Our shame: 50/50 Campaign launch

Building Design, Front page, January 2005

These faces represent a cross-section of our architectural society in 2005 — a shocking and unacceptable 86% male.

Look at their faces. They are all great architects, but it is man, after man, after man. So today we launch a campaign to change this picture. We are asking every practice to commit to a short charter of basic working practices which will give women a better chance in architecture. So if you lead your practice, make a statement of intent. If you are an employee, lobby your bosses. Tell them BD’s 50/50 Campaign has support from government, architecture and equal opportunities regulation. Turning the situation around will take years, but making a commitment to change can be achieved much faster. Help us reach our target and end this shame for good.

Why this change matters

Building Design, 50/50 Campaign launch, Page 2, January 2005

Today we are asking you to confront a shameful truth: the shocking ratio of women to men in architecture. Fewer than one in seven architects are women. They make up 14% of the profession when they should be 50%.

Now, in 2005, we must stop accepting that appalling status quo and allow ourselves to be shocked. BD has grown increasingly alarmed by the ongoing problem, and so today, we launch 50/50 The Campaign for More Women in Architecture — an impassioned call for action across the profession.

Our overarching goal is simple: to see the number of women in architecture rise towards parity with men. To achieve that we want your practice to sign up to our five-step 50/50 Charter. By making the pledges in the charter, your practice will actively encourage more women to join and stay in architecture. By March 8, International Women’s Day, we want 250 practices signed up. So if you already practise what we preach, sign up. Better still use the 50/50 Charter to change your practice’s policies and sign up now. Lobby your bosses, pin up our front page in the office and act now.

Because it matters intensely that there are so few women in the profession. It matters that from the first year of university onwards, the number of women in the profession declines steadily as their careers progress — or fail to. It matters that the reasons they give for quitting are not about the nature of the work but about the nature of the workplace.

It matters if we care about creating a more equal society. Thirty years since the Sex Discrimination Act, women in architecture do not enjoy equality of opportunity. It matters if we care about good architecture. Female skills are as important to architecture as the long dominant male ones. And a productive practice is one that can draw on staff with a diverse range of skills, perspectives and experiences.

And it matters if we care about the status of the profession. Unless the profession better reflects the gender balance of society, it will struggle to regain its lost respect.

We know what the problems are. Long hours, macho work culture and low pay make combining work and family life all but impossible within a conventional office. But there are simple, affordable measures all practices can take to address these issues. To help you act on the 50/50 Charter we will report over the coming weeks on how to introduce flexible working, promote a better work/life balance, and introduce mentoring and equal pay audits.

These measures do not have to be financially onerous. We work the longest hours in Europe but are among the least productive. A more healthy work/life balance can improve business performance. Other professions have already made inroads. In the traditionally male enclave of law, 40% of solicitors are now female. The government is pushing for change too. It is time architecture caught up.

Make sure your practice signs up to BD’s 50/50 Charter and let your clients and employees see you are serious about supporting more women in architecture. We will be running a “hall of fame” as well as a “hall of shame” showcasing the best performers and worst offenders. Ignoring the issue is no longer an option.

The backers

Patricia Hewitt
Trade & Industry secretary
I wish the campaign every success — attracting and retaining female talent in architecture is not only good for women, but good for the profession. I hope that architecture firms can offer terms that encourage more women to join, stay and succeed in their chosen career.

Richard Rogers
Architect and peer
We are failing to attract women into architecture. Equally damaging, we are losing a great number of talented female architects along the way. We have to find ways of creating a more inclusive, flexible working environment.

Julie Mellor
Chairwoman, Equal Opportunities Commission
Architecture has been a traditionally male-dominated profession. This starts at school with the information and career choices that are available to young women and is compounded by the long-hours culture that makes balancing work and caring very difficult. The result is occupational segregation that encourages men to progress and excludes women.

Jon Rouse
Chief executive, Housing Corporation
While I was at Cabe I was very aware of the gender divide at the top of the architectural profession. Although Cabe always had a good track record, I disliked working in a wider environment that was so white, male and middle class. Indeed, one of the joys of moving to the housing sector has been to work in a more diverse environment. Architecture would benefit from more diverse leadership. I strongly support BD’s campaign for change.

50/50 Charter

Our practice pledges:
1. To recruit, promote, pay and allocate work according to experience and ability alone.
2. To set out maternity and paternity rights within a written contract for every worker and strive to go beyond the statutory minimum.
3. To offer flexible working to all employees and retraining for returning parents.
4. To challenge the long hours culture and monitor working time.
5. To appoint a practice champion to promote and monitor the charter.

Sexism: the real life story

Building Design, 50/50 Campaign launch, Feature, January 2005

A culture of long-hours coupled with sexism makes it hard to combine motherhood with being an architect

Sacked for being pregnant, passed over for promotion, frozen out for daring to leave the office before 9pm — this is the shameful reality faced by many women trying to forge a career in architecture.

An investigation into the obstacles facing female architects reveals an alarming picture of a macho profession, where long hours rule and working mothers are marginalised; where women make up 37% of new architecture students but only 14% of the profession; where not one of the 100 largest practices has a 50/50 share of male and female architects, and where senior management is frequently a woman-free zone.

With experience of multi-million pound projects, Jenny Harborne should be at the forefront of a major architectural practice. But after being repeatedly passed over for promotion in a string of larger practices, she now works on her own.

At one firm, which she prefers not to name, Harborne won a competition but was later told she would not be seeing the project through.
“I was part of a predominantly female design group and it was given to another team within the firm,” she says. “I wanted to carry on working on the project especially after winning the competition. What any architect wants is to be able to build what they have designed.”

