Women in Architecture; A Rehash of The Missing 32%

Women in Architecture; A Rehash of The Missing 32%

On October 13th, 2012, the AIA hosted a panel discussion on women in architecture. The discussion was centered on the statistic that although 50% of architecture students are women, only 18% of them are licensed architects. The main questions with regard to this statistic that were the basis of the event were, 1. is this a problem, and 2. if it is a problem what needs to be done to solve it. Hart Wright Architects’ principal, Eliza Hart was invited to speak on a panel for a portion of the event. For the panelists, several questions were asked and each panelist answered them individually. The website for the event is available here.

In the first portion of the event, 3 women, two of them registered architects, presented their perspectives of working in the field of architecture. They were all very different. The first presentation by Anne Fougeron, was a story about a woman with a vision for herself, one who founded her own practice and figured out a way to work in a male dominated profession. She advocated that more women should not be discouraged, that with focus and perseverance, women can be at the top of the field. Her words for women to take away were to stay focused once you identify what you want and if you want it. Then to be present in the things you do to make yourself known.

Carolyn Tiernant, a principal at Page and Turnbull, also on the Board of Directors of the AIA San Francisco Chapter, expressed how she never knew she wanted to be in a leadership position. That from hard work at her firm she rose up the ranks. She explained her firm is made up of mostly women and they do mostly rehabilitation projects. These unique circumstances may have had something to do with where she was in her career but she did not explain anything specific.

The third speaker, a designer who had recently entered the field at a later age was Jessica Lane, an employee at EHDD. Looking at the people who worked in positions above her, she said she had no plans to be them. Her perspective of being a woman in the field of architecture was that the field is different for women. Whereas Ms. Fougeron played the man’s game to be where she is, this woman was saying she does not want to play a man’s game and would rather invent her position herself, and it would be a qualitative thing. Was she spending enough time working on sustainability, was she helping other people etc.

Three professional women, each with different experiences and different perspectives on the subject of women in architecture. The second set of presentations was a panel of women including Eliza Hart, who answered specific questions. One of the questions was, is it important to get licensed? One of the women on the panel who founded her own firm chose not to. Another one had recently decided to do it and had to study for the tests while being a mother but expressed how it was helpful that her partner and husband were there to help. Eliza expressed that it was a choice she made to become licensed and she therefore took the time to do it right after graduate school. This theme of making choices figured prominently in the answers Eliza gave. Hart Wright Architects very much believes women have choices; the field is not biased toward men any more. There is no problem with women being only 18% of licensed professionals if women choose not be licensed. That said, many women chose to leave the profession and would like to return to it, and this is a problem if they feel restricted from doing so.

What do women want? There are choices for women that have to do with family and choosing to become a mother that men do not share. There are many men who care for the children on an equal ground but women have to do the physical bearing. A broader topic of discussion touched on was the similarities of other professions. Not just in architecture, but our society, what percent of women follow through to the top of their field compared to the percentage who are men. In the symposium, many women mentioned more and more men are leaving for to have families and raising a family is not as much of a gender issue than it used to be.

The program ended with recommendations for change. The missing 32% are a people who’ve made choices and to some this is perceived as a problem, but even if its not a problem, there is room for change in the profession and the many recommendations presented were fascinating. A common theme was mentoring. More women should mentor younger women, and more older women should seek mentors. Younger employees should be included in the hiring process. The AIA could be more involved in helping facilitate these services.

The following is a list of some, not all, additional recommendations presented at the end of the program:
Childcare as an employee benefit. Benefits should be given to employees without children as well. The client expectations and project scheduling and process should take in to account time off and flexible hours. The culture in design schools should be more about work smart and not hard and not encourage all-night deadline preparation. Licensing should begin in school. NCARB should be more closely involved in issues of this scale. Job sharing and employee sharing should be considered. There should be a survey of the 32% to clarify who they are so we can better understand if this is a problem.

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Hart Wright Architects
340 Potrero Ave
San Francisco, CA 94103
tel: (415) 503-7071