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AIA survey finds many women and minority architects still feeling underrepresented and unfulfilled

Dissatisfaction with “work-life balance” and compensation are cited as reasons why companies’ diversity strategies may be faltering.

March 11, 2016 |

AIA's latest diversity report paints a picture of an industry that still isn't proactively recruiting, developing, or promoting enough women or people of color. Image: Pixabay

Job satisfaction among architects remains a half-full/half-empty story.

In its latest survey on industry diversity (which can be downloaded from here), The American Institute of Architects (AIA) found that about half of the 7,522 architects who responded reported high satisfaction with their jobs overall.

At least three-fifths believe their firms treat all of their employees equally, and well more than half of respondents are satisfied with their job security.

The survey reveals that less than half of respondents are satisfied with their work-life balance, or with the recognition they receive, or even with how many meaningful projects they’re working on.

But as the survey peels away the onionskin, it reveals that less than half of respondents are satisfied with their work-life balance, or with the recognition they receive, or even with how many meaningful projects they’re working on. “Satisfaction is lowest on salary and fairness and transparency of their employers’ promotion and compensation practices,” the report states.

Unfortunately, this is not exactly earthshaking news. Nor are the findings of considerable differences in satisfaction levels when the survey’s responses are broken down by gender and race. Those differences betray an architectural industry that, at least according to the respondents, still isn’t doing nearly enough to attract and retain women or minorities.

First, some stats: The survey’s respondents included 4,223 men and 3,117 women. People of color comprised 1,518 of respondents, whites 5,763. The survey oversampled women and minorities to increase participation and ensure the report reflected their views.

The mean age of the respondents was 39.7, although 45% of the women, 30% of the men, and 37% of people with color were between the ages of 25 and 34.

The majority of women and people of color agreed that they are either “somewhat” or “very” underrepresented in the industry. Perhaps more salient is the finding that half of all women think their gender is less likely to be promoted to more senior positions. And white women are more aggrieved than women or men of color, less than one third of whom see a racial divide when it comes to promotions.

A sizable minority of women said they are more likely to be funneled into interior design or design-related fields, and not architecture.

The survey explored why more women and minorities aren’t advancing. Concerns about work-life balance are definitely a factor. Seventy-one percent of women say they leave their jobs because long work hours are antithetical to starting a family. And there’s a consensus that companies could attract and retain more women if they allowed for a better work-life balance, which might include flexible hours and working remotely.

“It is notable that all architects (regardless of gender or race) consider work-life balance important, and many have low satisfaction with their ability to achieve it,” the report states. “The majority of architects feels that managing work-life balance is more difficult for them compared with other professionals and wish for greater job flexibility in the industry.”

Among the ways that companies could hire and retain their women and minority architects include offering mentoring and personal development programs, reaching out to schools and communities, and providing industry-funded scholarships (69% of people of color say their race is underrepresented in the industry because architecture school is too expensive). Across the board, respondents also think companies must provide clear, written criteria for job promotions.

The survey revisits the impact of salary on diversity and job satisfaction. According to, the average salary for someone who has earned a Master of Architecture degree starts at around $35,000 for an intern architect, and rises to about $99,000 for a project manager-architecture.

The AIA survey found that 43% of men of color, 38% of women of color, and 37% of white women didn’t think their salaries were commensurate with their hours worked. More specifically, only 29% of women of color, 31% of white women, and 38% of white men and men of color said they are satisfied with their salaries.

Perceptions that you’re not getting paid what you’re worth can be demoralizing. And perhaps the most alarming finding in the survey is that only 43% of women of color and 46% of white women feel passionate about what they do, compared to 55% of men of color, and 52% of white men. 

Charts courtesy AIA:

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