Dani Martin reflects on the Perth workshop on equity in architectural practice, which was part of the consultation process for the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice, and calls on male architects to also engage — for the sake of the whole profession.
As an avid follower of Parlour, and a registered female architect, I was keen to participate in the recent workshops on equity in architectural practice. The statistics on women in architecture are well-known, and I was interested to hear how things are moving forward and where we still have to go.
I was not surprised to see that, in the group of thirty-odd participants, only one attendee was male. Despite being advertised as an equity workshop, unfortunately it appears that some people still believe equity is a ‘woman’s issue’. In fact, a male friend had sent me and other female architects the advertisement for the workshop, with the comment ‘for women architects’. It is disappointing more people don’t believe that increasing the diversity of architects in practice is an issue for the entire architectural profession.
Unfortunately, only hearing from women architects meant that we tended to focus on our commonalities – we had all experienced the effects of being a ‘woman architect’ rather than just an architect at some time or another, within our education or in practice. Most group members had been victims of sexual comments or purposeful discrimination (some examples of which were truly shocking and unrepeatable). A common reflection was the experience of being the minority – the only woman in a site meeting, a consultant meeting or a ‘boys club’ style networking event (when we get invited). These experiences are definitely becoming less frequent, but it seems there is still a way to go.
Anecdotally, there does not seem to be a big difference between male and female architecture graduates in terms of workload, staff treatment or opportunity (although recent studies show a large pay gap straight out of university, this was unsubstantiated by any of the members of our group). It seems that it is after the first five to ten years following graduation that the effects of gender become more apparent. Women experience conflict over the ‘family or career’ choices as child rearing in Australia remains primarily a woman’s role. Workplaces are improving in this area by providing flexible working conditions through part-time work or remote network access. Although some participants saw these flexible arrangements as impossible in our profession, others raised examples of where this has been done successfully (including in my own office, by both males and females).
Another issue is the distinct lack of visibility of female role models, mentors and senior practitioners. At conferences, awards nights, seminars and project presentations, often the main voices heard are male. As young female practitioners we need to know that there are options in our profession post-children other than starting your own practice. Currently the lack of visible choices leads to disillusionment of young architects and is contributing to the low levels of registration and of females in senior management. And so the cycle of female architects leaving the profession continues.
After all our discussions, we definitely didn’t solve the problem. In fact, I’m not even sure we actually defined what the problem is. But a contributing factor is the lack of male presence at such a workshop —a discussion on diversity won’t make any headway while 70% of the profession is absent/disinterested. Diversity, whether based in culture, experience, age or gender, benefits our profession through increasing the range of experiences and design expression brought to all projects.
In the end, as the minority, there was a feeling that there was not a lot more we can do. We need to keep the issue of inequality current and relevant, but as women architects this is just one role in our often busy day jobs. Until the majority of the profession also engages in this discussion, we will keep going round in circles, and the communities who could benefit from the creative output of a more diverse range of architects, will miss out.
All opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of her employer.