Sometimes, the truth hurts.

Today I uncovered a poll-based research article that saddened/angered/emotionally frustrated me. NCARB / AIA / RIBA, please listen!

Published by Architect magazine, the article relayed truths that women are unrepresented, under appreciated, underpaid and, well, struggling under the thumb of the male dominated construction industry.

Specifically, the article polled nearly 700 women in the construction industry (671 women responded; 48 per cent were architects, eight percent architectural assistants, and students formed 24 per cent of respondents). The findings, while not surprising to someone so entrenched in the field, are still shocking:

80% of women feel their career will be sacrified if they bear a child v. 8% of men.

22% experience discrimination at least once a month.

82% feel our professional organizations (which we pay an arm and a leg to to maintain our credentials) are doing nothing to help level the gender imbalance.

How are those for staggering statistics?! I know, and I didn’t even touch the pay inequality issue.

The fact of the matter is that 40% of architecture students are female, but less than 20% of practicing professionals are female.

Where do they go?! Well, while our life experiences/responsibilities may be similar in school amongst both genders, once 5 to 10 years out, the traditional wife and mother roles take over females’ ability to juggle a profession that requires your 24/7 mental dedication, long unpaid hours, travel and to-the-second flexibility. Your boss will never admit that you’re not on the project because of little Sally and baby Jonny, but when contractors stop calling, papers stop piling and your desktop looks sparse, the truth will be as clear as window panes you once spec’d as a single gal mixed up in this man’s world.

It’s not all so tragic though, for while women are certainly underrepresented in my firm (at a ratio of 1:4 at our best), luckily and happily the other unders are so very untrue at studioTECHNE.

However, outside in the job site, the admission “Yes, I am an architect” on occasion causes jaws to drop, heads to turn (sometimes away to talk to the closest male counterpart, because hey, girly archies can’t possible understand mechanical systems, right?).

And at events where interior designers and architects co-mingle, well, let’s just say there is a whole lot of assuming that the female in the group must be the token “designer”. Come on, people, it’s not like I’m asking you to believe I’m welding steel girders on the fourteenth floor all day (because honestly I’ve never seen a woman do this – and if you’re out there- honey, GOOD for YOU!!!), I’m simply asking you to wipe that bewildered look off your face because, dude, I do love Rhino, yellow trace paper, jigsaws and wearing my hardhat (just as long as it doesn’t deflate my poof too much).

In conclusion, my blood is boiling and I hope yours is, too, because conviction and passion and hard work are the three ingredients that will allow us to preserve in this uphill battle to equal footing.

We really do need Rosie the Riveter to leap from the pages of history into the 21st century. Where are you, Rosie? Your ladies are calling.

2 thoughts on “truthiness

  1. In the offices I’ve worked at, I haven’t really noticed any outright discrimination against women. In fact, the office I work at now with 40 or so others is greater than 50% female. I have worked at pretty foward-thinking, “new guard” firms, though, which probably skew towards equality. I have heard about more discrimination and harassment at firms with older principals, where the boys club still exists. Hopefully, those are on the way out.
    Where I think you are absolutely right is when women try to go out to site meetings and interact with contractors and engineers. Speaking very generally (and certainly excluding each and every one of the great and amazing contractors that I work with every day (I’m legally covered by now, right?)), sexism is much higher at the jobsite. Contractors especially lack the respect for women that they have earned at school and in the office. Maybe part of the solution to discrimination against women in the construction industry as a whole is to increase involvement on the contractor side.

    • Thanks for reading and for the comment, Ray! A “new guard” firm? That’s new terminology for my ears.

      Women are definitely making headway, but not at the rate of other professions and with reports like these. I think some of the disparity comes from the fact that there are more men attaining their license than females and so there are more men interviewing for positions. Women tend to take the non-traditional path to working in architecture, whether by choice (working in sculpture, fashion, etc) or by the result of their other obligations. Many of the one or two person firms I know of are headed up by females – mostly women who were once corporate powerhouses and are now balancing kids and work by working from a home office doing residential kitchen designs.

      What I find often is not at all the blatant sexism, but that since conversations are so often amongst the boys, there are many apologies for using crude, unladylike language and vivid imagery in my presence. It’s just one more way that attention is drawn to the fact that yup, there’s a girl under this hardhat!

      Once I’ve met a female contractor and it was like a breath of fresh air – until her bid came in way too high. Sigh – maybe next time!?

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