Women in architecture: what is the way forward?

As a judge of the recent Architects’ Journal 2014 Women in Architecture awards I was of course delighted to see the achievements of so many inspirational women architects being celebrated and at last acknowledged at the Awards luncheon at the Langham Hotel last Friday.

But, the awards aside, what, as many observers have pointed out, is there to celebrate about women’s status in the architectural profession? Only about a fifth of practising architects in the UK are women, and even fewer are directors or partners.

The outcome of the AJ’s annual Women in Architecture survey this year represents a quite depressing picture – and, interestingly, more than 200 of those who filled it in were men. Two thirds of the women who answered say that they have suffered sexual discrimination, 11% once a week or more. And though women architects believed they receive equal pay to men, AJ’s research showed that they can in fact earn as much as £10,000 a year less. Again, two thirds believed that the building industry has not fully accepted the authority of the female architect.

In an age where gender equality is supposedly a given, this shows the scale of the challenge that still remains in the architectural profession, and indeed in many others. How can we respond? At the AJ Awards event, Patty Hopkins made the comment that ‘the role of an architect is so diverse. It can mean so many different things – working on projects with vast differences of scale, working in a big team for a big practice on big jobs, working for self or small office on small jobs … Perhaps the answer is in this diversity. There are roles for all.’

Currently our way of telling the story of architecture is to tell the story of individuals – and naturally because of this the focus remains on those male architects who have become world-renowned figures (yes, there is Zaha Hadid – but incredibly, she has only received this status over the last few years). There are of course other women too, but nowhere near enough. Perhaps what is needed is a greater focus on the variety of roles within the profession and the importance of teamwork and collaboration. Then we may see the contribution of women throughout the profession getting greater recognition, which may go some way further to closing the gap that still so obviously exists.


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