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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

Gender Equity Policy: What we can learn from the Aussies and Brits.

Last week on December 5th, a major breakthrough for gender equity in the profession of architecture was made with the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Council officially approving the organization’s first Gender Equity Policy.  

The policy establishes ten best practice principles designed to maximize fair and equitable access to opportunities and participation for women within the architecture profession.

The development of the policy follows the Australian Institute’s involvement since 2011 with the Australian Research Council funded Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architecture Profession: Women, Work and Leadership project, which is led by a large collaborative team of eight scholars, including Dr. Naomi Stead and Gill Matthewson, and five industry partners,

Studies conducted as part of this project have provided qualitative evidence confirming that the participation rate of women in the profession is disproportionately low compared to the number of women graduates in architecture highlighting the specific need to encourage and provide guidelines for the industry to adopt a comprehensive and ethical approach to establishing gender equality across the field.

‘As careers progress, the barriers for women increase, as evidenced by lower numbers in senior positions and higher attrition rates and the need for part time or flexible work hours when juggling career and parenthood affects women most heavily. This policy will go a long way in readdressing these imbalances.’

Paul Berkemeier, President of Australian Institute of Architects

In addition to approving the policy, National Council endorsed the establishment of a National Committee on Gender Equity that will be responsible for ensuring and guiding the implementation of the policy and providing recommendations on additional actions, initiatives and programs, the committee will further drive gender equality within the architecture industry.

World Economic Forum

World Economic Forum

At the same time, Architects Journal of the UK is conducting the 2014 Women in Architecture Survey which is in its second year. The anonymous questionnaire asks questions about career challenges and experiences of working, covering earnings, sexual discrimination and childcare. Last year, more than 700 women and 191 men responded to the survey, which revealed a glass ceiling pay gap in the profession, with 26 per cent of women directors earning less than their male counterparts. A massive 89 per cent of respondents to the 2013 survey also thought that having children put women at a disadvantage in architecture – an increase on the previous year’s results.

The research will form part of the AJ’s ongoing Women in Architecture campaign, including a AJ's Women in Architecture Award program, which aims to promote the status of women in the industry while encouraging role models for young women in practice.

While the American Institute of Architects may have initiated a Repositioning campaign in recent years with some focus on diversity and peripherally on gender equity in practice, this news from Australia and ongoing progress in the United Kingdom should act as a "wake up call" that we need to step up in our efforts to address equitable practice.  We in the U.S. need to raise our voices to the urgency of the issue of diminishing numbers of women in Architecture in the U.S.. We need to look at the research efforts and implementation of best practice guidelines of our Australian and British counterparts and seriously ask ourselves "What can we do better?" and "What can we learn and take away from their example on backing gender equity in Practice?", and most importantly, "How can we organize and mobilize these efforts as quickly and efficiently as possible?"

Since the inception of The Missing 32% Project, we have noticed an "Arab Spring" equivalent to the formation of Women in Architecture committees and groups in local and state levels of the American Institute. There have been several conferences to bring gender equity challenges forward including, The Missing 32% Symposium in San Francisco in June,  the 1st Design Forward Conference in New Orleans and the 3rd AIA Women's Leadership Conference in Phoenix this past October.  But having annual conferences is not enough. In order for change to come about, we need to bring our voices together and sound out to AIA local, state, and national levels that the time to take action for gender equity in Practice is now.  We can easily learn and implement a parallel AIA National research study, implement best practice guidelines for gender equity and recognize both men and women who promote equitable practice.

By Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C