Type to search

Balancing the gender scales: women in architecture

Balancing the gender scales: women in architecture


Where are the Women Architects? by Despina Stratigakos opens with this wonderful photograph of Fay Kellogg on the ninth storey of a building, being interviewed by a journalist in 1912. Written by Penny Craswell.

This article originally appeared in AR146 – available now on newsstands and digitally through Zinio.

In order to change gender inequity in architecture, there are three steps that must be taken: acknowledgement of the problem, understanding the problem and tackling the problem. Although the first of these may seem unnecessary – sexism is no longer a new concept – the problem here is apathy. Women in their 20s may not think sexism applies to them – after all, they may have spent their school and university years in a roughly even split between genders, and are now in their first or second job with no discernible difference between their own salary and that of their male friends and colleagues. But, research conducted by Dr Naomi Stead and Justine Clark of the Parlour Inc website shows that, while the numbers of men and women graduates have been roughly equal for the last several decades, women are significantly underrepresented the more senior they become, to the point where there are more Peters* who have won the Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal than women.

Likewise, for women architects who have been in the profession for a long time – perhaps they have had their own practice or are leaders in their field – the issue of gender may seem a tired one. I can understand it – if you find yourself interviewed yet again as the only woman in a group of senior architects, I can pretty much guarantee that you are the only one being asked about gender (can you imagine a journalist asking what it’s like to be a male architect?). But that doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist and it doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

Understanding the problem is the next task. Fortunately, there has been much research done, by Parlour and others, into the cause of gender inequality within architecture. In her new book, Where are the Women Architects? Despina Stratigakos presents a history of women in architecture as well as providing a snapshot of the profession today, including an account of the significant strides being taken to right this wrong, including her own involvement in the creation of architect Barbie.

Next: tackling the problem. It is fantastic to see that there has been a lot of action on gender inequity in architecture in Australia in the last few years. ‘The Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice’ provide positive, productive suggestions around issues such as pay equity, flexibility, long-hours culture and registration. Also providing a practical and measurable set of actions for gender equity is Champions for Change, a program set up by the Gender Equity Taskforce of the NSW Australian Institute of Architects, which tasks male leaders within large architecture firms with making impactful actions to bring change for women in architecture.

These programs are making real, measurable changes to improve things for women in the field, which is so important. Because, even if the outward signs point to gender equity, sometimes unconscious bias can be our undoing. One interesting example of this recently made me take note: when people start to lead in their field, they are often asked to speak at events or conferences or to write articles or be interviewed for media. As you may expect, there is a tendency for men to do these things more, but there is another bias at play here. This is because workplaces are more likely to see these activities as part of a man’s day job (all part of promoting the practice), while, for women, they are seen as extracurricular activities.

This is why gender inequality is not just about women needing to ‘lean in’ or put themselves forward for more power, responsibility and visibility. It is about a fundamental, and often unconscious, bias – that men’s work is more important and more valuable than women’s work.

*Women: Britt Andresen (2002), Kerry Clare (shared with husband Lindsay Clare) Peters: Stutchbury (2015), Wilson (2013), Corrigan (2003) and McIntyre (1990).


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *