Equity in Architecture: Metrics, Meaning & Matrices
Infographic Slides 2017
Gender of Survey Respondents
Overall, 8,664 respondents participated in the survey, making this the largest dataset ever conducted on the topic of equity in architecture in the U.S. Of our 8,664 survey responses, roughly 50% identified as female, and 50% identified as male. We also had a small number of respondents (<1%) with non-binary genders. The non-binary gender sample was too small to allow us to conduct statistically valid analysis on this group on the basis of gender. We hope to over-sample this population in the future in order to be able to conduct more meaningful analysis on this group’s experiences. By comparing this to data from the AIA Firms Survey Report, we can see that the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey over-samples women, who make up only 31% of architectural staff in AIA member-owned firms.
Race/Ethnicity of Survey Respondents
While we had a relatively even gender representation in our respondent pool, there was little racial or ethnic diversity, with 78% of respondents describing themselves as “white or caucasian.” According to the 2016 AIA Firm Survey Report, approximately 21% of the architectural staff working in AIA member-owned firms are people of color, suggesting the the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey sample is fairly representative of the racial and ethnic diversity of AIA member-owned architectural firms. While the sample was representative as a percentage of the field, this also meant that it was quite small compared to the sample of the white population. This sample size, coupled with high degrees of response variability within this population, made drawing statistically valid conclusions on the basis of individual racial or ethnic group impossible for most questions due to insufficient sample size. In future rounds of study, we hope to gather more responses from people of color in order to be able to better understand equity issues as they relate to individual racial and ethnic groups.
Sexuality of Survey Respondents
The survey population also had little diversity in terms of sexual orientation, with 86% of male respondents, and 92% of female respondents, identifying as straight, or heterosexual. The datasets that we typically use to understand the demographics of the profession -- including those from NAAB, NCARB, and the AIA -- don’t include statistics on the sexual orientations of architectural practitioners, so we can’t make any conclusions about how our sample compares to the architectural community on this issue.
Geography of Survey Respondents
Our respondents’ geographic location was also fairly representative of the distribution of architectural professionals in the country, with heavy concentrations of respondents in states like California, New York, and Illinois. Overall, we received survey responses from all 50 states, as well as from foreign countries on six continents.
Years Experience in Architecture
There was an interesting pattern in the experience level of our respondents. While the majority of our less experienced respondents were female, the majority of our respondents with more than 14 years of experience were male. In some ways, this is representative of what’s been called the “pipeline problem” in architecture. For instance, men were much more likely than women to have graduated from architecture programs 25 years ago, and so it makes sense that there are many more men than women with 25 years of experience today. For practical purposes, though, this means that it’s very hard to simply compare men to women in our results without also introducing confounding age and experience-level-related distinctions. That’s part of why you’ll see that we often analyze variables like salary by both gender and years of experience.
Current Career Track
Because our study sampled architecture school graduates, not all respondents were currently working in architecture firms. The majority - 84% of all respondents - were currently practicing architecture, either within a firm or as a sole practitioner. There weren’t significant differences in respondents’ likelihood of practicing architecture on the basis of either race or gender. There were, however, differences in work setting amongst those who practiced architecture. For those practicing architecture, a firm was the most common work setting. This was especially true for women of color, who were only half as likely (4%) as either white men (8%) or men of color (8%) to work as a sole practitioner. In addition to those who were currently working in a firm or as a sole practitioner, we had a significant number of respondents who weren’t working in one of these settings, and may have been working in a related field or in another industry, providing full-time care for a family member, studying, unemployed, or retired. We have used the label "beyond architecture" throughout our analysis to identify this diverse population.
Metrics of Success
On average, male respondents’ career perceptions were more positive than those of their female counterparts. When asked about the relative positivity or negativity of their career perceptions across 14 categories from “work –life flexibility” to “promotion process ”to their likelihood of staying at their job for the next year,” male respondents’ average perceptions were more positive than female respondents’ in every category. The largest gender gaps indicated significant differences between men’s and women’s likelihood of feeling energized by their work (male respondents 7% more likely), likelihood of “having a seat at the table”, or being included in one’s firm’s decision-making process (male respondents 6% more likely), and likelihood of planning to stay in one’s current job for the next year (male respondents 6% more likely).
There were also areas of work-life that tended to be viewed more positively or negatively by all respondents: average perceptions of autonomy, satisfaction, and confidence tended to be most positive for respondents, while respondents’ average perceptions of their firms’ promotion processes, their work-life flexibility, and their workloads were least positive, on average. Male respondents perceptions were more positive, on average, than female respondents’ perceptions in each of these categories. We did not observe significant differences in career perceptions on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Who Do You Ask for Professional Guidance?
