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Gender Gap Still Divides Architects

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

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SAN FRANCISCO—Although women make up nearly half of graduates from U.S. architecture programs, they also remain underrepresented in the field, according to a new report.

Women comprise 42 percent of graduates from U.S. architecture programs, but only 22 percent become licensed architects, and only 17 percent become partners or principals in architecture firms, according to a survey by the Equity By Design committee of the American Institute of Architects San Francisco chapter.

bureau of labor
U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics, Occupational Handbook

Women account for only about 22 percent of licensed architects in the U.S. and only 17 percent of partners or principals, the survey found.

The "stark gender imbalance," the report says, partly reflects architecture’s history as a male-dominated profession.

The gender gap in architecture has been well documented and is a growing concern globally, according to the committee. The new report is a means to start the conversation in the U.S., the group says.

Meanwhile, men and women alike report low job satisfaction rates, says the report.

Survey Respondents

The 53-page report, Equity By Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action!, released May 13, is based on a 90-question survey conducted online from February to March 2014.

The survey highlights the workplace participation and career aspirations of 2,289 participants with architectural degrees and experience in the U.S.

Of the survey respondents, 66 percent were women and 34 percent were men. The average age was 40.

Highlighted Disparities

Women are less likely than men to successfully pursue licensure within the profession, according to the report.

The percentage of female record applicants to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, the organization that administers the exam, has hovered around 40 percent since 2011, the report said.

Licensure is thus an area where work can be done to promote equality, the authors said.

U.S. Bureau of Labor & Statistics, Occupational Handbook

The "stark gender imbalance" is due in part to architecture’s history as a male-dominated profession, the study says.

And women are even less likely to be recognized for their professional design work.

Only five percent of Pritzker Prize for Architecture winners and one percent of AIA Gold Medal recipients—the industry's highest honors—have been women, the report notes.

Pinch Points

Overall, the survey found low job satisfaction rates. Only about 28 percent of women and 41 percent of men say they are “satisfied and not looking for new opportunities.”  

The report says five career “pinch points” exist for designers, beginning at the hiring stage.

Zaha Hadid
Simone Cecchetti / The Hyatt Foundation

In 2004, Baghdad-born Zaha Hadid was the first woman recipient of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture. Hadid thinks she lost out on early commissions because of her gender, according to this profile in Glamour.

While men and women generally reported joining an architecture practice for similar reasons, women earned less than men at all levels.

In entry-level positions, women earned $6,000 less than their male counterparts; at 10 to 25 years, the wage difference is $15,000, according to the survey.

‘Paying Dues’

The second career pinch point is “paying your dues,” which affects both genders in the first three to five years of their career, according to the report.

Only about 40 percent of women and 45 percent of men with less than three years of experience believed that their daily work aligned with their long-term career goals and objectives, the report found.

Equity by Design
Atelier Cho Thompson / Equity by Design final report

Only about 40 percent of women and 45 percent of men with less than three years of experience said their daily work aligned with their long-term career goals, the report found. Those numbers rise for those who stay in practice.

Those numbers rise for those who stay in practice. Most male respondents with 15 years or more of experience find their day-to-day work relevant; however, women spent 35 years in the profession before a majority felt that relevance.

Of respondents who left the profession entirely, half did so within the first five years, the report states.


Licensing is the third pinch point, the report noted. Men were “slightly more likely” than women to obtain licensing within the first 16 years in practice.

After that, the relationship flips, suggesting “that a woman is more likely to exit the profession if she hasn’t achieved licensure within the first 16 years of practice, leaving a higher concentration of female professionals in the field at higher levels of experience,” the report says.


Caregiving affects both genders, but the experiences are “quite different,” the report says.

Mothers are seven times more likely than fathers to report working a reduced schedule to accommodate primary care-giving responsibilities. Moreover, fathers’ average earnings exceed mothers’ regardless of the care-giving situation, the report found.

© / Whisman

Men’s and women’s experiences of care-giving while working in the architecture field are “quite different,” the report says.

Further, the report states, “the economic impacts of care-giving persist in women’s careers long after their children are no longer in need of full-time care.”

The Glass Ceiling

The profession's glass ceiling offers a final pinch point, the survey said.

Although both men and women in the first 12 years of their careers were equally unlikely to become a principal or partners, the picture shifted after that.

For men, each additional year after 12 correlated with a “significant” jump in probability of reaching partner. While the probability increased for women, the rate was much lower.

For those with 40 or more years in, men were more than 20 percent more likely than women to be partners or principals, the report found.

The authors bill the report as a “call to action for both women and men to realize the goal of equitable practice, advance architecture, and sustain the profession and communicate the value of design to society.”


Tagged categories: AIA Gold Medal; Architects; Architecture; Business management; Good Technical Practice; Industry surveys; North America; Pritzker Architecture Prize; Research; Trends; Workers

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