In 2012, the website and advocacy group Parlour published its first, and devastating, statistical portrayal of the loss of women from the architecture profession and their sparseness at senior levels. Parlour’s advocacy is based on the premise that greater diversity in the architecture profession will improve its ability to meet the complex, challenging and changing needs of the future. Bluntly put, diversity ensures a stronger profession that ultimately makes better architecture.
Parlour grew out of an ARC Linkage Project led by Dr Naomi Stead (then at the University of Queensland and now professor and head of architecture at Monash) to study gender and equity in Australian architecture. One of the aims of the project was to map women’s participation in the profession. In doing so, research assistant Kirsty Volz and I also mapped the profession itself.
Back in 2012, many thought that architecture simply did not have a problem with gender. But the data we found, condensed into a series of visualisations, convinced them otherwise.
It was unequivocal and it struck a nerve. Since then, and because of Parlour’s work (which has continued long past the end of the ARC project), gender equity has become part of the national conversation in the architecture profession, and there’s increasing attention paid to other inequities and how these intersect.
In the populous states of Victoria and New South Wales, women now form fully one-third of all census architects.
Contributing to and supporting this has been the growth of other local, national and international activist organisations and institutional support mechanisms and groups, such as the Australian Institute of Architects National Committee for Gender Equity, state gender equity taskforces and the NSW-based Male Champions of Change. None of these groups existed in 2012. So, in this very different climate, what’s changed? What does the most recent data tell us?
Continuing Parlour’s research and monitoring role, we recently released two reports that update the earlier statistical picture with data from the 2016 census and other sources, and reach back to the 2001 and 2006 censuses. The two reports – one detailed and one summary – provide a story of the changes over the 21st century to the profession, and women’s role in it.
There’s no doubt that women have steadily increased their share of most of the available metrics. This growth is not unexpected. Since the mid-1990s, women have comprised more than 40 per cent of all architectural graduates, and these graduates have "flooded" into the profession.
At the turn of the century, women comprised just 20 per cent of the total architect population of Australia identified in the census. Fifteen years later, in 2016, they constitute 31 per cent. In the populous states of Victoria and New South Wales, women now form fully one-third of all census architects. Analysis of the census also shows that the number of women who own architecture businesses has increased – something that’s also reflected in the many successful women architects appearing in the architectural media.
Another interesting pattern revealed over time is that the long hours that dog the profession (particularly the men of the profession) have actually decreased since 2001, for both women and men – although they remain higher than those for other professionals.
Slower growth than expected
But my analysis of all the available data also shows that the growth in the proportion of women is more sluggish than might be expected from the "flood" of graduates, suggesting that gender-based bias impacts on those in the architecture profession as they age.
Women’s representation at senior levels of the profession, while growing, is still disappointingly low. As owners, women on the whole still tend to cluster in smaller businesses. A gender pay gap for full-time architects persists. It widens as an age cohort grows older and remains even when adjusting for differing ownership patterns (and consequent differing income levels).
Finally, there’s still a distinct fall-off of younger women from the profession relative to their graduation rates and to the attrition of men of the same age. It’s this unequal attrition that results in the sluggish growth of women’s numbers and that suggests that gender biases are a contributing factor in women "leaving".
If we’re to see equivalent and serious change in the metrics that currently demonstrate the continuing inequity in the profession, we need more than individual women "doing it for themselves."
While the census points to sluggish growth, other data paints a more encouraging picture. The most striking change since 2012 is a big jump in the proportion of women gaining registration, from 34 per cent to 41 per cent. It’s now at a rate that very nearly matches their graduation levels, rather than far below it as in previous years. This growth is sustained and has increased the proportion of women architects identified by the census who are registered from barely half in 2011 to a healthier 57 per cent in the 2016 census.
Parlour has been advising women to register as an important tactic for those wishing to succeed because, for many complicated reasons, it’s more important for women to have credentials, such as registration, in order to progress their careers than it is for men.
The jump means that women are taking matters into their own hands regarding their presence in the architecture profession. This is good news – as is the news that since 2011, women over the age of 40 are staying in the profession, or rather have an equitable attrition rate with men.
Structural, cultural factors
The slower growth in the other metrics, however, suggests that structural and cultural factors continue to impede the free flow of women into senior and influential levels of the profession. This doesn’t mean that no women are reaching those levels, but that if all things were equal, there would be more of them.
If we’re to see equivalent and serious change in the metrics that currently demonstrate the continuing inequity in the profession, we need more than individual women "doing it for themselves" – as successful as that has been.
The message of the power and importance of equity needs to be activated in every nook and cranny of the architecture profession, individually and collectively. The Parlour reports are a means for us to develop strategies for that activation.