Mentorship and sponsorship -- and especially having access to career advice from a senior leader in one’s own firm -- emerged as important predictors of career success in the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey. We found that male respondents were more likely than female respondents to report turning to someone senior within their own office for career guidance.. Meanwhile, female respondents were more likely than their male counterparts to turn to senior leaders outside of their offices, family & friends, and their peers for guidance. They were also more likely to consider gender as a factor when describing their mentors.
Career Perceptions: Received Guidance from Senior Leader
Male respondents’ increased likelihood of turning to senior leaders is especially significant because, compared to those who received no career guidance, those who turned to a senior leader within their firm were more more optimistic about their professional futures, more energized by their work, more likely to plan to stay at their current job. These correlations were stronger for female than for male respondents, suggesting that female respondents have more to gain by finding a senior mentor from their own firm.
Average Salary by Years Experience
The next career dynamic, pay equity, documents the wage gap between our male and female respondents. At every level of experience, our male respondents made more, on average, than our female respondents, with the highest differences at the top of the experience spectrum.
One of the most important ways of looking at the wage gap is to assess whether respondents are receiving equal pay for equal work. Our data showed a gender-based wage gap for every project role, with the largest gap between male and female design principals.
Work-Life Challenges Faced
Not only did our female respondents make less money on average than their male counterparts, but they were more likely to report having faced a host of work-life conflicts, from poor health and neglected personal duties to turning down travel or even leaving a job. It’s also important to note that our respondents, both male and female, were much more likely to report facing personal setbacks in the face of work-life conflict than they were to report making professional trade-offs in these situations.
The last career dynamic, Beyond architecture, tracks individuals who are currently working in settings other than firms or sole proprietorships, as well as full-time caregivers and those who are unemployed. We also consider those who have spent time away from a firm or sole proprietorship in the past, whether to pursue another career opportunity, or to take a sabbatical or leave of absence.
Overall, 17% of our male respondents, and 18% of our female respondents, we currently working outside of an architecture setting, full-time caregivers, or unemployed. Most of these individuals were working in another setting, but still influenced the built environment in some way.
Education: More Focus Needed
The curriculum that both men and women say was most instrumental in preparing them were Design and Design Thinking, Construction Materials and Methods, and Building Systems. Meanwhile, respondents were most likely to say that Professional Practice/Business, Construction Materials and Methods, and Building Systems weren’t addressed fully enough to prepare them for a career in architecture. Women were more likely than men to report needing additional curricular focus on Construction Materials and Methods, and on Building Systems.
Office Tasks for <5 Years Experience
The survey demonstrates clear divisions in the office management tasks that male and female respondents take on within the first five years of their careers. Female respondents with less than 5 years experience more likely than their male counterparts to take on planning office events and managing the office library and less likely to take on more strategic tasks like firm project standards, strategic planning, or firm operations and management
Greatest Obstacles to Licensure
The survey demonstrated that licensure presents many professionals with challenges, with long work hours, the high cost of registration and exams, and low perceived rewards as the most frequently cited challenges. Female respondents were more likely than male respondents to experience every one of these challenges to licensure.
Likelihood of Being a Parent
The next major career pinchpoint – working caregivers – impacts many of our respondents. Amongst those currently practicing architecture, female respondents were less likely to have children than their male counterparts at every level of experience. This could suggest that female practitioners who have children are more likely than male practitioners with children to leave the field, resulting in a higher likelihood of being a practicing father than being a practicing mother. It could also suggest that women who pursue architecture are simply less likely than their male counterparts to become parents. Neither hypothesis can be confirmed by this survey, but this question is worth exploring in future research.
While female respondents were less likely than their male counterparts to be working parents, we found that those who were parents tended to bear more responsibility for childcare. Working mothers were approximately 10 times as likely as their male counterparts to be their children’s primary caregiver (48% of mothers vs. 5% of fathers). Meanwhile, 55% of fathers, and 10% of mothers, reported that their partner did more childcare.
Gender Balance Amongst Firm Leadership
The culmination of all of these pinch points is a glass ceiling that we’ve found persists in architecture. While 8% of our female respondents, and 5% of our male respondents reported working in a firm that was mostly, or completely led by women, the majority of our respondents – male and female—reported working in a firm that was mostly or completely led by men.
Likelihood of Being a Titled Firm Leader
Women and people of color were less likely to be firm leaders at every level of experience. This leadership gap is at its greatest amongst those with 11-13 years of experience, with 60% of men in that category, but only 38% of non-white men, 43% of white women, and 42% of non-white women, holding a titled leadership position. Amongst those with 11 or more years of experience, white men are most likely to hold firm leadership positions at each level of experience, followed by white women, and then by men and women of color.
