Women as Builders: The Need for More Women in Architecture

By Kassandra Burd

When we think of a builder or an architect, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of us envision a strong, rugged man pounding away at nails with a hammer on a rooftop. Or perhaps behind a desk with a detailed map as he works on devising plans for the model of a new house or the foundation of a building to be constructed. 

I will readily admit that this is the image that comes to mind when I think of any engineering sector that involves physical structures, fixing, or building. Despite the fact that mostly men pursue architecture as a career, there are many women employed as architects. Unfortunately, they are often overshadowed by men, as they are generally not given the same level of status and prestige.

Why are women underrepresented in architecture? While many believe the reason relates to women starting families and giving more attention to child care, this is predominantly not the case. Women respondents to a survey and research from Equity by Design found that even though work-life balance was one of the barriers for advancement in architectural professions, most cited that they were unsatisfied with others’ perceptions of them on the job (Besner, 2017). 

These women objected to how they were treated, specifically being underpaid, lack of promotions, scarcity of engaging and high-profile work, and not having a sufficient number of mentors to help guide them with their work (Besner, 2017). According to a report by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, women are often appointed with more menial work and not included in site visits, meetings with clients, or important discussions to the same extent as their male colleagues (Besner, 2017). 

Women starting out in the field are typically persuaded to do work involving drafting, interiors, and landscapes, as opposed to more appealing work involving structural design or client engagement. 

It is unfortunate that on a global scale women face barriers to obtaining creative positions and advancing in top architectural firms; they are hired less often and receive less pay than their male counterparts (Ponsford, 2018). Only about 29% of architects in Canada are women, with the UK declaring 26%, and 24% in the United States (Besner, 2017). Furthermore, the average woman working in architecture earns 16% less hourly than her male colleagues (Pitcher, 2020). 

Out of the world’s 100 biggest architecture firms, only three are run by women, and only two of these firms comprise of over 50% women in management positions (Fairs, 2017). At each ascending tier of management, the proportion of women occupying these prestigious roles unremittingly declines. The director of Brady Mallalieu Architects in London, UK comments that, “The lack of women at the top, to me, implies a prejudice within the firm … My advice to the larger firms is to redress the balance and add talented women architects to your top director level … If you don’t, you will be regarded as old fashioned, out of date, and not great people to do business with” (Fairs, 2017). 

Sadie Morgan, co-founder of dRMM firm, adds: “There is enough credible evidence now showing that a better and more diverse senior team makes for a more successful business. It seems counterintuitive for practices to continue with an outdated mode of working and not try to address this issue” (Fairs, 2017). 

Ultimately, architectural firms should make more of an effort to hire women, not only as architects working in the field, but as workers employed in management positions. Providing women the same opportunities as men will give a more balanced playing field and will contribute to this area in a way that brings about diverse ideas and perspectives. This is crucial because it would be sure to add vivacity and nuance that wouldn’t otherwise be present in a discipline that tends to hold men in higher regard. 

Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, any process to improve gender equality across STEM fields could be put to a halt now that workplaces are moving at a slower pace (Pitcher, 2020). According to Pitcher, people most affected by the pandemic are those who can least afford it, which in this case, may be true for women who are being undervalued and not taken as seriously in their line of work. 

It is evident that the architectural sector, as well as the engineering field as a whole, needs to place more priority on hiring women, paying them more, and giving them fair opportunities across the board. It is also necessary that women be treated with the same respect as their male counterparts, and their work taken just as seriously. It would be helpful to have men working in STEM to speak up about gender equity and support women in their efforts to advance in their field. 

Incidentally, there are many organizations that work to encourage women and motivate them to pursue careers in engineering. One of these organizations is WomEng where they have implemented programs to raise certain issues that women deal with in engineering, from school all the way through to the industry (Moosajee & Vallabh, 2017). Their mission is to lobby, advocate, and build capacity and engagement within the sector. 

Another organization making strides to encourage women is Building Equality in Architecture Toronto (BEAT), which is dedicated to “supporting equality and diversity in architecture” (Architectural Review, 2018). They take action by organizing events to further women’s advancement in architecture, while also giving them opportunities for mentorship and networking with others (Architectural Review, 2018). 

Improving efforts to make way for women is essential if we want to see continued advancement in STEM fields. We need women’s ideas, skills, and perspectives in order for any sector, especially STEM sectors like engineering, to flourish and prosper. 

Bibliography 

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from https://www.architectural-review.com/architects/women-in-architecture/initiatives-promoting-gender-equality-in-architecture/10037345.article

Fairs, M. (2017). Survey of leading architecture firms reveals “quite shocking” lack of gender 

diversity at senior levels. Retrieved from https://www.dezeen.com/2017/11/16/survey-leading-architecture-firms-reveals-shocking-lack-gender-diversity-senior-levels/

Moosajee, N. (2017). Only 11% of architects and engineers are women. Let’s build a new 

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https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/07/women-engineering-architecture-stem-womeng/

Pitcher, G. (2020). Gender pay gap 2020: Architecture’s slow-to-shift rift remains. Retrieved 

from https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/gender-pay-gap-2020-architectures-slow-to-shift-rift-remains/10046924.article

Ponsford, M. (2018). Five top women in world architecture: ‘Now is our time’. Retrieved from 

https://www.cnn.com/style/article/top-women-in-architecture-advice/index.html

The Glass Tower: Why We Need More Women Architects. (2019). Retrieved from