Gender bias seems even more deeply entrenched in the tech industry than in architecture.
Earlier this summer, an online firestorm broke out when a controversial memo written by a Google employee went viral. In it, a male staffer attacked the corporate diversity programs that are attempting to close the gender gap in the company, where 80 percent of its technical workers are men.
Silicon Valley has a long rap sheet when it comes to incidents that appear to discriminate against women. But the Google memo has created a particularly loud uproar. Though its author defended what he wrote as free speech, he was fired from Google for violating the company’s code of conduct by “advancing harmful gender stereotypes.” After his ouster, he was embraced by several far-right media outlets and took to wearing T-shirts that said “Goolag” and “Truth.”
But what truth was he claiming? His 10-page memo cited biology as the leading reason that men were more successful in tech professions than women, not prejudice. He accused the political left of tending to “deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences).”
As Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, responded, “What if the memo said that biological differences amongst Black, Hispanic, or LGBTQ employees explained their underrepresentation in tech and leadership roles? Would some people still be discussing the merit of the memo’s arguments? . . . The language of discrimination can take many different forms, and none are acceptable or productive.”
While women want equal opportunity to compete fairly in the workplace, based on their abilities and free of social and cultural biases, this is particularly tough to achieve in the tech world. At a time when many educators have been trying to steer girls and young women into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the numbers of female graduates in those fields remains low. A report from the American Association of University Women two years ago attributed the widening gap in some STEM fields to ongoing gender bias in education and to the notorious culture of discrimination in the computing industry that discourages women from entering the field in the first place.
Architecture, of course, is another arena grounded in mathematics, engineering, and technology, but one where women have begun to make gains. In this issue, RECORD is proud to announce the magazine’s fourth annual Women in Architecture Design Leadership Awards. This year’s honorees include Marion Weiss, of Weiss/Manfredi, as Design Leader, whose projects embrace technological and engineering challenges, while engaging both individual users and the larger public realm. Billie Faircloth, a partner at KieranTimberlake, is cited as Innovator, for exploring the impact of science and technology on architecture. Her contri- butions extend from materials research to developing digital tools such as Tally, an application for Revit that provides accurate life-cycle data to designers. Elizabeth Whittaker, founder of the forward-looking firm MERGE, is being honored as New Generation Leader, and Sarah Whiting, dean of architecture at Rice, is receiving the Educator’s award, for guiding the school in both research and architectural production. Finally, Deanna Van Buren, who has been applying her architectural skills to work in social and restorative justice, is being honored as Activist.
Ironically perhaps, this is RECORD’s annual issue on Interiors, an area of practice once regarded as a ghetto for the talents of women architects. That too is changing, and both men and women are deeply engaged in the projects published in the pages ahead. RECORD’s cover features Enigma, an over-the-top Barcelona restaurant that lives up to its name, designed by this year’s Pritzker Prize–winning firm RCR Arquitectes—run by Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem, and Ramon Vilalta—with Pau Llimona. Neri&Hu Design and Research Office, founded by Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, has created The Garage—B+ Automobile Service Center in Beijing, a witty adaptive-reuse project that houses a company’s offices and its auto-repair business. In another adaptation, a former 19th-century office in Stockholm was transformed into an elegant apartment, blending old and new elements in surprising ways, and drawing on the talents of both men and women in that city’s Note Design Studio.
Gender and lack of diversity are still big problems in the practice of architecture. But someday soon, we can hope, such discussions will become irrelevant.