Likelihood of Being a Principal
Women and people of color were less likely to be principals or partners in a firm at every level of experience, with men of color least likely of any group to hold this title. Significant gaps emerged amongst those with more than 10 years of experience, and generally increased as level of experience increased.
These gaps, paired with findings on likelihood of being a titled firm leader, suggests that white women, men of color, and women of color progress into mid-level titled positions at only slightly lower rates than white men, but are much less likely to make the jump into principal or partner positions.
Likelihood of Being a Principal by Firm Size
Firm size was significantly correlated with likelihood of being a principal or partner, with those working in the smallest firms most likely to be principals or partners at every level of experience.
Likelihood of Being a Principal by Caregiver Status
Amongst both male and female respondents, parents were slightly more likely than those without children to be principals or partners at nearly every level of experience (women without children with 26 or more years of experience were slightly more likely than those with children to be principals or partners). For both men and women the widest “parent advantage” in terms of firm leadership exists between 14 and 18 years of experience.
Likelihood of Being Principal by Years Experience
While some of this leadership imbalance may be attributable to the pipeline issues (i.e. more men than women entered the field in the past, resulting in more men positioned for leadership in the present), this isn’t the entire story. White male respondents were more likely than non-white men and both white women and women of color to be principals or partners at nearly every level of experience. Men of color were the least likely of any group to be principals or partners in a firm.
Principals/Partners: Firm Size
In addition to being less likely to be principals or partners in firms, women and people of color who did hold these titles tended to make less money, and manage smaller firms, on average, than male principals and partners. Amongst principals and partners, female partners were slightly more likely to work in an extra-small or small firm, while male partners were more likely to work in an extra-large firm.
Principals/Partners: Equity Share by Firm Size
Not all firm leadership positions entail firm ownership. The strongest predictor of equity share amongst principals was firm size, with both male and female partners in smaller firms more likely to be equity partners, and more likely to own larger portions of their firms, than those who worked in larger firms. Within firms with fewer than 50 employees, female principals were more likely than their male counterparts to own more than half of, their firms. Meanwhile, in M, L, and XL firms, most employees owned less than 25% of their firms, and male and female partners owned similar portions of their firms.
Principals/Partners: Average Salary by Firm Size
Male principals made more, on average, than female principals in every firm size. These differences were at their starkest in XS firms, even though female partners working in these firms owned more, on average, of their firms than their male counterparts.
Average Principal Salary by Project Type
Amongst principals and partners, there was also a salary gap that varied by building type. The smallest gap existed between male and female partners working on higher education projects, with male partners making $6,000 a year more, on average than their female counterparts. Meanwhile, male partners working in healthcare earned $17,000 more, those designing corporate offices earned $19,000 more, and those designing single family residential projects earned $20,000 more
Metrics of Success by Leadership Title
Principals and partners -- both male and female -- had more positive career perceptions on average than those who were not principals in their firms. Non-principals were less likely to plan to stay in their current jobs, less likely to feel involved in the decision-making process, and less energized at work than those who were principals or partners. Among principals and partners, there were not significant differences between respondents’ career perceptions on the basis of race or gender, with one exception -- female partners’ perceptions of their work-life flexibility were 13% less positive than those of their male counterparts.
Gender Balance Amongst Firm Leadership
While 8% of our female respondents, and 5% of our male respondents, reported working in a firm that was mostly, or completely led by women, the majority of our respondents – male and female—reported working in a firm that was mostly or completely led by men.
Leadership Composition by Firm Size
Amongst male respondents, there was little variation in firm leadership composition on the basis of firm size. Amongst female respondents, however, those working in larger firms were much more likely to work in a firm that was majority male-led, with 73% of female respondents working in XL firms reporting that their firms are majority male-led, but only 52% of those working in XS firms reporting that their firms were majority male-led
Career Perceptions: All Male Led Vs. Equally Divided
Career perceptions varied significantly on the basis of firm leadership composition, with the most positive average perceptions reported amongst those working in firms with equally divided leadership. The strongest correlations were between leadership composition and career perception were in opinions of the promotion process. Compared to equally divided leadership teams, all male leadership teams’ employees had lower opinions of the promotion process (20% lower amongst women and 11% lower amongst men), lower opinions of firm culture (16% lower amongst women and 10% lower amongst men), and lower likelihood of sharing their firm’s values (13% lower amongst women and 5% lower amongst men).
Likelihood of Having Firm Leader as Mentor by Leadership Composition
Both male and female respondents were most likely to have a leader within their office -- either a principal or partner, or their direct manager -- to whom they could turn for career advice when they worked in offices with equally divided leadership (72% of men and 68% of women in equally divided offices).
