Tips for Retaining Women in Architecture

The field of architecture is hemorrhaging talent. While women make up 50 percent of many graduate architecture programs, they drop out of the profession in large numbers once they start working. What is going on? A recent study on diversity by the American Institute of Architects, reported by Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times, found a lack of gender equity in the profession that contributes to women leaving:

  • Women and minorities are less likely to be promoted to senior positions. When younger women do not have role models in senior roles, they may be discouraged and conclude that the opportunities for women are limited.
  • The percentage of female architects in the United States has been stagnant for more than ten years at about 25.7 percent.
  • African American women make up less than 0.3 percent of the industry. These low numbers make it especially challenging for African American women to be accepted or taken seriously in the profession when there are so few representatives of this demographic.
  • Female architects are considered intruders by contractors and construction workers at construction sites. Their presence is often resented or not respected.
  • Younger women with architecture degrees are often pushed into drafting and interior design roles, while men design the building structures and are given more face time with clients.
  • Many architectural firms lack support for work-life balance, making it necessary for many women to choose between becoming a parent and staying at the firm and in the profession.

Tips for Retaining Female Architects

According to Pogrebin, the American Institute of Architects study suggests that the following behavioral and policy changes can help create environments where female architects can be successful and will want to stay:
  • Treat female architects as professionals. For example, do not call a woman a “girl,” especially in client meetings. (Yes, this really happens.)
  • Make sure that the women on a project are introduced and not made invisible.
  • Don’t comment on women’s bodies or clothes more than you would on men’s.
  • Don’t apologize for swearing in front of female architects. They can probably take it or will tell you if they are offended, just as men would do.
  • Don’t interrupt or talk over women.
  • Promote women into positions of power and influence.
  • Provide overtime pay, flexible schedules and paid parental leave to support family life for both women and men.
These suggestions for behavior and policy changes will go a long way toward changing the culture of the architecture profession to one where women will feel they can utilize their talents without having to fight against unconscious and conscious bias that creates an unequal playing field.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Daniel Lozano Valdéz.]]>

2 thoughts on “Tips for Retaining Women in Architecture”

  1. The numbers regarding African Americans is disturbing but eye opening. My creative juices are flowing thinking about opportunities to engage and peak the interests of young people of color thinking about their academic and professional futures. The question is if they decide to choose architecture as a career can Black women find employment opportunities in the field? I’m consulting with a community group trying to build a community center in the South End/Lower Roxbury. The group wants a education theme of the community center. We were thinking about the careers of science, technology, math and engineering. Architecture might be another possibility as well.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Tracy. It seems important to find architects (and STEM professionals) who are Black women who can be role models to encourage youth to enter these professions. It’s not surprising that girls of color might not consider these options if they don’t see or know any female role models. Keep up the good work!


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