Harborne quit her job at that practice, she says, because she realised she would never be allowed to see a project through.

At another practice where Harborne had risen to senior architect, she found any hopes of further progression blocked by a resentful male associate. She says she was the victim of an old fashioned competitive male environment that alienates women.

“It is much more exciting now having my own practice. But I do occasionally feel frustrated at the larger projects that I could have been involved with — it’s a shadow that drifts across every so often.”

Sumita Sinha was also driven into sole practice by macho working culture. Sinha says she was “made redundant” by a Cambridge-based practice for refusing to work late.

“One night it was getting to 9 o’clock and I told my boss I wanted to go home,” she recalls. “I could see the look on his face change, and after that his behaviour was not as warm. Two months later he made me redundant.” She was the only married woman in the office, the only one who resisted working late and the only one made redundant.

Harborne and Sinha are far from lone voices. Many similar experiences were recounted by the women who took part in the RIBA’s “Why do Women Leave Architecture” survey.

The report, which attempts to make sense of the appalling drop-out rates of women from the profession, makes alarming reading. Respondents’ tales of bullying and sexism are at odds with architecture’s liberal reputation.

One said the average working hours were 8am to 8pm with an expectation that she would work frequent weekends for no pay. Another said she daren’t mention her children in front of male colleagues. Another said clients were entertained at lap dancing or strip clubs.

Few had any idea what they should expect in terms of equal pay, maternity rights or employment contracts. Some told shocking stories about “threatening or bullying behaviour” around matters associated with salary, and there was a general perception that male colleagues were paid more. But in spite of all this, most said they were reluctant to make a fuss, fearing they would be branded troublemakers.

According to the report’s authors, “there was little evidence that women left because they were poor designers or that they no longer wanted to be architects… One major concern is the extent to which some architectural practices are operating outside current legislation in relation to employment practice.”

Angela Brady from the RIBA’s Architects for Change group, which commissioned the report, is convinced that practices frequently flout equal pay laws by paying women architects less than their male contemporaries.

“When people come to my practice [Brady Mallelieu] for interview we ask them what they are being paid now. The women are often being paid less than the men with equivalent experience. It’s outrageous.”

Women also face regular discrimination from contractors and clients.

During research for her book Hard Labour: The Sociology of Parenthood, Family Life and Career, Caroline Gatrell discovered overt prejudice by clients towards one architect “Amanda” during her pregnancy. “When I was obviously pregnant, I lost jobs,” says Amanda, who runs her own practice. “And I had never lost jobs before. I used to get 95% of what I went for. And I was effectively sacked from a project for no reason. I think there was a perception that now I was having a child I shouldn’t be working, or couldn’t do their job effectively.”

Even for women who have escaped direct discrimination or bullying, the persistent macho culture of long hours, excludes women trying to juggle career and motherhood.

Irina Davidovici, who worked for Herzog & de Meuron between 1999-2002, found it impossible to balance a family life with practising. “Unless you are someone who does not want to have children — or have your own practice where you can balance home and work life — it is impossible to continue being an architect,” she says.

Davidovici blames the culture within the industry as a whole, rather than individual practices. “It is not what the employer asks you but what the industry expects,” she says. “It is very hard to give that amount of commitment and have a family.”

Liza Fior set up women’s practice Muf “out of the need for a creative space that recognised the complexity of professional and private life”.

“When I had my first child I realised that I had to set up my own practice if I was going to stay in architecture. If I’d tried to work within a practice and have a child, I’m sure I would have been sacked.”

There is an idea in architecture that commitment is determined by being there all the time, she says. The way Muf organises and runs its projects has proved this doesn’t have to be the case.

Delwar Hossain, managing director of recruitment consultancy Adrem claims he is contacted by “loads” of female architects wanting to leave the profession.

“We also get a lot of calls from mums who wish to work three days a week,” he said. “If practices were more broadminded, there is a huge pool of talent out there, but it is still a very male-dominated profession… If you have to pick up a child from nursery, practices don’t like it. There is also an element of discomfort for women joining a practice at child-bearing age. It is politically incorrect, but practices will ask women about this.”

His wife, Farzana Kazi-Hossain, an architect and mother of two who recently left the profession, recalls an in-joke at the private practice she worked for. “My employer would say about me ‘Oh she’s got to 35, I better fire her before she gets pregnant!’ This was frustrating because I worked hard and had studied for seven years.”

Angela Brady agrees that having children is the biggest challenge for women in architecture.

“In the Why Women Leave Architecture survey, many women said they were doing their job well and getting their work done,” Brady says. “But because they had to leave at 5.30pm they felt they were being scowled at by their male colleagues. Many said they felt they had to sneak out of the office.

“It’s not essential to work 10 hours to do your job. Just because you’re working longer hours, it doesn’t mean you’re doing a better job. The long hours culture is so outdated it has got to stop.”

There is an impenetrable glass ceiling, she says. “We’re living in a very backward profession. It’s 100 years out of date at least. But if we could just get some more women at director level, the whole culture would change.”

From Jane to Sumita: architecture’s glacial change

Sumita Sinha is one of just 4,339 female architects working in the UK today — 14% of the total profession. When Jane Drew, designer of Waterloo Road Entrance and Observation Tower for the Festival of Britain, was at the height of her achievements during the 1950s, this figure was 5.8%. In the intervening 50 years, society has seen major changes in women’s roles. But while other professions such as law and medicine have seen the number of female practitioners soar, this change in architecture has been slow.

1955 5.8%
1965 4.7%
1975 4.5%
1985 5.3%
1995 9.41%
2004 14%