Career Perceptions: Receives Guidance from Senior Firm Leader
This difference in access to leaders is significant because, compared to those who received no career guidance, those who turned to a senior leader within their firm for this type of advice were more more optimistic about their professional futures, more energized by their work, more likely to plan to stay at their current job. These correlations were stronger for female respondents with senior mentors than for male respondents.
Current Leaders: Average Time to Mid-Level Management
Amongst those who had been internally promoted to a mid-level management position ( (i.e. tenure at firm exceeded amount of time as titled leader within that firm), women and people of color averaged similar or slightly lower levels of experience at time of promotion than white men. Regardless of race or gender, leaders of smaller firms had been promoted earlier in their careers, on average, than those who led larger firms. SEAONC’s SE3 project has shown that a similar phenomenon occurs within structural engineering.
Current Principals: Average Time to Principal
This trend also held true for those who had been internally promoted to a principal or partner position, with female and non-white principals and partners averaging equal or lower levels of experience at time of promotion in every firm size.
Average Time to Principal by Years Experience
These gender and race-based differences in time to leadership may be attributable to the lower average level of experience of our female and non-white respondents -- the average experience level of female principals in the sample was 10.4 years experience, while the average level of experience of male principals was 17.3 years of experience. Amongst principals and partners with comparable current levels of experience, we observed that male and female respondents reported similar levels of experience at the time of their promotion. There was insufficient data to produce meaningful analysis on this data point on the basis of race or ethnicity. These findings suggest that, while women and people of color are less likely to be promoted than their white male counterparts, those who do get promoted tend to get their position on timelines comparable to those of white male firm leaders.
Perceived Efficacy of Promotion Process
Given female and racial and ethnic minorities’ underrepresentation in leadership within firms, and the gender differences that we saw between male and female partners’ experiences, we were interested to see our respondents’ opinions of their firms’ promotion processes. We saw that both male and female respondents had relatively low opinions of the effectiveness of these processes, with only 41% of men, and 32% of women describing this process as “very” or “somewhat effective
Efficacy of Promotion Process by Firm Size
The smaller the firm, the less likely a respondent was to find their firm’s promotion process “very” or “somewhat effective” (31% of those in XS firms vs. 41% of those in XL firms).
Efficacy of Promotion Process by Leadership Composition
Meanwhile, those working in firms with equally divided leadership composition -- both male and female -- were most likely to find their firm’s promotion process to be effective. Men working in majority female-led firms, and women working in majority-male led firms were least likely to believe that their firms’ promotion processes were effective.
Perceived Effectiveness of Promotion Process by Key Promotion Criteria
We did see strong correlations between perceptions of the promotion process and firms’ top criteria for promotion, with those whose firms used written criteria, performance reviews, or client relationships to determine promotion more likely to have positive views of the process, and those whose firms used principal relationships, tenure, or unclear or undefined criteria less likely to view the process as effective.
Probability of Aspiring to Principal/Partner by Experience
Male and female respondents reported different career aspirations, with male respondents more likely than their female counterparts to report aspiring to be a principal or partner -- either through promotion or by starting a firm of their own -- at every point in their careers. We also noticed that those earlier in their careers were much more likely than those with more experience to report these aspirations.
Probability of Aspiring to Start Firm by Experience
There were significant differences in how a respondent aspired to become a principal or partner on the basis of race, gender, and experience level. Those earliest in their careers, and especially men early in their careers, were most likely to aspire to start their own firm one day. At nearly every level of experience, non-white respondents of both genders were more likely than their white counterparts to aspire to start their own firm.
Probability of Aspiring to Principal/Partner via Promotion by Experience
White respondents, meanwhile, were more likely than non-white respondents to aspire to be promoted to be partner within an existing firm. White male respondents were also more likely than female and non-white male to aspire to become a principal or partner within an existing firm at every level of experience. Amongst white women, those with 8-10 years of experience were most likely to aspire to be promoted to a principal or partner position, with declining levels of aspiration amongst those in each subsequent experience bracket. Meanwhile, white male respondents with 11-25 years experience sustained high likelihoods of aspiring to be promoted to top leadership positions. While they were less likely than white respondents to aspire to be promoted to principal or partner, non-white respondents of both genders shared white male’s pattern in terms of experience level -- those in the middle of their careers were more likely than both those beginning their careers and more seasoned professionals to aspire to be promoted to a principal or partner position. This suggests that, while white female respondents’ likelihood of aspiring to be promoted to a top leadership positions peaked before they had achieved the level of experience at which these promotions tended to be occur (16 years median for female respondents), white male respondents had a high likelihood of aspiring to these promotions throughout the entire career window in which these promotions were made. Meanwhile, non-white respondents were less likely to aspire to these promotions at nearly every level of experience, instead tending to direct their aspirations towards starting their own practices.