Is architecture a male-dominated career – discuss

Is architecture a male-dominated career – discuss


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Over the past several decades, women have made major inroads in hitherto male-dominated careers such as accounting and medicine. This has largely been the case owing to the empowerment of the girl child to undertake science-based subjects and mathematics which were initially associated with men. However, despite these in-roads, the field of architecture has remained largely dominated by men (Davis, 2014). For example, in such disciplines as medicine and law, over 30% of the practitioners are women, while in architecture, the figure is almost half of this number.  The premise of this essay is to explore if indeed this is true, and why this trend persists.

Women in Architecture

Women find it hard to manoeuvre through the field of architecture. According to Stratigakos (2016), while women occupy nearly half of the positions in architecture schools, this number is not reflected in the field where only about 18% of the licensed architectural practitioners are women. This drastic reduction in the number of women practising architecture is due to various reasons, including lower salaries compared to their male counterparts, lack of mentors, and limited career-building opportunities.

Mark (2017) notes that in spite of efforts to improve the situation in architectural practice, various surveys conducted in this field point towards widening the gender pay gap. A survey undertaken by The Architectural Review revealed the prevalence of inequality in terms of pay along the gender divide. The poll consisted of 340 men and 1277 women, and its findings reveal just how hard women in this profession find it to break through the glass ceiling. They encounter various forms of discrimination, including bullying in the workplace, and sexual discrimination, and have to pay the price for wanting a family. In terms of pay, the survey found out that women in the architectural field continue to earn consistently less than their male counterparts for the same jobs and the gap appears to be widening, as opposed to reducing. The survey showed that female principals and partners of various architecture firms in the UK earn a whopping £55,000 less than their male colleagues for the same role (Mark, 2017). The survey further reveals that in just two years, this pay gap has increased by nearly £42,000. This practice contravenes the RIBA and ARB codes of conduct that demand fair treatment of all architects, regardless of gender. One in five of the female architects who took part in the survey indicated that they would not encourage other women to take up architecture as a professional career on account of the various forms of discrimination they have had to endure. Again, the apparent inequalities in terms of pay between women and men play a crucial role in influencing the perception of women practitioners in this field (Tether, 2016).

The American Institute of Architects conducted a study to examine the issue of diversity in the architectural profession and the study findings revealed that women are strongly convinced that the industry lacks gender equity. The study further indicates that women have a lesser chance of getting promoted to senior positions in the field compared to men not to mention that gender and race act as key hindrances to equal pay. One of the few women who boldly broke the glass ceiling in the architectural field is the Late Zaha Hadid. The Iraq-born British female architect has left a lasting legacy in the architectural landscape, with her striking structural designs that will continue to grace the skylines of leading metropolitan cities across the globe for many decades to come. Zaha’s work innovative architecture makes her without a doubt, the most famous female architect in living memory as evidenced by the numerous prestigious awards that she won over the course of her professional career that spanned three decades. In 2004, Zaha Hadid was awarded the Nobel Prize equivalent of architecture- The Pritzker Architecture Prize. In 2010 and 2011, she won the Stirling Prize. In 2014, her design of the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center won her the Museum Design of the Year Award while in 2015 she was awarded the RIBA Gold Medal.

It is not just the pay gap that points towards the glaring inequalities between female and male architects. There is a sense that the architectural field has not done much over the years to deal with the sexism debate regarding women’s physical and intellectual abilities. The general assumption is that men, and not women, possess the time, commitment, and aggressiveness regarded as necessary for a career in architecture. Such a way of thinking could possibly explain why women who do exceptionally well in the field of architecture are hardly recognised for their achievements. For instance, while the Pritzker Award has been in existence for over three decades, women architects have only won it twice during this time. The awarding committee tends to overlook the contribution of female partners while awarding it to a man even where the woman worked in partnership with the male partner who eventually wins it. A good example here is the case of Denise Scott Brown, a female architect. For nearly four decades, she had been involved in designing various iconic buildings across the globe alongside Robert Venturi, her husband and partner. However, Robert Venturi was singled out for the 1991 Pritzker Prize while Denise Scott Brown was overlooked.

Marion Mahony Griffin was the first employee of the renowned American interior designer, architect, and educator, Frank Lloyd Wright. She also went on to achieve the rare fête of becoming the first officially licensed female architect in the world. She made an immense contribution to the career of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as the career of Walter Burley Griffin, her husband (Friedman, 2011). The couple established a practice and were commissioned by the Australian government to design Canberra as the new Australian capital. Sadly, her husband’s contribution carried the day while Marion Mahony Griffin’s achievements remained largely in the shadow.

According to Stead (2016), “the Pritzker Prize reinforces and reconstructs the mystique of architectural authorship” (p. 131). However, from a practical point of view, architecture is the result of the joint effort of various professionals involved, including engineers, project architects, contractors, design architects, users, site overseers, and workers. The mystique of individual authorship upon which the prize hinges, coupled with the notion of “genius” seems to sideline women at the expense of their male counterparts.

Architecture, it appears, remains under the chains of a strong, naturalisation process of masculine domination. Fowler and Wilson undertook a study in which some 40 male and 32 female Scottish architects were interviewed, with the study findings showing that the naturalisation of masculine domination that characterises the profession is largely due to the fact that the field neither gives room for tolerance nor does it nurture the talents of female architects who have to raise young families. Stead (2016) argues that this can be associated with the insistence by the architectural profession on long working hours and undivided devotion, as well as “the incompatibility of that with caring for children” (Stead, 2016, p. 134). Given that most professions in architecture-and more so men- view this as more of a female responsibility, as opposed to that of a man, accordingly, women in the profession who have to raise young children frequently encounter considerable career disparities (Stratigakos, 2016). Not only are they more likely to work part-time so that they can raise children as well, but they are also more likely to earn less, and hence receive less credit than their male counterparts (Prescott, 2012). However, the interviews conducted by Fowler and Wilson add a further dimension to this disparity by delving into the level to which the underlying gender pattern that characterise the profession plays a leading role in perpetrating discrimination against women. Women, more than men, are more likely to describe the architectural profession as back-stabbing and competitive. Big egos and arrogance are prevalent in architecture, while unending self-promotion is regarded as a basic ingredient for success (Sang, Dainty and Ison, 2014). According to the interviews conducted by Fowler and Wilson, men find it easier naturally to engage in competition and self-promotion in comparison with women. This is based on the fact that “men are socialised to compete for success. Whereas women are taught instead to be good and to work towards harmony” (Stead, 2016, p. 134). Accordingly, the competitive nature of the architectural professions becomes a limiting factor for the success of women.

Nonetheless, women architects rarely admit that these inequalities limit their career opportunities. Fowler and Wilson (2012) contend that since gender inequalities tend to be a probabilistic result, as opposed to a universal one, and since male architects are also prone to other forms of social injustice, the women architects who took part in the survey had a tendency to find other explanations that would counterbalance the fact that they are aware of the enduring gender inequalities. This finding seems to agree with the findings of an analysis carried out by Valian (2006) in which she indicates that there are plausible explanations for the inability to acknowledge discriminatory patterns as manifested by victims. First, women and men have a tendency to compare themselves with other women or men, as opposed to comparing themselves with members of a group where they belong, such as practising architects (Burns, Clark and Willis, 2012). Accordingly, women and men rarely appreciate the level to which their status or earnings vary in comparison with those of their colleagues.

Mark (2014) reports that in the survey by the Architects’ Journal when the respondents were asked whether the authority of female architects had been fully accepted by the building industry, two-thirds of the respondents (66 percent) indicated that the industry was yet to fully acknowledge that female architects were an authority figure in the industry, with nearly half of the men surveyed (49 percent) giving the same answer.

The survey findings further revealed that while the gender pay gap in architecture was closing, it was nevertheless, still significant, with women architects earning relatively less than their male counterparts, as shown in figure 2 below:

(Source: Arcilla, 2015)

The respondents to the survey were also asked if they had been victims of sexual discrimination in the course of their professional careers as architects. Three-quarters of the female respondents (76%) indicated that they had suffered sexual discrimination, while a further 41 percent of the female respondents said that they had been bullied, as shown in figure 1 below:

(Source: Arcilla, 2015)

Further, two-thirds of the female respondents to the survey indicated that they had been the victims of sexual discrimination on one or more occasions in their professional capacity as practising architects. In this case, sexual discrimination ranged from receiving unsuitable comments to receiving different treatment from that of men on account of one’s gender. Kanaani and Kopec (2015) report that about half of women architecture students become victims of sexual discrimination right from architecture school, and the trend continues into the workplace where they are paid less than their male counterparts for their job status and qualifications.  The authors also point towards a lack of willingness among architectural firms to accord flexibility to female architects so that they can leave on maternity leave or take care of their young families. Most have to endure a lot of challenges as a result, opting to enter into self-employment or leave the profession altogether (Waite & Corvin, 2012). Thorpe (2013) reports that even Zaha Hadid admitted to having endured misogynistic behaviour early on in her career as an architect. According to Thorpe (2013), the situation has hardly improved even after Zaha Hadid and other leading women architects broke the glass ceiling in what was largely a male-dominated profession.


In sum, women have made great strides in various professions that have long been considered the preserve of men, including medicine and engineering. However, women is yet to make a major impact in architecture, a field that is still male-dominated. In this field, women, ensure all manners of discrimination, including being discriminated on the basis of gender, earning less than their male counterparts, being bypassed when promotions are due, and being overlooked for various awards. Although such female architects as Zaha Hadid managed to break the glass ceiling that had characterised the architecture profession for decades, she, among other notable women architects before and after her has admitted that not much has changed in terms of recognising contributions made by women over the decades. Even where women architects have partnered with male architects in developing various architectural designs, men end up getting the credit for such work. Another issue to ponder is that in its 34 years of existence, the Pritzker Architecture Prize has only been awarded to women architects twice. On account of the aforementioned forms of discrimination faced by women architects, men continue to dominate the profession. This development also tends to discourage women architects from asserting themselves in the field in order to gain recognition.


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Burns, K., Clark, J., and Willis, J., 2015. Mapping the (Invisible) Salaried Woman Architect: The Australian Parlour Research Project, pp. 143-160.

Davis, D., 2014. Where Gender Inequity Persists in Architecture: the Technology Sector. Architect Magazine. [Online].

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Waite, R., and Corvin, A.M., 2012. Shock survey results as the AJ launches campaign to raise women architects’ status. The Architects’ Journal. [Online].

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