For almost thirty years women have comprised 40% of entrants to Australian architecture schools but their participation rates in the profession after graduation remain low, at about 20% of all registered architects.
More women participate in the industry than this but if they are unregistered they are unable to legally use the title ‘architect’. Women tend to be over-represented as employees and if they are directors of practices they are clustered into the band of small business owners.
Why is this so?
For a long time architectural researchers assumed the undersupply of women architects was a classic ‘pipeline’ issue. Once there were more women in the pipeline the number of women in architecture would rise accordingly. As the years wore on and the number of women graduating from architecture schools remained constant, but the numbers of women architects grew at a glacial pace, researchers became increasingly skeptical that a larger pipeline was the remedy.
The reasons for women’s under representation in architecture are complex but increasingly it seemed that workplace structures and practices had something to do with the exodus of women in the years after graduation and as women entered their thirties.
Three years ago a team of University of Melbourne and University of Queensland researchers, led by Naomi Stead, was awarded an Australian Research Council Linkage grant to investigate the barriers to women’s participation in the architecture profession.*
Equally importantly, the research team wanted to identify new mechanisms to retain and promote women and inaugurate real gender equity change. Working with industry partners and focus groups around the country the team collected and organised the advice from the “shop floor”. Many women and male architects stepped forward to offer practical tools useful for reducing everyday gender inequity in architectural offices and the profession.
Last Friday, the research team launched a set of 11 guides based on this advice. The Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice are available on Parlour, the website set up to exchange the research project’s information on women, equity and architecture.
The Guides are practical toolkits aimed at employees, employers and the profession. They identify eleven topics that our industry statistical research, interview surveys and focus groups have uncovered as burning issues for women in architecture. Individual guides cover the gender pay gap and recruitment practices, common areas of inequity across all professions. Architecture however has its own peculiarities due to the current nature of the industry and these are thornier issues to pick apart.
Currently architecture is dominated by a “long hours” culture and preference for full-time employees. For example our research has discovered that only 17% of architects work part time (less than 35 hours a week) compared to 27% of all professionals. The rate of male architects who work part time is close to that of other professions (13% for male architects, 15% for other male professionals). But the rate of women architects who work part time is only 29% compared to 38% of other women professionals.
Architects, like other professionals undertake project-based work, usually in teams. There are strong views in the industry that this kind of work is unsuited for flexible and part-time work patterns. Our research has identified a series of workplace practices that can support successful part-time or flexible work patterns. The Part Time and Flexibility Guides offer important tips for employees and employers on how to manage communication, allocation of tasks and responsibilities when working on a part-time or flexible basis.
Many of the tips have come from people with years of experience working in the industry. The Guides are a distillation of collective knowledge but equally they encourage conscious thinking about workplace practice. They focus on putting transparent procedures in place for hiring, promotion and job allocation. Research from other industries emphasizes the importance of clear and transparent practices to offset biases that can creep in to workplace processes.
Architecture is currently at a moment of change, buffeted by a downward economic cycle and continuing changes in the construction industry. We are keen to work towards a future profession that is more diverse, more flexible and includes a greater diversity of experiences and thinkers.
The development of the Parlour Guides has been led by Naomi Stead and Justine Clark, working with Susie Ashworth and Neph Wake. They are edited by Justine Clark and Susie Ashworth.