The global percentage of women varies between 49 and 51 in any given year. The workplace does not reflect these percentages.
Although architecture is trying to increase the number of women in its ranks, the progress is slow – in the United States, half of the fresh graduates in any year are female, but only 18% of licensed architects are women.
In Europe, 26% of registered architects are a better male to female architect ratio, but still not reflecting the general population.
Why is architecture male-dominated?
Should the percentage of male and female architects be more equal?
Are there reasons why architecture is not an equal opportunity profession?
Some of the reasons why the male to female architect ratio favors men are rooted in social attitudes, but some may surprise you.
1. Lower Salaries for Women
In architecture and all the other professions, women typically earn 20% less than men. Some women architects earn exceptionally high salaries, but they are the rock stars of their generation.
In society, women earn less than men in every role across the board.
If this is a societal problem, why does it impact women in architecture?
Architecture is a long slog to graduate, work, and gain your license. The numbers of potential license holders at graduation are equal, but more women leave the profession than men.
Part of the reason for leaving must be the lack of reward when they can take their creative skills and gain more working in another career path. Lower salaries than their male colleagues are never the only reason women leave the architecture field, but it does not help.
2. Lack of Female Mentors
Mentors are a significant factor in helping a new graduate achieve professional success. A mentor will guide you past the rookie mistakes, help you network and boost your self-esteem.
Women are underrepresented in high-level architecture roles, which means a shortage of potential mentors for young female architects.
Theoretically, a female graduate can have a male mentor in the firm or profession.
Still, practically there are perception problems with an older man taking an interest in a younger woman’s career. It should not be a problem, but it makes life awkward for the mentor and the mentee.
Male architects find it easier to find a successful mentor to coach them to progress. Female architects find it more challenging to approach potential mentors, and there are fewer available candidates for the role.
3. Employers Prefer Male Architects
It is probably not conscious, but when potential employers weigh up male vs. female architects’ qualities, they favor employing male architects.
The first reason is that fewer female architects apply for roles than male architects because they only throw their hat in the ring if they match the job specification.
Men and women have different approaches to job applications. A man will apply for a role if he meets half the criteria; a woman will rule herself out as not be sufficiently qualified.
The result is that an employer has more male candidates than women candidates to consider.
Then there is the employer’s perception of a woman being able to deal with construction site workers, demanding clients, and other potential barriers to performing the role. Plus, most potential employers are male and find it easier to build a rapport in the interview with the male candidates.
All these factors nudge the employer into preferring a male candidate for the job offer. Fresh female graduates work harder at getting that first architecture role compared with their male peers.
4. Lack of Family Support
Part of the male to female architect ratio imbalance must be down to the different levels of support available to men and women in the architecture profession.
While a woman may have supportive parents and siblings, her life partner may be less than keen on the long hours and the time spent away from home.
Then there is the tricky issue of having children and accessing childcare. A female architect at the top of her profession and running her own business has more options than a young female graduate trying to get her architecture career off the ground.
Plus, a female architect’s prime childbearing years coincide with the early stages of her career.
Unless a female architect has a strong support network, family life may push her into pursuing a less intensive career using her skills in another field. Raising a child is a crucial and necessary role, and it is not surprising that intelligent women abandon architecture in favor of spending time with their children.
Given the same choice, most men need to stay at work to support their families.
This social dynamic is unlikely to change significantly. The result is fewer women in architecture.
5. Lack of Role Models
Women are underrepresented in architecture firms, but also architecture schools’ lecturers and tutors are predominantly male.
The lack of role models goes deeper – most of the coursework studied by architecture students involves men’s work and writing.
There are architecture female role models – Mary Louisa Page (source) graduated way back in 1879 with an architecture degree long before legislation in 1972 forced architecture schools to open their doors to women.
You cannot underestimate the importance of seeing other women working in inspiring women architects to embrace their chosen profession.
