Why are so many women leaving architecture?

Why are so many women leaving architecture?

Houses designed by Alison Brooks for the Newhall estate in Harlow, Essex. // photo by Alison Brooks Architects

44% of architecture students are female, yet just 12% are partners in firms. Why are women leaving the profession, and how can we buck the trend?

It is a sad fact that the number of women in architecture is dropping, whilst in many other professions women have long had parity in numbers as well as pay and status. Of the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) 27,000 chartered architects, just 4,000 are women.

Whilst the number of female architecture students has grown – now 44%, we can’t seem to retain them in the profession. Just 34% officially qualified chartered architects are women. And the drop-off continues into senior levels: 22% of senior architects are women, 19% of associates and just 12% partners or shareholder directors.

This is not a world-wide phenomenon. In South America, for example female architects outnumber men. So what is going wrong here in the UK?

In 2003 the RIBA undertook a study on why women were leaving architecture. One woman’s response perfectly summed up the general feeling: “frustrated with the amount of regulation and legislation, high stress, low pay, long hours and not enough flexibility to allow time with my children, lack of job security and lack of support”.

It saddens me to think that most of the study’s 10 year-old findings remain prevalent. Some architecture practices are still not offering real flexibility in working hours, paying lip service to equal opportunities and pay legislation. This behaviour has a devastating effect on the retention of female architects – if they take career breaks or reduce their working hours, they fear they will not be seen as equals and will be side-lined or compartmentalised as a result.