The field of architecture has long been implied as a male-dominated field even when women have been entering and disappearing from this profession. It was in the 1980s when women started to earn architectural degrees. The newcomers were often discouraged and uninvited in the male turf.
In the 1970s, with the rise in women’s movements, legal and institutional reforms promised gender equality in the professional field. This helped in the rise of women’s enrolment in educational programs. However, even after successful architectural education, large numbers of women leave the profession soon after graduation or in later years of practice.
Surveys by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) and other organizations show that the number of women practising as licensed architects does not account for nearly half of women graduates from architecture and design programs every year.
Women leave the profession of design and architecture at an alarming rate. This represents a great loss of talent and energy that the design and architecture required. And if by any chance a woman tries to survive her career, she is not accepted and undervalued by her colleagues.
The gender imbalance in architecture and design is visible during conferences or events.
The Root Of The Problem
Lack of female mentors: Generally, architecture firms and colleges lack relatable female mentors or architects who can help guide young women entering the field.
The notion about successful female architects: Not just in architecture but also in many professions, strong females are sometimes perceived in a negative personality as they are often looked down on as “bossy” or “sharp” rather than ambitious or decisive.
Wage gap: The architecture industry is perceived as less financially productive than other industries. In addition to this, the wage gap between men and women in architecture and design concerns women’s values.
Long working hours: Architecture demands long working hours which becomes difficult for women to sustain as they approach licensure and, concurrently, childbearing age.
Need for attention towards childcare and family: Once married at a young age, it becomes difficult for women to balance both family and career requirements. Extensive work hours in architecture become an issue for women.
Sexual Harassment: Unsurprisingly, many surveys show that women who work in male-dominated professions experience more sexual harassment.
“Gender equality can be promoted by fixing problems with architecture schools and its profession. Respect the work, regardless of the source. Stop giving jobs to people because they are networked. The profession needs to become merit-based again instead of connection-based. This breaks down the barrier for women, as well as promoting the new talent of all sexes, races and countries.” – Joe Tanner via Facebook
“Academia needs to step up and be more forthright about the barriers that kept women from practicing architecture for so long, and the continuing sexism that prevented female architects from being taken seriously (particularly in the 20th century). One of the biggest disappointments in my educational experience is the fact that this was not once acknowledged in a whole year of history courses. Furthermore, our options for case studies almost never include works by female architects… Addressing this in academia is one way to make sure that everyone in the next generation of architects entering the field understands this reality because there is an appalling lack of awareness at the moment.” – McKenzie Baird via Facebook
Importance Of Women In Architecture And Design
Architecture is a creative and challenging job that asks for loads of energy and time. And women, like many other men colleagues, continue in pursuit of practising architecture because of their love for this profession.
There are many advantages to women contributing to architecture:
Wider perspective: Working of both men and women together encourages an exchange of knowledge resulting in diverse creative solutions and innovations.
Representation of society: The field of architecture is to serve and reflect society, and women are a part of that society. Including women in the process helps in the emergence of better results that are going to be utilized by both men and women of the society.
Balance in the work environment: Greater productivity and balance in the work environment can be achieved by having women on the team.
With changing times, many architecture firms have started to provide equal value and opportunities to both men and women by promoting gender equality. Organizations like reSITE encourage female architects and designers to attend campaigns and be a part of the developing future. To keep women thrive in architecture, better personal policies like paid family leave, supporting caregivers, and health are required.
Some successful female architects are Zaha Hadid, Lina Bo Bardi, Neri Oxman, Odile Decq, Brinda Somaya, Abha Narain Lambah, Sheila Sri Prakash, Shimul Javeri Kadri, Anupama Kundoo, and many more.
Gender bias has also played a major role in the function and appearance of buildings. Hannah Rozenberg, a graduate of the Royal College of Art, worked on her thesis- “Building without bias: An architectural language for the post binary,” to prove the notion that architecture can, by design, be gendered.
To demonstrate this point, she studied a neighbourhood of London that houses multiple social clubs for men only. She explains that even the technology we use has been built based on gender. Hannah Rozenberg has designed an algorithm similar to that of Google translate to measure words against the most commonly associated gender.
Her methodology might seem complex; ultimately, her message is that by correcting the machine as it begins to play a larger part in designing the buildings of the future—and by self-correcting our own gender biases—we might design spaces that work better for all.
https://www.solidpixels.net (n.d.). reSITE to Rebalance Gender Inequality in Architecture and Design. [online] reSITE. Available at: https://www.resite.org/stories/resite-to-rebalance-gender-inequality-in-architecture-and-design [Accessed 28 July. 2021].
Comberg, E. (2018). What it Means to Build Without Bias: Questioning the Role of Gender in Architecture. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/900856/what-it-means-to-build-without-bias-questioning-the-role-of-gender-in-architecture.
HMC Architects. (2020). Women in Architecture: How HMC Pioneers Gender Equality | Thought Leadership. [online] Available at: https://hmcarchitects.com/news/women-in-architecture-how-hmc-pioneers-gender-equality-2020-04-17/.
Metropolis. (2016). Architecture’s New Feminist Activism Tackles the Profession’s Gender-Bias. [online] Available at: https://www.metropolismag.com/architecture/architecture-new-feminist-activism-tackles-profession-gender-bias/ [Accessed 30 July. 2021].