San Francisco’s Equity by Design Symposium Uses Data to Engender Change
Is there a “pink ghetto” within architecture? According to the largest survey about gender equity in architecture to date, female architects with less than five years of experience were much more likely to organize office events or maintain the office library—and less likely to be involved with strategic planning or management—than their male newbie counterparts.
This and other findings were presented at the “Equity by Design: Metrics, Meaning & Matrices” symposium last Saturday. Both the daylong event and the survey were organized by the AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design committee to identify factors that promote satisfying, long-term careers—for both male and female architects.
“Philosophically, we’ve expanded beyond addressing retention issues to identifying the factors that promote sustainable and satisfying careers in architecture for all professionals, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity,” said Annelise Pitts, the survey’s research chair and a designer at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
“We’re calling this the third wave of feminism in architecture. We’re in the thick of it,” said Rosa Sheng, founding chair of the Equity by Design committee and a senior associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
The survey of nearly 8,700 current and former practitioners in the U.S., with roughly equal numbers of men and women respondents, builds upon a previous effort. “The Missing 32 Project” in 2014 highlighted the relative dearth of women in the profession; while half of architectural school graduates are women, they comprise only 15 to 18 percent of all licensed architects.
The 2014 survey found that the top reasons for both men and women leaving the profession were long hours, low pay, and lack of opportunities for advancement. This year’s survey highlighted some specific differences in how men and women experienced their careers.
The wage gap is real in architecture: Across the board, regardless of the size of firm or years of experience, women made less money than men. The largest difference was between women and men with 26 or more years of experience: men made an average of $18,000 more, or 16 percent. This disparity is not far from the 20 percent wage gap between full-time male and female workers in general, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
When looking at specific firm roles, the biggest salary inequality (24 percent) was between male and female design principals. “This is an important thing to take seriously, because there is a growing body of research that suggests that we still, as a society, tend to view designers as men,” said Pitts.
Something for both men and women to consider: Within each gender, those with a master’s degree in architecture earned roughly the same amount as those with a bachelor’s degree.
The survey also queried respondents about 14 metrics of job satisfaction, including having a sense of autonomy, shared values, and “a seat at the table.” Men had more satisfaction with their careers according to every metric. However, both men and women were least satisfied with their firms’ promotion process—a lack of transparency about performance criteria was correlated to burnout and workload stress. Interestingly, the majority of respondents worked an average of 40 to 46 hours a week, which belies the common stereotype of the workaholic architect as a reason to leave the field.
Despite its tortuous title, the symposium, whose 250 slots sold out well in advance, was not all data and graphs. It used panel discussions to highlight firms with progressive policies and women architects with well-established careers. Jill Bergman, a principal at global firm HDR, illustrated her path with a slide that depicted all the hours that she had worked over the course of her career, with major life events marked with comic bluntness, including maternity leave and a “sucky divorce” that shortened her office hours.
The final speaker was AIA national president Russell Davidson, who expressed his belief that gender equity was important for architecture to maintain its relevance, and predicted that female design principals would outnumber men in the next several years. Davidson also mentioned the AIA’s Equity in Architecture commission, which was spurred by the earlier “Missing 32 Percent” survey. The commission will make concrete recommendations to the AIA board next month.
Throughout the day, attendees pondered the prominent displays of survey data. Said Marsha Maytum, a principal of Leddy Maytum Stacy, “It’s important to make this situation very tangible in a data-driven manner, rather than through feelings, hearsay, and anecdotes. This makes it visible.”