For 10 weeks now I have been writing articles on gender diversity in architecture, why it’s an issue, how it is worsened, the extent to which in exists in Australia and more. After reading this you may be left thinking two things, 1; Surely she’s done now and couldn’t possibly find anything else to write about and 2; Well sh*t… There’s no way I can dismantle the patriarchy, solve gender inequality and have a chance at being a successful and happy architect knowing this now. Well good news, you’re wrong about both of those points. Making a change may not be as hard as it sounds and lucky for you I’ve formulated a number of ways for you and for others to help solve gender inequality in architecture. For this piece we will look at how to change the cycle of male dominated architecture within universities, within companies and within the every-day architect or citizen, so that we can all come away from reading feeling confident that we can diversify the architecture industry.
What can Universities Do?
This is a topic that I have discussed previous weeks, the need for change in the university curriculum in order to create a difference in mindset for the next generation of graduates is an integral part of creating change for the industry as whole. At the least, universities and professors need to be making a conscious effort to educate their students on architects of different genders, ethnicities and sexualities. As I wrote in my earlier article, ‘Where did all the Women go? A brief history of Architecture’ there is often a historical bias which revolves around straight, white, male architects, which eliminates anyone from history who doesn’t fit into these categories. University staff need to make a conscious and deliberate effort to educate themselves and their students on a more diverse range of historical figures and perhaps on the character and authenticity of some of their much loved ‘starchitects’ *cough cough* Le Corbusier.
Additionally, students should also be made aware of current firms that are fighting and encouraging diversity locally such as Whispering Smith, in order to normalise and support women-lead firms
Furthermore, something that was evident after speaking with both Emily Van Eyk and Kate Fitzgerald is the need for more practical-based units in the curriculum. This is something which benefits all students and future employers as it will better prepare the next generation of architects for the workplace and give them the necessary business skills that are needed in the industry, currently lacking in graduates. This aims to help create more knowledge around the industry as a whole, so young graduates are better prepared for the profession, are more likely to open their own firms and less likely to be battling inexperience after graduation.
What can the Industry and Business Owners do?
By now I think we can all agree that the traditional 9-5 business day doesn’t suit everyone and at the end of the day business’ will be the ones to suffer if they don’t give their employees the flexibility they need to continue in their role. Implementing different business structures such the idea of a ‘core hours policy’ which gives employees more flexibility to structure their day to fit other commitments is an effective strategy (Heath, 2018). For instance, having core hours of 9:30am-2:30pm to work in the office would allow for parents to have enough time to take their kids to and from school. Then the additional 4 hours can be made-up for on another day, working from home or in the evening, at the employees discretion. Giving staff a set of hours and letting them decide when to complete them will not only make it easier for busy employees but will also reduce stress and make the workplace a happier environment. In addition, the idea of a small set of core hours each day still enables members of the office to consistently collaborate and connect with one another. Just as Emily Van Eyk stated, “I think collaboration is important within architecture but flexible business hours, and eliminating strict working times is a great way to encourage more diversity in the industry”.
A gender quota system is another potential solution at both an industry and university level, and while trying to fill a quota may seem problematic, previous examples of it being implemented have shown very positive outcomes. Across all professional industries Norway ranks the highest for gender diversity in the workforce. This is because the Norwegian government has a gender quota system that requires a certain proportion of women on the board of each publicly listed company. This is an easy and effective way to ensure that females are encouraged in professional industries which could be carried out within Australia. Furthermore, it’s important to highlight that this quota requires a certain percentage of women as members of the board only, not necessarily within the company as a whole. But having female leaders and mentors encourages female employees throughout a business. Just as I discussed with Kate Fitzgerald, having women in the senior-most roles will ‘breed’ a future of female leaders and improve statistics that put women in only 11% of ownership of architectural firms. The statistic which Kate describes as being the one that “matters most” in terms of gaining true equality in architecture.
In addition, every business owner should implement a solid maternity and paternity arrangement that not only allows new parents to go on leave but also ensures that their supported once they return back to work, either part-time or full-time. In a 2013 survey by Parlour “Pregnancy Discrimination and Returning to Work” female participants were asked;
“If you have had a career break, how do you think this has affected your career progression?
Of the 976 respondents who answered the question a high number said that working part-time had had a negative impact on their career progression” (Parlour, 2003). With respondents stating things such as;
- “I had been with a firm for four years and after I had my first child they would not take me back under any circumstances”.
- “If you stopped to have children, employers have viewed this very negatively. I have been through interviews and not mentioned children and the second I do I have very negative feedback”.
- “I think architecture is a field in which it is very difficult for a woman to rise to the top unless she remains single and childless, or happens to marry an architect and become a co-partner in practice with her husband”.
As you can see it is not just important that we allow for employees to be allowed enough paid leave but to ensure that they feel supported, welcome and involved when they are able to return to the workplace.
What can we all do?
So finally, what can you do? The every day architect or citizen, male or female, who is passionate about equality or architecture but unsure about how they can help. The simple answer, educate. In the past weeks I have aimed to educate my readers about gender and architecture but I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. We are fortunate enough now to have a range of resources available to us which can inform us on issues such as these, and guide us further on how to improve the situation. Educate yourself and others by calling out prejudice behaviour, bringing up gender equality as a topic of conversation within business meetings or with friends, discuss ways in which you might help implement a change with those who are effected by these issues if you’re not directly effected. Remember, its called a glass ceiling for a reason, if the issue doesn’t apply to you then you probably can’t see it until someone points it out to you, so speak with people about these issues and make them feel supported if it is impacting them.
While it will take long term and wide spread commitment to create an impactful change towards diversity, having an awareness of the issue is certainly the first step. So, speak with your colleagues, employees, managers and friends about the issue and if they’re serious about making difference then suggest some of the potential solutions in this article and take the second step towards creating an industry of females, undefeated.
 Heath, Nicola. 2018. “Diversity In Architecture: Designing A Gender-Balanced Office – HRM Online”. HRM Online. https://www.hrmonline.com.au/section/strategic-hr/diversity-architecture-designing-gender-balanced-office/.
 Parlour. 2013. “Pregnancy Discrimination And Returning To Work.”. Australian Research Council linkage project (2011–2014). https://humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Parlour%20-%20women%20equity%20architecture%20Submission.pdf.