Architecture has long been a male-dominated field. While times are slowly changing, some firms have made a deliberate effort to make their offices more representative of society as a whole by promoting gender equality. Firms that have made a commitment to building an inclusive, representative team are able to reap the benefits of all that women have to offer the profession. In this post, we’ll talk about the reasons for the scarcity of women in architecture as well as ways that firms like HMC Architects are combating inequality.
Reasons for Gender Inequality in Architecture
A survey by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) shows that while women account for nearly half of graduates from architecture programs, they only make up about 15 percent of licensed architects. Considering that women make up more than 50 percent of the population, it’s important to ask ourselves how we can make changes to this statistic.
A few factors contribute to the general lack of gender equality in the field, such as:
- Wage Gap: Particularly for those at the beginning of their career, the architecture industry is known to be less financially lucrative than other industries. In addition, the wage gap between males and females in the architecture industry affects women’s perception of how companies value them. Many women feel undervalued in the male-dominated architecture industry, so they seek financial rewards in other market sectors where the wage gap between males and females is lower or non-existent.
- Lack of Mentors: In general, architecture firms lack relatable female mentors who can help young women entering the field develop professionally. The “mini me” effect can also play out, as people (often unconsciously) gravitate towards mentoring those who look the same as they do or identify with their interests. As a result, managers, who are most often male, tend to choose male staff to mentor, develop, and groom for promotion.
- Perception of Female Leaders: In the architecture world, as in other professions, strong female leadership is sometimes perceived negatively. Women leaders may be looked down on as “bossy” or “shrill” rather than decisive or visionary.
- Need for Childcare: For women who choose to take the path of motherhood, it can be difficult to balance career and family. Childcare is often expensive and difficult to find; this is especially an issue for architects, as most will work more than 40 hours per week.
While some of these issues, such as the lack of financial incentive, are specific to the field of architecture, the majority apply to most professions. And, as with most professions, there are real benefits to remedying the lack of women in architecture.
Why Do We Need Women in Architecture?
For those women who persist in the pursuit of a career in architecture, they’re often making the choice, like many of their male colleagues, because of their love of the profession. Architecture is a challenging, creative, and fulfilling job that involves taking an idea from paper to reality. Having female team members contribute to this process has distinct advantages, such as:
- Creativity and Innovation: Teams with both men and women have more diverse opinions and viewpoints. This breeds greater creativity and more innovative solutions to common design problems.
- Community Representation: Architecture exists to reflect and serve the community, and women are a part of our community. Having women involved in design allows their perspectives, views, and needs to be reflected in the final product.
- Team Balancing: Having women on the team creates a more balanced group dynamic, leading to greater productivity.
Education is also a crucial part of supporting social change. Educating and raising girls to be confident and powerful is one aspect of this, as is educating boys to see women as equal. Another type of education occurs when younger staff see female architects modeling a balanced life with marriage, kids, and work, showing that work/life balance is achievable in this industry.
However, realizing the advantages that women bring to architecture isn’t enough. Getting more women into architecture—particularly leadership positions—and keeping them there takes support from the industry as a whole. We need both men and women in this industry to help each other be our best selves, and that requires a focused effort from firms along with changes in policy.
Supporting Women in Architecture
At HMC, our mentorship and development program is set up to help all employees achieve their goals and grow in the profession. While this isn’t a woman-specific program, it encourages equality by offering a chance for all employees to grow and be mentored. And we feel it’s important to walk the walk when it comes to women in architecture; three of the four principals in our Los Angeles office are women, including our managing principal, Kristina Singiser. This sets an example of our commitment to value women at the highest levels in our company.
We are also proud of our community involvement with the Los Angeles branch of Women in Architecture AIA. Last year, two of the twenty-five presenters at the Speed Talks events were staff members of HMC, and we had several participants at the 6th Powerful Symposium event. Two of our staff members are active members of the 2020 committee. HMC is an active sponsor of Women in Architecture and continues supporting organizations to help women in our industry.