Stereotypes put both men and women in a box. Female architects can do interiors, but only male architects can build a bridge.
Stereotypes encourage limits, and a stereotype puts up an artificial boundary to what both men and women can do with their lives.
Stereotypes damage ambition, restricting your dreams, preventing promising female architects from progressing.
In architecture, women face the stereotypical assumption that professional architects are men. This perception can discourage young women from trying to pursue their careers.
As more high-profile women appear in the media, this stereotype loses its power and influence.
7. Golf-Club Culture
Architects, like plenty of other professions, need business networks with referrals and contacts from other professionals.
Where do most architects meet and do business with doctors, lawyers, developers, and others?
It used to be the golf course (and it is still the place for a lot of networking), but today it is a range of informal networking opportunities that are still male-dominated events.
The culture of male bonding and sharing business is still prevalent, and it takes time and energy for a female architect to find those informal and lucrative business networking opportunities.
The result is those male architects find out about new opportunities, land more clients, and get promoted, and female architects leave for a more even playing field.
Men can plug into a ready-made system to gain friends and influence when it comes to male vs. female architects’ informal bonding opportunities. Female architects need to exercise more creativity in building that contact portfolio.
Still, professional women create social networks and are gradually setting up an “old girls” system to compete with the “old boys.”
8. Curse of the Long Hours Culture
Practically speaking, most women have more obligations than men outside of their working day. These obligations range from providing care and support for elderly relatives to picking up kids from school and life administration like cooking, cleaning, and maintaining social bonds.
Gender equality outside work has a long way to travel before men and women have equal demands on their non-working hours.
Women leave the architecture field because they can’t square the circle of unexpected long hours and other commitments.
They live the impossible position of always disappointing everyone – themselves because they fail to meet their obligations, their employer who expects the extra hours, and the other people relying on them at home.
The stress of the constant conflicting demands (plus other industry problems) pulls them away from architecture. Once they leave, it is harder to go back.
9. Men are Technology Gatekeepers
Information Technology (IT) is fundamental to most careers in architecture, with design, building calculations, and others relying on technology.
Women are woefully under-represented in positions of power and influence in IT – men tend to be the gatekeepers of the vital technology that makes architecture firms work.
This difference puts women at a disadvantage in their current firms, and when they look to move employment – the skill in demand is technology mastery and enthusiasm.
Most women learn to use their software tools so they can deliver their projects. Most men enjoy the thinking behind the technology and get passionately involved with it.
Now that’s a gender stereotype!
Some women are technology wizards, and some men prefer to sketch with a pencil, but the statistics show that men dominate the IT field.
IT is increasingly essential to architecture, and women are cutting down on possible employment chances if they don’t embrace technology as wholeheartedly as their male colleagues.
10. Slow Rate of Industry Change
In 1972 architecture schools in the United States opened their door to female students.
Typically, it takes six years to graduate, and it can take 10-15 years to work your way into gaining your architecture license. Those first female graduates fought their way into the firms and slowly rose through the ranks to head up architecture firms.
Many of these pioneering women move into other careers, which means that changing male-dominated architecture firms’ dynamics is slow.
The environment is changing for women in every career path, but slowly. There are glass ceilings, unconscious bias, family demands, and a host of other reasons why the male to female ratio in architecture skews towards the male.
Will Architecture Stay a Male-Dominated Career?
Women’s role in the workplace is complicated, but increasingly women are making successful careers for themselves in a male-dominated field like architecture.
You can find female architects in construction, industrial building, interior design, and landscaping – everywhere you can find a male architect.
As more women reach management positions in architecture, the culture will change with better working conditions (reducing the long hours’ culture) and more opportunities for diverse employees.
These changes benefit both male and female architects because male roles outside of work are also changing with shared responsibilities.
It is unlikely that architecture will cease to be male dominate. Still, more women who want to be architects have a better chance of success because society is removing some of the social barriers to women working in any field.