position in the management team. A question also then arises that would the number of female architects increase if there were women developers? Or if there were women involved in the on-site construction and management? The answer would be – probably yes.
Are they getting paid as much as male architects?
Studies show that female architects are getting paid a much lesser amount than male architects working in the same firm for the same amount of work. Again, societal and child-bearing issues come to the forefront. But there are also firms in which both males as well as female architects are getting equal pay.
How can this be changed? What factors should be considered then?
In order to have an equal number of both genders in the workplace, the firms should be considerate of women’s professional careers and domestic background, as well as her choice of the work environment. In the case of maternity leave, firms should promote a better culture of providing an alternate work environment where the female architect would be able to balance her professional life with her family life. Offices should encourage the female architects to head for the senior-most post and take the responsibilities for projects. Gender balance would create a positive working environment in the workplace and would also encourage more women to join in.
Even if all the things (mentioned in the earlier points) have put female architects in the background, there has been an increasing attempt to bring them to the forefront. Competitions and awards are hosted by various firms and organizations that honor female architects’ works. Events like the Move the Needle Campaign by Dezeen too are hosted to promote gender balance in the workplace. But there is still a lag of female architects in the list of Pritzker Prize awardees- Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima, Carme Pigem, Yvonne Farrell, and Shelley McNamara, until now since its 41-years of history.
Do female architects really need attention?
Danish architect Dorte Mandrup argues that we need to stop promoting the term ‘female architects’ because the women are then seen as second class citizens. In a field where we, as architects, design ‘for the people‘ studying so many factors, every architect’s motive is providing the society and the environment the best they can. While doing so, the term ‘female’ or ‘male’ before the term ‘architect’ brings down the value of the profession.