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Sexism in Architecture: The Path Still Taken?

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Equal pay for equal work is thick in the air these days. Especially with President Obama saying in the State of the Union "it is time to do away with policies that belong in a Mad Men episode." When I think of sexism, I imagine it happening in the far-reaches of some faceless, corporate office where the "ol' boys club" still rein supreme. I don't think about wage disparities in social-conscious and creative professions like architecture. But according to a survey by Architects Journal on Women in Architecture, Don Draper could as easily be an architect as he is a advertising executive.

The Women in Architecture Survey 2014 is the third annual survey by the Architects Journal. The organization first started the survey to get a sense of the profession within the UK, but over the past few years, respondents have quickly become more international. This year, of the 926 respondents, nearly 25 percent were from the U.S. along with respondents from Europe, Canada and Australia. Also, 76 percent of respondents are female with the remaining being male.

The most eye-popping statistic is that two thirds of women feel they have suffered sexual discrimination during their career in architecture -- up by eight points from 2011. Of those, more than 40 percent say they experience/witness sexual discrimination on a regular basis.

What is driving such an imbalance of equality within a field that prides itself on being a tool for social good and human wellness? The survey doesn't answer this question, but poses that it may come from a worsening economic climate that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the building industry. It is could be that the survey itself is brought about a greater awareness of the problem, so more are speaking out.

When asked if the building industry fully accepts a woman's authority as an architect, 66 percent percent of women say no. Forty-nine percent of men responding agree. When asked if architecture is balanced between men and women, over 70 percent of both men and women answered it is too heavily male (73 percent and 79 percent respectively).

The survey explores other aspects of the architectural field as well. With pay and childcare, the imbalance is continue. On average, women are paid less within all the countries and regions. In the highest pay bracket of architects pay over $150,000 (or £100K), men are six times more likely to fill those positions.

With regard to childcare, female professions feel that children could be a career killer. One respondent admitted that she didn't disclose to her employer she had kids out of fear it would hinder her job.

The School of Architecture
This type of discrimination is not isolated to officers in the "real world." Students and emerging architects, those under the age of 30 years old, reported sexual discrimination is a regular occurance. Moreover, 20 percent of female students say they have been bullied while still in school, and 88 percent of female students think having children is a disadvantage within the architectural world.

Is Peggy Olson Threatening you?
When I first read about the survey, I imagined men as the source of all the sexism, but that's not entirely true. Women respondents say other women are the bullies more often than men. One women saying that "the problem is that, since we women in architecture are so few, there is a lot of competitiveness, rather than collaboration." With women feeling discriminated in both university and in the office, architecture may find it difficult to change the dynamic.

Name a Female Architect
In today's starchitecture world, I'm assuming you can name at least one or two female architects off the top of your head such as Zaha Hadid and Elizabeth Diller. But can you name five? Or 10? If I ask you to name five male architects, is that easier to do? My guess is yes. Google "women architects", and you are likely to find the Wikipedia "Women Architects" page. With a quick scan of the names, how many pop out at you? And of those that you do know, can you name 2 or 3 important projects without more research?

My guess is that you can't if you aren't in the field. But to be fair, I'm not sure the average person can name two or three buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright either. (Falling Water, the Guggenheim... and one more????). And yet our inability to name projects and architects, that we are basically architecturally illiterate in general, speaks to the issue at hand.

The not-knowing-anything-about-architecture could be a big part of overlooking the apparent sexism that women experience in academy and at work. When I think back to my time in architecture school, I can't pinpoint seeing female students discouraged or bullied. But the one thing I do remember is that I never had a class or even a lecture dedicated to women in architecture. However, I have worked with lots of women during my career in sustainability and architecture. Until I started to think about it never really noticed sexism. But if I'm honest, some glaring examples start to jump out at me.

Solving the issues around sexism in architecture will not be resolved with one survey, but the Architects Journal approach is likely to engage more deans of architecture schools, architects, partners and leaders in the field to face the realities that it is uncovering. I had a chance to interview with Laura Mark, a reporter for the magazine, to talk in-depth about the survey. If anything, the ultimate goal needs to be more inclusion in architecture so it can truly be a tool for societal progress, sustainability and rebirth.