Yesterday, you might have caught #internationalwomensday flying around your social media. If you live in New York, you might have noticed a series of ads that were missing their women, titled the “Not There” Campaign. International Women’s Day is nothing new. It has been around since the early 1900’s. Arguably the movement had the greatest influence in 1908 when women marched to demand better pay and voting rights.
As a young female in architecture, I am fortunate to have found myself in a firm, which is split 8-7 with females in the majority. I graduated in an architecture program that was 50% female and currently serve on an AIA Board that has more female leadership than male. While these percentages are not reflective of the majority, it goes to show that we, as a profession have engaged women.
However, national numbers show we have major strides to make for women in architecture. Various architectural groups have conducted studies to highlight the disparities of men and women in firm leadership. AIA San Francisco circulated a survey last year gathering research about Equity in Architecture. The Missing 32% Project has started to circulate and has sparked interesting discussions on where women are when it comes to leadership. While the survey is neither longitudinal nor a representative cross-section, it helps us to gain insight and start the conversations.
Architecture has been notorious for being a heavily Caucasian, male-dominated field. Even as the number of female students in architecture programs has reached 50%, only 17% of AIA members are women (AIA Numbers and Figures). This has trended up from 9% since 2000. While we are going in the right direction, we need to take the time to train women with the proper skills for leadership in the future of our firms.
This is a national issue. This is a firm culture issue. This is an AIA issue. It is imperative to the future success of architecture that women are being prepped and primed just as males are. Men and women think differently and bring different skills to the table. It is key that we utilize the strengths of both genders to create the greatest environment for all that are entering and continuing in the profession.
I have been fortunate to have great female mentors and leaders, who have guided and provided me with adequate skills to feel comfortable in this field. I have also been lead by great males who treat me no differently than the males they are priming for leadership. While my experiences tend to have been positive, there have been times when they have not. I once attended a dinner for an AIA event. After the dinner, I was mingling with fellow members. One man that I had not yet been introduced to bluntly asked, “Whose wife are you?” After I responded that I was there on my own merit because I was a board member, he realized the error in his question. To illustrate that this is not just unique to architecture and men, a female colleague described a situation in which she mistook a female practicing attorney for a paralegal. Comments like this make us circle back and realize that our work as a larger population is far from finished. We are not there yet. And for the future of the young women who will come after me, it is important that we get there sooner rather than later. It is important that we keep this profession balanced in diversity.