Women in Architecture, RIBA Studies

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Research into the retention of women in architectural practice.  PARTS OF THIS STUDY HAVE BEEN REMOVED SO THAT THE ARTICLE CAN BE PLACED INTO THE WEBSITE DUE TO LENGTH.  PLEASE GOOGLE RIBA OR WOMEN IN ARCHITECTURE TO SEE THE FULL STUDY.  ALSO EXPLORE THE WEBSITES:  www.diversecity-architects.com AND www.architecture.com/architectsforchange





Executive Summary


1 Introduction: Remit and objectives

2 Focus of the Study

3 Methodology

4 Setting the background

5 Questionnaire

6 Interviews

7 Expert Group

8 Key findings from Questionnaires and Interviews

9 Comparative profile: Women in the Legal Profession

Reasons for leaving Architecture


Summary of issues

12 Recommendations






Research Project funded by the RIBA and match funded by the University of the West of England  University of the West of England, Bristol, Faculty of the Built Environment, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1QY May 2003 rev June 2003  Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London W1B 1AD  



The impetus for this research comes from the RIBA and their commitment to the promotion of equality of opportunity. The RIBA action on equal opportunities is guided and co-ordinated by ‘Architects For Change’ (AFC), its equality forum. AFC acts as an umbrella organisation within the RIBA, bringing together the energies and concerns of a number of groups to provide support and information about equal opportunities for RIBA members. Within this framework AFC strives to support an environment, which recognises the creative potential of men and women from diverse backgrounds, and which values the differing skills and abilities they bring to the RIBA and to the architectural profession.


Between 1990 and 2002 there was a steady increase in the percentage of women studying architecture, from 27% to 38% of the total architecture student population. In recent years drop out rates of women students during the Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 stages of the course have steadily reduced, so that they were, until recently, on a par with their male counterparts. More recently, (2001) RIBA education statistics have indicated a slight decline in this parity. (Mirza

and Nacey 2001).


According to recent RIBA and ARB statistics, once they qualify the percentage of women falls from being around 38% of the student population to only 13% of the architectural professioni. (Mirza and Nacey 2002) This compares poorly with law and medicine where women now make up almost half of the active profession. This report explores reasons why women who have qualified as architects, are leaving architecture as a career. It goes on to make strategic

recommendations for change.



The research team would like to acknowledge the contribution of all the women who completed the on line questionnaire, submitted their statements and taken part in the interviews. Their contribution was essential for the success of the research and highly valued. The members of the expert group, whose names are listed in the appendix, have also made an extremely useful contribution to the project by broadening its consideration and sharing good practice across the professions. We are also indebted to Ben Whitehouse who set up the questionnaire on the World Wide Web and to Sue Beech who very kindly shared with us her dissertation ‘Can You Name Six Female Architects?’ Finally the members of the Architects for Change Committee and Pamela Edwards, the project Coordinator for the RIBA’ must be congratulated for their enthusiasm, support and ideas and above all for their dogged determination to secure greater diversity in the profession and the creation of an environment where men and women can thrive.


Executive Summary


The RIBA appointed the University of the West of England (UWE) research team to investigate reasons why a disproportionate number of women leave architectural practice in October 2002. The percentage of women entering architectural studies increased from 27% in 1990 to 38% in 2002/3. However the percentage of women within the architectural profession as a whole at 13% has remained fairly static for a number of years and the absence of an increase in

representation which reflects the increased entry of women into the profession indicates that there is a problem of retention. (Mirza and Nacey 2002)


Research Approach


The research undertaken was primarily qualitative. It sought to identify the worst case scenario. The research elicited opinion from women who have left the profession and also those who have remained within architecture. The research method included a web-based questionnaire, in depth interviews, expert panel and a literature review. The web-based questionnaire was at the heart of the research. It enabled anonymous response to some quite sensitive areas of questioning as well as facilitating a cascade approach whereby news of the research could be passed on. A target sample of 100 responses was set for the questionnaire as a whole. The table below indicates aspects addressed and the number of respondents who answered each section.


Questionnaire Section


Part 1 Career history 174


Part 2 Employment conditions: Women working in architect’s practice 174


Part 3 Employment conditions: Women who have left working in architect’s practice 37


Part 4 Employment conditions: Women presently working in academic environment 14


Part 5 Employment conditions: Women no longer working in academic environment 3


Part 6 Culture and profile of workplace: Women working in architect’s practice 121


Part 7 Culture and profile of workplace: Women who have left working in architect’s practice 23


Part 8 Culture and profile of workplace: Women presently working in academic environment 7


Part 9 Culture and profile of workplace: Women no longer working in academic environment 0


Part 10 Culture and profile of workplace: Women who are currently studying architecture 28


Part 11 Culture and profile of workplace; Women who have studied architecture in the last 10 years 20


Part 12 Feedback 154




10 in depth face to face interviews were held following on from a number of pilot interviews. These mainly involved women who had left the profession.


Expert Group


The expert group provided advisory input on the formulation of recommendations. The members were selected for the expertise in the following areas: -the business case for the inclusion of women, flexible working practices and general equal opportunities issues. The group was cross-disciplinary to facilitate the exchange of effective practice across the professions.


Key Findings: Why do women leave architecture?


UWE found that there was no definitive answer to the central question. A number of identifiable problems did however come to light. The reasons why women left tended to be a combination of a number of factors and or a ‘final straw’ moment. Some of the key issues are as follows:


Low pay

Unequal pay

Long working hours

Inflexible/unfamily friendly working hours


Limited areas of work

Glass ceiling

Stressful working conditions

Protective paternalism preventing development of experience

Macho culture


Redundancy and or dismissal

High litigation risk and high insurance costs

Lack of returner training

More job satisfaction elsewhere


There was little evidence that women left because they were incompetent designers or that they no longer wanted to be architects. One major concern is the extent to which some architectural practices are operating outside current legislation in relation to employment practice.




UWE made quite lengthy recommendations identifying what actions could be taken and by whom. These ranged from actions that individuals and practices can undertake to those which the Professional bodies can instigate.


Key recommendations cover:


Better dissemination of employment legislation and good practice

Inclusion of equal opportunities practice in the professional bodies’ codes of practice

Returner retraining

More affordable and flexible CPD

Mentoring and advisory/helpline support

More diverse representation of the profession to the public

Embedding of gender equality in both the curriculum and practices of architecture schools

More diverse staff profile in schools of architecture

Monitoring of the performance of schools in improving diversity targets and equal opportunities practice

Advisory practice notes for both architectural practices and schools of architecture by the RIBA

More careers information and again more diverse representation in promoting architecture as a career


In addition to the recommendations for action, UWE recommended wider research to look at the profession as a whole and particularly to explore the nature of the conditions that provide an environment where women can thrive as architects. UWE research team believes that actions taken to improve the working environment for women will be beneficial to the profession as a whole.


Introduction, Remit and Objectives


The RIBA has commissioned a team from the School of Planning and Architecture from the University of the West of England (UWE) to produce this report. The budget allocated for the project was match funded by UWE because of the commitment to and importance of the study in providing strategic recommendations on ways forward to advance greater diversity within the profession.


It has been the task of UWE to explore in some depth the reasons why women continue to leave architecture in spite of previous initiatives to promote equality of opportunity. The research commenced in October 2002 and was completed in May 2003. This work continues a long line of research into the representation of women in the architectural profession. The topic is not new. Gender disproportionality has dogged the profession since its emergence. It is a matter of grave concern that only 13% of practising architects are women and given the current student ratio of 38%, (RIBA Statistics 2002) it is unlikely that the tiny incremental progression over past years will lead to parity this century. The issue of retention of women and not just entry becomes crucial in this context.


Much of the previous research has led to calls to increase the number of women entering the profession but has not considered specifically the need to act to retain women. The research is therefore new in that it addresses head on the reasons why women leave architecture with a view to developing strategic recommendations to reverse the trend. This report will identify more clearly factors that may cause women to leave the profession. It will also put forward strategies for change, assist the profession in progressing the diversity agenda as well as reversing the trend of departure. It is hoped that by proposing actions for change, both men and women, will benefit and the profession will be better equipped to respond to the changing nature and requirements of society.


The research objectives set by the RIBA are quite complex. It is usually possible to identify levels of dissatisfaction and issues within a profession that may have gender implications. However, the primary goal in reaching and seeking opinions from women who have left the profession is more elusive.

The approach and methodology were therefore critical in ensuring that the core task was achieved. In terms of the scope of the project, UWE have not only looked at practice and experience within the profession but considered educational aspects and also the effect of outside agencies and opinions. Consequently quite a broad remit was chosen for the investigation starting from commencement of training through to experience in practice, attitudes from external sources and media profile. The following areas were addressed:


educational profile and culture within higher education institutions;

office culture and practice;

employment factors such as status, salary and career advancement opportunities; career histories

professional bodies and related codes of practice/conduct profiles;

opportunities and the quality of support and flexibility available for returners;

equal opportunities policy implementation within educational institutions and professional practice;

representation within and attitudes expressed by the national, local and professional media and press coverage;

attitudinal factors both within the profession and from other parties


2 Focus of the Study


The programme for the research was quite tight (just over 6 months). Given the limited time in which to undertake this project it was important that the research team did not simply reinvent the wheel by investigating areas where there is already a substantial body of information. Use was made of existing research and surveys, expertise of other parties with an interest in promoting equality of opportunity and expertise within the Faculty of the Built Environment at UWE. The project has been split into an assessment and analysis of problems using existing research and identifying and pursuing new areas of research (predominantly primary) where warranted. Then, following on from this good practice was identified and policy recommendations made. The main thrust of our approach has been the gathering of qualitative information from women who have left architecture and exploring the reasons behind the decision to leave. In a sense this has led to some extent to an exercise that seeks out the worst-case scenario so that specific issues can be more directly addressed. We recognise that there is scope for examining more positive aspects of the profession, but this is not the nature of the task. This study specifically identifies and addresses problems and exploring positive experiences would need to be the subject of further work. Our findings have been supported and or evaluated against existing work.


The focus of the study:


places emphasis on employees rather than sole practitioners or principals

builds upon existing work to explore the experience of women- particularly those who have left the profession

takes a slice of the current situation for women architects and has a cut-off point of 10 years for some issues such as maternity leave

uses interviews to enhance the depth and diversity of the responses

uses expert opinion to inform the study findings, conclusions and recommendations


3 Methodology


The methodology selected is very much a product of finding the most effective ways of achieving good quality responses within a very tight timescale and budget. An early decision was made to focus on women and not carry out parallel research into men’s experiences. The framework for the study involved mainly qualitative research but also drew upon existing quantitative research to identify the points of departure from architecture by women.


As previously indicated the question posed by trying to track down women who have left the profession made it critical that an effective cascade approach was adopted. Trying to use existing registers of practising architects and architectural students would have been time consuming and costly and may also have contravened the Data Protection Act in relation to women who may no longer be within the profession.


Despite the worst case approach indicated earlier, UWE put forward and set in motion a high profile strategy with as much publicity as possible within the time available. Consequently heavy reliance was made on existing networking, word of mouth dissemination and publicity by the World Wide Web, the media and by the RIBA itself to spread the word and encourage women to participate. At the core of the methodology was a web-based questionnaire which would allow wide ranging participation on an anonymous basis with scope for revisiting the site to complete different sections of the questionnaire. Interviews provided further insight into women’s experience. In summary the UWE team adopted the following research framework (also see research process diagram):


Literature searches and review including investigation of existing articles and research and outcomes. Research on the World Wide Web assisted in identifying material for inclusion;


Examination of existing research relating to architectural education and career profiles and the construction professions as a whole


Examination of commentary and research on the historic culture of the profession and any significant changes in ethos


Formation of a consultative group with expertise in setting equal opportunities agendas and policies in relation to the architectural profession, construction industry and other disciplines such as the Law Society


Identification of examples of best practice within professions that have achieved greater equality of representation such as the legal profession. This included assessment of the professional policies and codes of conduct, use of language and other organisational matters


Examination of the architectural profession in relation to other professions including review of policies, codes of conduct etc.


Advertising for participants in the media, regional RIBA newsletters, through known contacts and via the Internet, setting out objectives of the project and also encouraging cascading of information by suggesting that people pass on the invitation to participate


Setting up of questionnaire for use on line, with a back-up paper version for mail-out and or telephone interview where requested with a target sample of 100. The questionnaire was semi-structured to obtain quantitative and qualitative information with scope for additional personal comment


Setting up and undertaking 14 face to face or telephone interviews with women from different regions and backgrounds to obtain more detailed information on career histories and experiences


Collation and analysis of results. Feedback to consultative group


Report and recommendations

Constraints can be summarised as follows:

Limited timescale (mid-October 2002 to latter part of May 2003)

Limited resources (27 working days including UWE matched funding)


No parallel research on the opportunities for and experiences of men

Difficulties in reaching the target group

Web site fatigue

Limited time to explore positive aspects or examples


4 Setting the background


Discussion around the position of women within the architectural profession is not new and there is a lot of research covering the topic. It is not our intention therefore to revisit this, but to set the position of women in architecture within a framework which covers the development of women’s rights in terms of legislation and also within the changing nature of the debate.


Equal pay and equal opportunities legislation has been in place for over 25 years but women in many professions (not just architecture) are considerably behind in terms of equal career opportunities. Despite early optimism that there had been a change of attitude the deeper structures of discrimination have proved resilient to change (Fredman, 2002)


This section is an attempt to summarise literature and examine the context, both legal and social that has had an impact on the research project. It is not an attempt to provide a fully comprehensive account of writings on the subject of the role of women in the architectural profession or in wider society. This has been done effectively elsewhere. The aim is to draw out key points that have relevance for the consideration of the action that should be taken in relation to attempting to address the need to provide an environment within which women can flourish as architects. The three phases in this move towards a more proactive approach are indicated in tabular form and explained below.


Moving towards a more proactive approach to equality


Phase 1: Removing impediments to equality


According to Fredman (2001) ‘equality is a relatively modern construct’. Past societies deemed it perfectly acceptable to justify the subordination of women and other groups of people on the grounds of their inherent inferiority, need for protection and lack of intellectual capability. The only

solution to this dilemma was to place such people under the protection and supervision of the male head of the household. The writings on the nature of freedom, such as Locke in 1690 on the essential equality of man provided a basis for a reconsideration of the role of subordinate groups

and a platform for early feminists. Astell (1700) asked the simple question; ‘If all men are born free, why are women born slaves?’ Eventually the attempts to answer this question led to what might be described as the first stage of the campaign for equality. This focussed on removing the

impediments to equality: starting with slaves and ending when women obtained the vote in 1928. Progress towards this goal was undoubtedly made partly on moral grounds but also through necessity, particularly during and after the First World War. By 1928 the impediments to the

participation of women in the architectural and other professions had already received at least some removal. The 1919 Sex Discrimination Removal Act had opened the door to the participation of women in the professions and was soon followed by the emergence of what might be described as the ‘gentlewoman architect’. Inevitably the early participants were in the higher echelons of society, a trend that has probably continued through to the present.


Phase 2: Anti-discrimination legislation


The second phase of activity towards equality of women and other groups began, like many other movements for social change, began in the 1960’s. The growth of feminism and the campaign for the rights of women led to what might be described as an outpouring of literature that focused on three key issues. First the failure of the built environment professions to respond to aspects of the client and users needs, second the under-representation of women in the professions and thirdly sexist images and exploitation of women. Ultimately legislation focused on the move from a voluntary approach to removing impediments to the participation of women to a stage where it became illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sex (1975), race (1976) and eventually disability (1995)(see table 1) The influence of the European union was a factor in the promotion of this legislation. Characteristic of this period was the growth of organisations and collectives that aimed to take practical action to approaches to design and practice (Matrix, 1984 and WDS, 1993)


Phase 3: Proactive phase; promoting inclusion


The third phase of the move to remove discrimination might be described as the proactive phase. This phase not only includes the intention to include the outlawing of discriminatory behaviour against people on grounds other than those already covered by the legislation such as religion,

sexuality or age but it also implies a definite duty to promote an inclusive environment for all. The duty to promote equality should not be confused with the idea of positive discrimination. Promotion of equality is about creating an environment within which people who all have different skills, abilities and personal characteristics and may be of either sex or of different religions, races or sexuality can flourish on equal terms. Global events such as 9/11 which has led to religious intolerance and the national outrage following the Stephen Lawrence murder has prompted actions to counter intolerance and discrimination. Other influences such as the economic imperative to make better use of all citizens in the workforce as both taxpayers and consumers is also a crucial factor for the current research project, as will be explained in the next section. It is important to recognise that although no single equality law has yet been passed this is likely to occur in the near future. The European Union has already accepted the idea of gender equality mainstreaming. This is the beginning of a new phase of anti-discriminatory practice, which implies that there should be a proactive duty to promote equality and an anticipatory duty to ensure that the environment will be suitable for a diverse range of people.


The implications for the research project


The literature demonstrated a need to consider a number of key questions. Consideration of these questions has been a fundamental part of the research.


To what extent is the profession abiding by the existing law to ensure equality for women within the profession?


Does the culture of the profession remain in a paradigm that sees women as inherently inferior in terms of capability as architects and thus in need of protection


Is the culture of the profession moving towards an acceptance of the positive duty to promote equality and consequently well equipped for the 21st century?


The phases of the move towards equality for women


From Stage Legislation Key points References 1700’s to 1900




Dismantling the impediments to equality


1833 Abolition of slavery

1882 Abolition of the exclusion of married women’s rights to own property: Married women’s property Act

Women regarded as dependent and the property of men

Mary Wolstencraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.

John Locke, 1690

Astell, 1700 (see Gower, 1986 and quoted in Fredman, 2001

Greed, 1991


First World War

Opened up opportunities for women through necessity

1919 Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act- women first allowed to become architects

Women, after a brief period of opportunity, return to domesticity until Second World War

1938 protection of the use of the word “architect”

Colley, L, 1992 quoted in Beech, S, 1997

Fredman, 2001

Kaye, B 1960


Second World War

Opened up opportunities for women through necessity



Stage 2


Anti -discrimination Legislation

1970 Equal Pay Act

1975 Sex Discrimination Act

1975 Equal Pay Directive

1976 Race Relations Act

1986 Formation of Equal Opportunities Commission

1995 Disability Discrimination Act


Critics begin to question the male dominated nature of the profession and the:


low participation of women in the profession

identification of a field of activity considered suitable for women architects

failure of architects to consider user’s needs

wastage of women in the profession

the “glass ceiling” for progression of women in professional areas

gender inequalities in higher education


RIBA Exhibitions on women architects, 1984

Formation of MATRIX, 1984: WDS, 1993



Stage 3


Positive duty to promote equality and inclusion

Legislation likely to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of religion, age or sexuality

Race Relations Amendment Act – duty to promote non racist environment in institutions and organisations

Disability Discrimination Act, 1995 and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act, 2002.introduces an anticipatory duty to ensure equality of opportunity for disabled people.


Amsterdam Treaty – mainstreaming of gender equality in EU, 1997 (in force 1999) Europe wide integration of equality


The implication of Stage 3 is: -


The duty to promote an inclusive environment and to anticipate the likelihood of a diverse range of people as professionals and as clients and users of built environments.

Greater appreciation of the economic and other advantages of inclusion from an economic perspective – the business case for inclusion

Greater appreciation of the cost of training women who leave the profession in financial terms and lost talent

WARM (Women as Role Models) founded 1991

SOBA, Society of Black Architects, 1997

Latham, 1996

Rhys Jones, 1996

Egan Report, 1998

ICEFLOE initiative

JIVE, Turrell, 2002

Equal Opportunities Taskforce and 10 commandments for Equal Opportunities (Stone, 1998)


5 Questionnaire


The web-based approach was adopted as an effective way of gaining responses from the maximum number of women across a wide sphere. The target sample was set at 100 respondents but the interest provoked by the strategy of involving the media to publicise the opportunity for women to participate was even more successful than anticipated and 174 people responded. The project generated not only interest in this country but also from abroad. Responses were received not only from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland but also from America, Australia, Germany, Singapore Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand. This obviously indicates that the issue is of international concern and not just confined to the UK. The analysis of results is based on consideration of responses from or related to the UK.


The questionnaire was semi-structured and predominantly qualitative. The use of an on line questionnaire meant that women could provide as much or as little information without being restricted by space limitations that would occur on a paper survey. Respondents could revisit sections of the site and take their time to complete the survey. Respondents valued this opportunity and a number commented that they had consequently had time to reflect deeply on their responses. The questionnaire had the added advantage that participants could remain anonymous. Feedback from the questionnaire indicated that some women found it a cathartic experience allowing them the opportunity to voice opinions about their experience of architecture as a career. There was concern that there would be some resistance to using an on-line questionnaire and that this might restrict opportunity to participate. In the event only one person raised objections and she completed a paper version that was then transferred to the web questionnaire by the UWE team. The main criticisms that could be made of the questionnaire was its focus on employed rather than self employed women or directors, its length (too long) and because of design considerations related to data collection, it was described as ‘clunky’ by one respondent.


The Web based questionnaire was divided into 12 sections covering the following:


Career histories for completion by all respondents

Employment conditions either in practice or academic environment

Culture and profile of the working and or academic environment



It was aimed at the following:


women who have left practice

women still working in practice

women in academia

women who have worked in academia but are no longer

women currently studying architecture

women who have studied in the last 10 years but are no longer


A number of decisions were made in formulating the questionnaire. One was to focus on women as employees for those respondents who were in or had left practice. The decision to take this line was to focus on the treatment of women employees rather than investigate in greater detail those who were sole practitioners or directors of firms. The other was to take a current time slice and not revisit in detail the experiences of women for instance who had taken maternity leave before 1993. This was partly to ensure that the portrait of the profession reflected the most recent developments.


In terms of more specific factors addressed within the survey questions were framed around the following areas:


employment factors such as status, salary and career advancement opportunities; career histories

office culture and practice;

opportunities and the quality of support and flexibility available for returners;

professional bodies and related codes of practice/conduct profiles;

educational profile and culture within higher education institutions;

equal opportunities policy implementation within educational institutions and professional practice;

attitudinal factors both within the profession and from other parties

representation within and attitudes expressed by the national, local and professional media and press coverage;


6 Interviews


The purpose of the interviews was to probe the matters raised in the web-based questionnaire in more depth and gather career histories as a means of gaining a clearer understanding of the issues. After a small number of pilot interviews to clarify and refine the interviewing process, a total of eleven interviews took place on a face-to-face basis. Three additional telephone interviews were conducted in cases where travel time, cost or the individuals’ circumstances made it difficult to arrange a personal interview. In addition, as news of the project spread through media articles, correspondence in the press and word of mouth, a number of women contributed written details of their own experiences that have added to the fund of information. A deliberate attempt was made to spread the interviews geographically to ensure that the views collected represented the experience of women in the regions as well as in London and other major centres. In most cases the women interviewed had left the profession, were unemployed or were working at a relatively low rate of participation or were in the process of leaving having obtained employment in another discipline area. The range of alternative occupations was considerable and in most cases did not relate directly to architecture. For example, women interviewees worked in childcare, school teaching, teaching in further education, retail sales, pharmacy and book illustration. Some women were employed in related areas where their design skills would have considerable value. These included public and private sector planning, working for

government departments, landscape architecture and urban design. A small number of women were taking a career break and were currently looking after young children or were pregnant. The age range of interviewees was deliberately quite wide so that the picture that emerged was not distorted through over concentration of consideration of the perspectives of one age group although it is worth noting that the people offering themselves for interview tended to be in their mid-thirties. Similarly an attempt was made to include a reasonable range of different types and sizes of architectural practice.


Each interview focussed on exploring matters that had been raised by either the review of literature or by respondents to the on line questionnaire. The concentration on collecting career histories from a wide range of people aimed to present a view of the woman’s career development over her entire career. This enabled the research team to gain a perception of whether the general situation was more difficult for women in the recent past or whether things were improving. Matters such as the culture of the office environment, and whether the woman had experienced any behaviour that might be construed as contrary to employment law or equal opportunities legislation were also discussed. It was also possible to probe attitudes of employers, both male and female, the extent of what might be described as bullying or harassment and attitudes that have been described as characteristic of a ‘macho culture’. This included, for example, the use of sexist language, personal comments and the extent to which an individual felt free to express opinions and beliefs as well as other attitudinal aspects. Inevitably, in view of the key role that women play in producing and raising families and looking after elderly or other dependants, the issue of family friendly policies, scope for flexible working patterns and childcare arrangements were important matters for discussion. The impact of pregnancy, career breaks and the long hours culture were also explored both in terms of the organisational aspects and more subtle considerations that might cause the sidelining of women or reduce the scope for career advancement.


Women’s attitudes to outside organisations such as building contractors and other professionals were discussed and the views of women on the role and responsibilities of both the RIBA and ARB. The extent to which the need for continuing professional development and the cost of professional indemnity insurance acted as inhibitors to women returning to the profession after a career break also formed part of the discussions.


The interviews concluded with an in depth examination of the reasons why women had left the profession or were considering leaving. Most interviews took a minimum of one hour with some extending to more than two hours. The reasons for leaving normally engaged the interviewee in

considerable thought and in some cases stress as incidents were recalled and lost opportunities revisited. Some interviewees contacted the interviewers after the session and had clearly reflected on the answers in a thoughtful way that was particularly valuable to the study. The

researchers are indebted to all the women who gave their time to be interviewed both as part of the main study and for the pilot interviews.


7 Expert Group


The expert panel, which involved representatives from the construction industry as well as architects met for a daylong meeting.


The role of the expert panel was to provide a sounding board for draft recommendations and provide suggestions for areas where actions had been taken. Discussions with the group centred on the business case for equality, and areas of support for businesses.


A very useful separate meeting was held with Fiona Muxlow Chair of the Association of Women Solicitors who provided insight into the legal profession and described some of the actions taken by the Law Society to progress their equality agenda.


Impacts on business case: current points for consideration when women leave architecture


The cost of 5 years academic study


The cost of 1 year out and 1 year post-graduate training in practice. It has not been the task of the research team to cost training, but perhaps this should be done to highlight the extent of this financial wastage


The loss due to failure to recognise or utilise potential properly


Loss of expertise and talent


Loss of diversity and consequent wider knowledge base and experience and the knock-on negative impact/effect on the built environment


Failure to adapt and keep abreast of other professions in terms of progress


Reduction in client base due to poor profile and lack of diversity leading to potential erosion of work sphere


8 Key findings from questionnaire and interviews:


Career histories


Everyone who participated in the survey completed the first section of the questionnaire. This section provided a background to give an indication of women’s career histories from commencement of studies through to their current situation. It also provided information on the age range and current region women were based in.


We received 174 responses from women working in practice and in academia, students and women who had left the profession. The age range ran from under 30 through to between 55 and 59, with the majority of respondents coming within a 30 to 44 age bracket. All of the women, other than those who were still studying part 1, had completed this element of their training. Most women had gone on to complete Part 2. However one respondent had decided to leave architecture as a career and take up post-graduate studies in journalism. Another had started but did not complete Part 2. She cited disillusionment with the course and lack of support following a dispute with a member of the teaching staff. Other reasons given for not completing were not as clear except for those who confirmed that they are still studying. Again most women had gone on to complete part 3 but one respondent did say that she was unable to afford it at present and also felt she had not gained the right experience. Another woman said that since her ‘experience at university at Part 2’ she had ‘no desire to get involved with the university in the near future’ but that she was coming round to ‘the necessity of getting Part 3 in the next couple of years’. One respondent had obtained work in an architect’s office without completing part 3 and had worked for 13 years in private practices. Perhaps the most worrying reason given for not taking Part 3 was one woman who had been awarded a first for her Part 2 and been recommended for an RIBA thesis prize but had been unable to get work in an architectural practice despite the economic climate being favourable. She had sent out more than 50 CVs.


In response to a question on whether women were registered as architects, with the exception of those who had not reached that stage, again most women had registered. One woman was trying to arrange Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII) prior to registering and another also said that she did not have PII. One woman went back to college to retrain in another area because she was disenchanted with opportunities for women in architecture.


A total of 37 women said they were not working in architectural practice or on a course. Of these one woman was pursuing architectural research, 6 were in architectural education and the remainder were not working in architectural practice. Of the women who were not working in architecture, quite a diverse range of alternative careers were cited. (see below)


teaching English in Japan

an access consultant

working in an hospital as a client’s representative

working in the property section of a bank

on maternity leave


2 in project management


running a Home Improvement Agency

specialist roofing contractor

architectural publishing

landscape architect

research and development in engineer’s practice

left because of childcare responsibilities

problems finding work.


Legal issues rights and Equal opportunities


Respondents were asked whether they had a written contract of employment. Although legally a contract may be verbal or written it is generally considered good practice to have a written contract which states terms and conditions of employment. Whilst most respondents did have a written contract a number did not. This leads to concerns about lack of clarity around the agreed basis of employment. One woman had tried asking for a written contract a number of times and had been told that ‘the firm doesn’t like them.’


The interviews probed in more depth the extent to which participants had experienced behaviour that contravened equal rights legislation. One significant point that emerged from this process was that very few participants had any knowledge of what they should expect in relation to matters such as equal pay, maternity leave, contracts of employment and other matters. Few were aware of the existence of equal opportunities policies within their place of employment and few had even a basic understanding of their legal rights. This lack of knowledge rendered many people vulnerable to inappropriate or even illegal behaviour. Interviewees clearly did not want to ‘make a fuss’ as ‘news travels fast in the architectural community’ and women did not want to be branded as troublemakers as they felt this would have a bad impact on their future employment prospects.


Another interesting point to emerge was that many women had quite low expectations of the nature of their legal rights.




The idea that men and women should be treated alike in terms of salary and other rewards seems an elementary notion of fairness and consistency of treatment but for most people lack of knowledge made it difficult to demand this straightforward right. Lack of transparency in relation to pay was a crucial consideration as most interviewees were completely unaware of the salaries obtained by colleagues so it was difficult to argue any case about the consistency of treatment. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that because of the complex range of different tasks carried out by people at the same stage of their career it was difficult for women to justify discrimination on the grounds of pay inequalities as they had insufficient knowledge

of the type of work undertaken by others. There was evidence of women who had raised issues regarding pay or on the amount of salary increase being received by finding that the type of work they were being given after their enquiry about pay equality was being downgraded; hence providing justification for differential rates of pay or salary increases. Some alarming stories were revealed of what might be described as rather threatening or bullying behaviour around matters associated with salary.


The responses to the questionnaire also revealed issues of lack of transparency and in addition some women stated that they had experienced difference in pay that favoured male colleagues. A number of women had challenged the situation or asked for a pay rise with varying degrees of

success. In one instance where the employer was cited as a ‘friend’, the respondent stated that her requests were not taken seriously. Some women left practices where they were unsuccessful in being awarded fair salaries. One extreme example given was where a £3,000 pay difference existed between the respondent and others her age (male and female). Her failure to achieve a more equitable salary was one of the reasons she left that practice.


Without clear and transparent salary structures it is difficult to assess whether there are practices that are operating outside the law in terms of the Equal Pay Act and it did certainly seem to be the case that some firms are practicing illegally. What is clear is that many of the respondents had a

perception that pay imbalances were occurring.


Career prospects


Responses to the questionnaire indicated that there were instances where males were favoured over women in obtaining promotion. One women replied to the question ‘have your career prospects ever been impeded?’ with the following: ‘In my previous office, the nature of the work I got to do changed dramatically when I got married, going from competition and design work to suspended ceiling and raised floor layouts. I also believe that this was partially due to the fact that I preferred to get my work done during office hours rather than work evenings and weekends, unlike many people in the practice.’ Another women stated ‘I was offered an associate position within a year, but when I fell pregnant this was forgotten.’ Other  women cited straightforward prejudice about having women in senior positions and sexism. There were also comments on the ethos of practice having a detrimental effect to career opportunities. ‘The system is set up for workaholic males. Only women that are prepared to be men’ have a slight chance of promotion.’ A concern raised from the questionnaire was that some women suffered from loss of confidence because of their treatment.


A further area arose from the questions. Some women stated that they had been made redundant in what might be described as questionable circumstances. ‘(I) was made redundant. My project was live and ongoing. (I) was told that (there were) too many people in (the) company for current

projects. (I) was replaced by another’


A number of women did pursue cases for discrimination and some were successful in their actions. It was apparent from some respondents that they considered that the RIBA and or ARB might have a role in providing advice on employment issues or give some direction on where to go for advice.


However, other women were afraid to take action because of the possible detrimental effect on their financial situation, difficulty of proving their case or of other further consequences.


Most interviewees perceived that they had relatively less chance of achieving advancement than their male counterparts. In some cases this was put down to personal incompetence and lack of ability and it was clear that women who had left the profession had a tendency to blame themselves for their failure to thrive. This group of women included a number who had performed particularly well at the academic stage of their career and the impression gained was that their confidence had been eroded during their time in practice. Many women reported that their ideas were sidelined or given little credence but in practice often emerged at a later date as the idea of a male colleague. The opportunity to develop personal skills and capabilities appeared to be denied to some of the people interviewed. In some cases this appeared to be because women were being protected from undesirable situations and was in a sense a well-intentioned form of paternalism. For example one woman said, ‘I rarely went out on site or had to face a difficult client because my male boss dealt with these matters himself.’ Other women reported that their experience and thus their career prospects were limited to working on details and CAD packages. One woman summed up this attitude by remarking ‘If I had wanted to be a caddy I would have joined a golf club’. The lack of opportunity to design buildings and develop the creative side of the profession was clearly a matter for disappointment for many of the women interviewed, One woman in her late forties who had just left the profession after a range of experience in different practices in different parts of the country remarked that she had only designed one building in her career and this was a woman’s refuge where the client had demanded a female architect. This woman and a number of others who had children felt that their role as a mother had had an impact on their career that had previously appeared to be going well. In some cases this change of direction was clearly associated with personal choice. Two women said that being a mother meant more to them than anything else and that career was very much a secondary consideration. However most women who were also mothers wanted to and seemed to be capable of effectively juggling their careers and home responsibility and wanted to continue to be taken seriously in their professional capacity. A number of women felt this had not happened and even in cases where only a very short career break had interrupted the career the woman felt that she was no longer considered a serious architect or contender for promotion. One example was quoted of a woman being forced to downgrade her position following childbirth even though she had made effective childcare arrangements.


Working conditions


Replies to questions on working hours demonstrated many offices endorsed a long hours culture which employees felt forced to go along with to show their ‘commitment’. ‘At *** Architects I worked an average 8.00am to 8.00pm (sometimes later), then Friday afternoons without fail, I would get a telephone call from my boss asking me to work the weekend. This I felt unnecessary but I was given no other option and things were made difficult if I didn’t go in. The first year I worked with *** I was told to cancel my summer holiday as I had too much work on. Again this was not optional.’


Clearly this working week exceeds significantly the EU Working Hours’ Directive of 48 hours maximum. In situations where no overtime was paid, then people working significant amounts of overtime could be considered to be subsidising the office. In addition for employees working on lower wages it may mean that they are working effectively below the minimum wage. Certainly ARCHAOS the architectural student body appears to have identified instances of pay below the minimum wage for year-out students.


It was evident, particularly from the interviews that many women would have appreciated the opportunity to work in a more flexible way. One pregnant woman who had moved to a local authority when pregnant said, ‘I thought I had died and gone to heaven when on the first day at work I was told all my rights and the details of the opportunities for job sharing, flexible working and other rights’. This woman, in common with others in a similar position, had left the architectural profession because she had felt it would be impossible to continue and her employer had given a strong indication that this would be the case. Long hours and inflexibility were cited by some interviewees as reasons for their departure from the profession. It was clear that many people felt that the work/life balance and the long hours culture had contributed to their decision to leave.


Regulation of the profession


Some interviewees were obviously concerned about the cost of professional indemnity insurance and worried about things going wrong. One person, who had experienced a difficult matter associated with a health and safety issue, summed this up by saying ‘there were so many matters to give me sleepless nights, I thought is it worth it? My current job is much less stressful’. Professional indemnity insurance was felt to be too high in relation to the scale of work for some sole practitioners who answered the questionnaire. Too expensive and too litigious were themes from the responses.


Cultural issues


Interviewees were asked to define the nature of a macho culture as this term is often used to describe the profession and it was considered helpful to attempt to gain an understanding of what people meant by this. Definitions varied considerably. Some felt that it was closely tied with the male domination of the profession. Examples of this were cited regarding social activities. These were often associated with the entertainment of clients, and sometimes involved activities that made many women feel uncomfortable. For example client entertainment at lap dancing or strip clubs or other entertainment that they believed degraded women. Other women reported that they would have been happy to attend some social events but were not invited. One keen football fan, for example, remarked that only male colleagues were offered tickets to matches to entertain clients. Other definitions of macho culture related more to matters such as the ‘proud badge’ of the long hours culture worn by many colleagues. Women felt that this attitude started at University. One cited an example where she had been forced to work almost continuously over a weekend, including at night in order to meet a completely unreasonable deadline imposed by a tutor. In her experience this approach had continued to the extent where men often boasted about how long they had worked and implied that people who ‘could not hack it’ were ‘wimps’ and by implication not suited to a career in architecture. It is important to mention that these macho attitudes were not only restricted to men and some women contributed to this climate. The ‘Queen Bee’ syndrome was referred to a number of times to explain this phenomenon. Queen Bees were described as women who had been successful in the profession but were obstructive or hostile to junior colleagues, in particular women, sometimes to the point of becoming bullies.


Other definitions of the macho culture included a belief that the profession did not value people centred considerations in the design of buildings.’ Matters I felt were important such as ensuring that disabled people could gain access to and use a building were thought of as secondary considerations.’ Another person expressed the view that ‘I would never dare mention the children at work and this sums up the idea of the macho culture to me. I am sure many of my male colleagues would also like to have talked about their kids occasionally but did not because it would have been construed as a weakness’.


Quite a lot of issues arose from the questions which focussed on office culture. Bullying (by both males and females) sexist attitudes, gender biased activities were all cited as examples of women’s experience and tends to belie the perception of the profession as a ‘liberal’ one. One factor which came up may be expressed as one woman put it: ‘the be pretty factor’. A number of women described situations where they had been presented at meetings in a ‘decorative’ role either to demonstrate diversity or to entice clients only to be left out of a project once it went ahead. Other situations also included expectations about dress and appearance. For instance one woman ended up changing in the car after site visits because of repeated remarks about her dress associated with assumptions about her sexuality.


Most of the examples of unacceptable attitudes and behaviour were clearly based within the architectural practices and to some extent other consultants. There was far less comment on discriminatory behaviour from clients or from other parties such as contractors. One respondent who did mention remarks from a contractor felt they were far less harmful or serious than her experience within the office. In other words the message was ‘the buck stops here!’ and problems associated with sexism and the macho environment could not be claimed solely to be because of outside opinion.


Professional bodies


Respondents to the questionnaire did indicate that the professional bodies could take a greater role in providing advice and support. Very few interviewees expressed any positive opinion about the role of ARB or RIBA. Many felt that both bodies were remote from the everyday experiences

and had little relevance to them. Some commented about the lack of regional events and the excessive costs of continuing professional development (CPD). What was considered useful were the RIBA practice updates, particularly for those women in sole practice with limited resources.


Schools of Architecture: Profile


The RIBA commissions an annual survey providing statistical information on schools of architecture. The 2000/2001 report indicates that the proportion of female students has steadily risen over the past decade to 37% and that the dropout rates for male and female students are similar for parts 1 to 3. Previously the dropout rates for women were higher between Parts 2 and 3. The survey also for the first time provides data from 22 of the 35 schools of architecture. These figures appear to show that there is clearly a cause for concern when for instance West Indian/African students represent 4% of students entering Part 1 and by Part 2 only 1 % of those passing Parts 2 and 3. Quite significant differentials appeared against other minority ethnic groups. (Mirza and Nacey 2001) These figures need to be further broken down into UK and international students, but it may be that female and male students from black or minority ethnic backgrounds may be faring worse then their white counterparts. A few respondents in the questionnaire and in the personal testimonies cited racist attitudes and incidents: ‘I have seen international students being made fun of because of their English, and very unhelpful remarks being made at crits. I understand the nature of crits and can see the benefits of them, but criticism needs always to be constructive not destructive. Being humiliated is commonplace.’


The Mirza Macey research also provides some information on staffing levels. This section of their survey confirms that staffing levels have dropped due to a reduction in part time teaching staff. In terms of gender breakdown females represented 22% of the teaching staff in 2000/2001. (Mirza and Nacey 2001) UWE undertook a further brief investigation of the public profile of schools of architecture on their web sites. 24 schools’ web sites were found. These had varying amounts of information with some providing more information across the board on staffing profile including administration and technical support. Where the administration or technical support staff were identified it was apparent that by far the highest representation of women was in these sections and they accounted for approximately 61% of the total administrative and support staff. The profile of some schools did give cause for considerable concern. In particular one at English school which only provided information on teaching staff, women represented only 8.3% of the total. Another Scottish school, which provided limited information indicated that only 1 of the 14 full time teaching staff, was female and 4 of 17 part time. It is interesting that where there was significantly low representation of women teaching, these particular schools were also the subject of critical comment from students and some staff. ‘*** University employs almost no female architectural staff.' To my knowledge there have only ever been 2 full time females in teaching.


Schools of architecture: Staff


There were14 respondents who are currently involved in teaching architecture and one who had left. 3 of the 14 were also working in practice. Answers to questions on equal opportunities were generally inconclusive but one respondent did state that she had been advised that women are not in senior enough positions to sit on the University equal opportunities committee. One woman said that there was a clear bias against women’s employment. They were on short contracts without overlap or on hourly rates which meant they were not eligible for benefits such as maternity pay or pensions. There were questions about problems women had getting promotion in certain schools and there is a perception that there is a glass ceiling. The web search again highlighted significant differences between different schools. ‘I was the first woman in this department to get even as far as Senior Lecturer, and the first woman ever to be appointed to an academic post at all was appointed less than 10 years ago.’ This respondent had been promoted to Reader and this was the only promotion among the 5 women in her school in 9 years. Another comment was that ‘*** University is positively Neanderthal when it comes to equality of employment!’


Schools of architecture: students


28 students currently studying and 18 women who have studied in the last 10 years responded to this section of the questionnaire.


While some students indicated that they were at schools where women were in senior positions, others responded that female representation was low or that women tended to be concentrated in certain areas of teaching. ‘There was only one female lecturer who left for another country’.’ I have never been taught by a female architect. My current school has no ‘prominent’ female ‘role model’. ‘‘Women tend to do the arty/history side, men do the technical science side.’ One student said that when she and other female students challenged the lack of female staff ‘we were told that this was simply because there were no female staff suitable to take the positions. ‘Our only female part time teacher has left the department. She found it hard to work in such a gendered environment’. Some women found that learning in a ‘completely male dominated environment’ was ‘very disillusioning’ and ‘very biased’. One respondent commented that ‘The male lecturers go on about how ladies do not survive in the profession’. This sort of experience hardly lays the basis for a healthy, equitable educational environment for women to study in. One of the most critical comments was ‘Studying in such a male dominated environment for the first time, my eyes have been opened as to how arrogant they can be; cruel at times. They tend to leave very little room for discussion without first letting you know that they are in possession of the truth. Then again, maybe this is just with architects. I have never come across this in any other area of life! At least not to such a degree.’


The ‘crit’ system adopted in many schools received mixed comment. Some felt that it basically was quite a good way of presenting work but that there were issues of different attitudes displayed towards male and female students. ‘Some tutors are less critical towards females’ One woman said that this could obstruct clear constructive commentary.


The question of whether different emphases arose in terms of priorities and that this may not been taken as seriously in a male dominated environment. For instance one woman stated that while males tended to prefer high-tech solutions and use CAD more frequently, female students

tended to emphasise sustainable, low energy qualities of design and to use CAD less if at all.


Students with childcare responsibilities found that often they were expected to stay late for instance for presentations and this sometimes caused problems. Also social events were inconvenient. There is concern that some schools may be unsupportive around childcare issues.


Students were asked whether they had experienced sexism. Whilst a number of students stated that they had not experienced this a number said that they had and that both other students and teaching staff were responsible. Instances of bullying or other demeaning behaviour were also cited. ‘… tutor commenting repeatedly on student’s appearance, making it an issue, seriously criticising work/designs relating back to ethnic origin (which had no link whatsoever). Mocking accent and speech in a presentation’.


One area which should be looked at is the excessive long hours ethic. This appears to start in schools of architecture. Quite a few of the respondents said that long hours and or all-nighters had been detrimental to their health. ‘The school allows 24-hour access to studios and computer facilities. A culture therefore developed in our year to work through the night although still having to go to lectures during the day.’


Two women who had left architecture school in the last ten years did raise the question of whether assessment of students by some teachers was fair and/or appropriate: ‘There was one teacher that would only give one A out to the women in the class. The rest got less than an A.’ ‘At the *** School of Architecture, the attitudes of certain tutors towards averagely talented members of my class was dismissed and utterly shocking. I was lucky I had the strength of character to come out of the course relatively unscathed. I saw three highly intelligent individuals suffer a complete breakdown in confidence due to the tutors on this course. You could pass every other aspect of the course with 100 per cent, but if your design work was not favoured, you were left to rot. I cannot stress strongly enough how favouritist this school is. It is not a sexist issue, but a taste issue in terms or what design style is “flavour of the month” with certain tutors. Here is my evidence for this – judge for yourself…The school operates a system where, at the end of the third year, you are either selected for Honours or not. If not you graduate with an ordinary degree. Marks for all projects need to be over 60% to be selected for Honours. The marks given to me by my internal tutors were 53%. 54% and 58%. I have never been a “star student” but my design style did not impress them. However I worked very hard and passed all academic areas with A grades. My studio design was reassessed by the external examination board and, surprise, surprise, my marks jumped up and I was selected for Honours. However, by this point I was so disillusioned with the school that I turned down my place and reconsidered my career altogether.


9 Comparative profile: Women in the legal profession


The UWE team had a very productive meeting with Fiona Muxlow who is Chair of the Association of Women Solicitors. Set out below is a summary of some of the information derived from that meeting about the profile of women in the legal profession


Young women making career decisions in 2003 are more likely to choose a legal career than a career in architecture. Acceptances for first-degree law courses at Universities in England and Wales in 2000 demonstrate that more women than ever before are choosing a legal career. According to the Law Society 63% of new entrants to the legal profession in 2000-2001 were women. In comparison only 37% of new entrants to architectural courses are women and the latest figures show a small drop in the upward trend. The following makes comparison between the two professions and draws conclusions from them.


Since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, which allowed women for the first time to become members of professional associations, women solicitors have fared rather better than women architects and women now make up 37% of solicitors with practising certificates. In comparison women architects only constitute 11% of the total number of registered architects. The trend within the legal profession is encouraging. Increasing numbers of women are entering the profession and staying on to become fully qualified. If this trend continues, women could make up half the legal profession within 20 –25 years. In architecture, as the current research indicates, the situation appears to be worsening with a considerable wastage from the profession as women start to vote with their feet and find new careers outside architecture.


The financial rewards in the legal profession almost certainly act as an incentive to join the profession as the average associate earns £62,300 per annum and an equity partner £59,606. Women’s earnings are considerably lower and they are more likely to work in smaller practices and in less prestigious posts. The Association of Women Solicitors continues, since its early origins in 1919 as a club for women, to champion women’s interests in the profession and to oppose discrimination. The Association, supported financially by a Law Society annual grant of £60.000, produces a quarterly magazine sent out to all women in the profession. The Association also organises a mentoring scheme for women, runs courses for men and women who have had a career break, commissions research and generally promotes equality of opportunity.


It would be incorrect to say that a fair and equal working environment has been created within legal practice but it appears from the comparative study undertaken that more progress has been made towards greater equality. There are undoubtedly many complex reasons for this progress but the following points appear relevant and possibly transferable to women in architecture.


The existence of a well funded Association of Women Solicitors (AWS) to act as a channel of communication through “The Link” magazine and to promote equality in the profession


Support for women through mentoring schemes carried out by AWS


Courses run by AWS for returners to the profession (both male and female)


The greater awareness that exists in the legal profession of the legal rights of women in relation to employment


Greater appreciation of the business case for retaining women in the profession. particularly in relation to the high cost of training a new solicitor that is lost if the person concerned leaves the profession


A move towards more flexible patterns of working that has found wider acceptance in legal firms than in architectural practice


A Law Society controlled training contract that sets minimum wages for trainees and outlines the expectations of the type of experience required for the two-year period of post qualification training.


10 Reasons for leaving architecture


Both the questionnaire responses and the in depth interviews from women who have left architecture pointed generally to an accumulation of factors which eventually led to a career change. In some cases women failed to return to practice because of maternity leave or because they had been unable to get architectural work and had found alternative work. One woman respondent summarised her reasons as ‘Frustrated with amount of regulation and legislation, high stress, low pay, long hours and not enough flexibility to allow time with my children, lack of job security and lack of support’. It paints quite a bleak picture of the profession. The diagrams below summarise many of the issues, which influenced women’s decision to leave.


It is significant to note that on being asked whether they wanted to leave architecture because they had chosen the wrong profession no respondents said ‘yes’. They all gave other reasons for leaving and none said that they hated the activity of architecture. Some said they problem was with the profession. Some women were clearly distressed at having to make the decision to go.


11 Summary of issues


To revisit the questions asked at the beginning of this research:


To what extent is the profession abiding by the existing law to ensure equality for women within the profession?


There is alarming evidence to the effect that some practices are not abiding by existing working hours, equal opportunities and pay legislation. The failure to comply with the law in relation to these issues has contributed to poor working conditions and limited the promotion prospects of

women. The undermining of women contributed to low self-esteem and expectations which resulted in a lack of confidence in personal capabilities. This in turn led to limited opportunities for further training and therefore reduced the accumulation of relevant experience and in the

worst cases deskilling. The combination of these elements has contributed to what might be described as a vicious circle (see Table on career prospects).


Referring to the earlier table ‘The phases of the move towards equality for women’ discussed earlier, it can be seen that these practices are not fulfilling the second (legislative phase) which is a legal requirement. It remains to be seen whether this is through ignorance of the law or for more

sinister reasons. Obviously ignorance is no excuse under the law. The failure to uphold the law belies the widely held view that equal opportunities were addressed in the 1970’s and 80’s. It is a cause for concern that the profession as a whole has not moved into stage 3 and embraced a positive duty to promote equality and inclusion.


Does the culture of the profession remain in a paradigm that sees women as inherently inferior in terms of capability as architects and thus in need of protection?


The short answer to this is yes. Again evidence shows that women, particularly after career breaks are not seen as equals. Their work is often sidelined or compartmentalised. They may be treated as people in need of protection or on the other hand disregarded or demeaned. It is very worrying that reports from some schools of architecture indicate that the treatment of women does not bear close scrutiny. Universities should be leading the way in changing attitudes and culture of the profession to accommodate diversity, but this does not seem to be happening.


Popular debate about the differences between the male and female brain has reinforced stereotypical attitudes towards gendered ability and skill. Assessment of actual ability should always be made on an individual basis and not by a group sample. These attitudes in many cases have prevented women from realising their full potential and in the future may deter women from joining the profession. Even during the course of this project instead of focussing on the real reasons why women leave the profession the media in particular have dwelt on the extent to which women are capable of becoming architects in terms of 3D visualisation skills. There is feedback to indicate that women out perform men in schools of architecture and it is evident that many women have the visual and other skills necessary for the profession. This should be recognised and the capability of women architects celebrated through raising the profile of their work.


Is the culture of the profession moving towards an acceptance of the positive duty to promote equality and consequently well equipped for the 21st century?


The short answer to this question is no. A radical mind shift needs to take place within the profession. The profession does not have a particularly positive public image and if it does want to move forwards and change this, part of the exercise is to better reflect society rather than appearing to be arrogant, aloof and unaware of social shifts.


To summarise the reasons for women leaving, it is the accumulation and drip drip quality of their negative experiences rather than one single overriding issue which leads to frustration, disillusionment and eventual departure. The question we would have to ask unless immediate action is taken is why don’t more women leave the profession? The present situation results loss of talent which is extremely expensive both for the individual and for the architectural profession particularly given the length of training involved.


The final section highlights issues and provides suggestions for ways forward. Inevitably most of the recommendations are based on actions by organisations such as RIBA/ARB, the Schools of Architecture and larger architectural practices so before doing this it is also pertinent to ask the following question: -


What should women and men in the architectural profession who wish to promote change and action for diversity in the profession be doing as individuals or as the employers of a small number of people to assist with this culture change?


We consider that the individual could assist the cultural and organisational changes necessary by: -


Asking his or her employer for written contracts of employment and details of equal opportunities policies if these are not currently available


Becoming more aware of the legal rights and responsibilities of both employer and employee. Useful handbooks such as DIY Employment Law (M. Hunt 2002) can assist this process.


Requesting information from their employers regarding salaries and asking for a transparent approach to the policy for salary increases and promotion.


Offering to act as mentors for new staff or for students in schools of architecture.


Supporting Architects for Change


Helping to publicise the work of women architects wherever possible


Offering to give guest lectures at Schools of Architecture if a woman or making other connections with Schools to provide role models for female students. Men should be encouraging women architects to take this step.


We suggest that all architectural practices both small and larger practices should use the 10 commandments for equal opportunities produced by the Equal Opportunities Taskforce in Construction as a guide to good practice in the organisation. These are: -


Have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve with equal opportunities


Set goals for equal opportunities


Have a long-term plan to achieve equal opportunities


Have a policy that is published, understood and operated


Have a board member responsible for the policy


Set goals for equal opportunities


Ensure women are well represented at all levels and in all areas


Identify and remove barriers to women


Monitor the progress of women and the reasons they leave


Accommodate women’s non-linear career paths


Establish mentoring systems for women


In addition the RIBA and ARB should audit their organisations to determine the extent to which they are adopting good equal opportunities practices within their own organisations.


These measures together with the recommendations for change that appear in tabular form in the final section of the report should form the basis of an action plan for changing the culture of the profession. We see this change of culture as achievable, but only if the profession takes the need for change seriously and recognises that it is the interests of all architects, both male and female to achieve this goal.




The table sets out some of the key areas and issues for consideration and identifies actions which might be taken to address these. It also identifies which bodies or who might most appropriately move the situation forward. Most of the actions cited are ones which can start in the near future and probably be implemented in the short to medium term (i.e. 1 to 5 years) and we are aware that some actions may already have been initiated. Although what we are proposing involves a significant sea change in culture to move the profession into the more proactive phase, we do consider that with commitment the goals are achievable. At the heart of this process must be a recognition that education at all levels including practice is fundamental to the instigation of change.




Although the recommendations set out predominantly address the issues facing women, many respondents commented that the improvement of the working environment and culture was critical to the whole profession. The recommendations are suggested within this context. We believe that if implemented, they would benefit all sectors of the architectural profession both male and female. We also consider that the profession needs to improve its public profile in the

face of competition and social change and that adopting the recommendations and implementing radical change would have long-term benefits.




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Manley, S and Claydon, C (2000) Achieving richness and diversity: combining architecture and planning at UWE, In Nicol, D and Pilling, S, Changing Architectural Education, London: E&FN Spon


MATRIX (1984) Making Space, Women and the Man Made Environment, London: Pluto.


Mirza and Nacey (2001) RIBA Education Statistics 2000/01 RIBA Centre for architectural Education


Mirza and Nacey (2002) Architects’ Employment and Earnings 2002 RIBA Journal July 2002


Morrow, R (2000) Architectural assumptions and environmental discrimination: the case for more inclusive design in schools of architecture, In Nicol, D and Pilling, S, Changing Architectural Education, London: E&FN Spon


Fogarty, M (1978) Women in the Architectural ProfessionRIBA and PSI


Fredman, S (2001) Discrimination Law, Oxford University Press: Oxford and United States


Kirk-Walker, Sally (1997) Undergraduate Student Survey: A Report of the Survey of First Year Students in Construction Industry Degree Courses, York: Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies.


Rhys Jones, S, Dainty, Neale, R and Bagihole, B (1996) Building on fair footings: improving equal opportunities in the construction industry for women, Glasgow: Glasgow: Proceedings of CIB (Construction Industry Board) Conference.


Stimpson, Catherine (ed) (1981) Women and the American City, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Walker, Lynne (1989) 'Women and Architecture' in Attfield, Judy and Kirkham, Pat, (Eds) A View from the Interior: Feminism, Women and Design, London: The Women's Press.


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Expert Group


Joanna Bailey Architect


Bridget Fidler Construction Industries Council (CIC): Equal Opportunities Task Force


Fiona Muxlow Chair of the Association of Women Solicitors


Sebastian Macmillan Architect


Elsie Owusu Architect and Society of Black Architects (SOBA)


Sandi Rhys Jones CIC business case


Susan Ware Architect and Head of professional Practice at the Bartlett School of Architecture

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