Women in Architecture

All Blogs

When I think about architecture I think about impressive structures that leave a historical and cultural impact on society. I think of how they change the landscape of a city and how they are remembered throughout time. Good architecture has a way of making you see how you can change what surrounds us on a daily basis, into art. We have a tendency to overlook what is unique about a building and view it as a structure that was constructed out of necessity. Women are not only being overlooked in this industry but, unlike good architecture, they are also being undervalued. I think after years of women being unsuccessful in this industry it is time to notice the impact they can make.

Why are women not successful in the architecture industry? When it comes to achieving an architectural degree, the percentage of women architect graduates to men is almost equal, at 43% of them being women. Almost half of that number of women continue on to careers in architecture and less than half of that number continue on to run their own firms. As Gulizar Jonian, Architect and Business consultant said at Leaders in Architecture MENA Dubai, "If you look at the numbers of architecture students in universities, there are more than half that are not reaching that top level.” If an architecture degree wasn’t so tedious and specific to the industry these numbers wouldn’t be surprising. But, because an architectural degree is only valued in one industry it doesn’t make sense that women are not as successful as men.

After years of this being the trend, it is a question that has been asked and analyzed by many. I think this is the wrong question. We shouldn’t be asking why they are leaving, we should be asking why women aren’t being supported in this industry. Why should woman have to fight for this on their own? This is not to say that women are not capable, but statistically they have always been outnumbered. Women are making changes in the industry but not impacting the structure of the system. The only way an impact will be made is if everyone comes together in support of these changes.

Part of why a woman is not as successful is something we call a Gender Wage Gap. The wage gap is the average difference between the income of a man and woman. This is not just an industry issue, it is an issue that women everywhere are facing. However in an industry where the education and time demand is so high it is surprising that there are not even close to an equal amount of successful woman as there are men. We are questioning why they are leaving, but we don’t take into consideration that they are being paid $.73 to the dollar. That is like not being paid for 3 months out of the year. If a man were being paid less, these changes would be made immediately without question but this is not the case. "For every dollar a man makes a woman makes 70 cents and women usually live longer than men, which means that men dies first and they make more money and women…?” stated Kholood Akbari, owner of Akbari Architects who debated the subject of women equality in the architecture profession together with Sumaya Dabbagh, Founder Dabbagh Architects, Raya Ani, Founder, RAW-NYC, Jennifer Dixon, EMEA Architecture Leader, AECOME and Guliza Jonian, Architect and Business Consultant during the Leaders in Architecture MENA hosted by International Business Council on April 20-21 in Dubai, UAE. The Woman in Architecture Panel was one of the most interesting and talked about discussions at the event. Women are finally joining together and talking about these issues and bringing men into the discussion.

A gender gap, especially in the MENA region, is something of significance because of the long history of discrimination against women. The fight to secure equality is even more difficult in this region and will continue to be an issue in architecture until the stereotypes are broken. As stated in the Mena Development Report Opening Doors Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa "A complex set of constraints inhibits women’s choice and mobility. Legal and social barriers limit where and how long women can work. The lack of relevant skills in demand by the market narrows their opportunities. Finally, there are limited private sector and entrepreneurial prospects not only for jobs but also for those women who aspire to create and run a business. These constraints present multiple challenges for reform.”1 Women have been struggling with laws, society and economic barriers for years and are, just now, starting to see a sliver of light through the cracks they have broken in the system.

1. World Bank. 2013. Opening Doors: Gender Equality and Development in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-0-8213-9763-3. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0