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Design Stuff/ 18 Jan 2017 / By Emily Hirschmann

The Glass Ceiling: Women in Architecture

At Atelier, we know that architecture is as important to women as it is to men. Last year, we conducted a survey which told us as much - with women responding in equal numbers to men, to let us know about the idea architectural space for them.

Some of the UK’s most astonishing, controversial and talked-about buildings were designed by women. The glorious glass tiers of the Library of Birmingham, locally known as the Wedding Cake, the long-awaited Stonehenge visitor centre and the Giant’s Causeway’s counterpart; all critically acclaimed; all designed by women. And yet, the Architects’ Journal’s third annual Women in Architecture study revealed not only that two thirds of women in the sector suffered sexual discrimination at work, but that they can also earn up to £10,000 less than their male counterparts. Could this be the actual glass ceiling in action?

The Wedding Cake in all it's glory.

The Wedding Cake in all it's glory.

One survey, no matter how respected, probably isn’t enough to base such a statement on, however it is rather startling and seems to be backed up by the annual RIBA statistics, which show that women made up only 11% of the architectural profession – the lowest figure for 10 years – and that many companies blamed childcare for sidelining their female employees... even when the women did not have children.

Sexism in architecture is perhaps not to be unexpected, as Christine Murray, editor of Architects’ Journal, points out (in The Independent); there is a “macho culture” in the building industry as a whole, and until we have more women involved throughout the construction process it’s a problem that is unlikely to change. But, is that a good enough reason to accept the status quo? George Ferguson, RIBA president-elect, thinks not.

A sensitive female design for the new visitor centre at Stone Henge.

"I'm all for breaking down this macho culture," he says. "Reporting firms to the disciplinary committee is the ultimate weapon if we do find that employers are breaking the rules." That might be well in theory, but in practise women fear reprisals and the threat of unemployment is very real in such a competitive industry. One respondent to the Architects’ Journal survey even admitted she had hidden that she had children from her employer, for fear it would hinder her career.

Again, the visitor centre at The Giant's Causeway takes a sensitive and sympathetic approach.

Perhaps most worrying of all, is the fact that sexism appears to be ingrained at all levels of the architectural industry. 20% of women surveyed admitted to being bullied at university for their choice of career, while prestige is often beyond the reach of women even when their work is publicly acclaimed – The Pritzker Prize is widely considered to be the Nobel equivalent for architecture. In its 31 year history only two women have won it. Of the nine 2013 ‘jury’ members, again only two were women.

Apropos' top Female Designer; Ashleigh Barnes.

At Atelier we strongly believe in equality and that respect, kudos and credit should always go where it is earned. The recent findings are saddening and unsettling, but we have every hope that architecture will regain its good name by giving women the recognition they deserve.

We have some fantastic female designers and staff members who work with us just as strongly as their male counterparts. Having seen women working in architecture, working in our company, we believe and hope, that one day this will be the case across the board.

Are you a woman within the industry? Let us know what you think about the ongoing debate. Male opinions are also very much welcomed. We’d love to hear what you all think and how we can begin to put an end to sexism within architecture. 

To design your own perfect piece of architecture with Atelier, get in touch today.

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