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    The Female Architects—Surviving the Journey to the Top

    David C. McFadden
    Apr 4, '19 5:54 PM EST

    Winner of the Emerging Woman Architect of the Year Award 2014, Julia King talks about her work in both the UK and India

    While women have forged a path in many male-dominated industries today, challenges still face female architects. As women are slowly moving into relevant positions and even leadership roles, there is still plenty of work to be done. Fortunately, awareness of inequality has been the first step in the creation of organizations and movements to support women passionate about the field. In addition, some outspoken architects are bringing the issue into focus, increasing awareness and encouraging women interested in studying architecture to pursue the profession as a legitimate career path.

    Female Architects by the Numbers

    While statistics offer hope that the presence of female architects are on the rise, the numbers also show there is more work to be done. According to a 2018 report in Artsy, women comprise approximately half of the students in architecture schools today. However, the numbers begin to decline dramatically as students move to the professional world, with women making up only 18% of licensed architects. Even more concerning is the fact that just three of the top 100 architecture firms are led by women.

    When considering global numbers, the statistics start to lean more in the favor of women in the industry. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) estimated in 2016 that women made up more than one-third (36%) of all newly licensed architects. That number marks a small increase from 2015, when 34% of new licenses went to women.

    Issues Facing Women in the Industry

    One of the biggest concerns female architects have today is inequality when it comes to salary. A 2017 article in the journal Archipreneur found that men earning $100,000 or more outpace women earning the same amount by 7%. The difference exists even though more women than men have a four-year degree. At the lower end of the salary scale, nearly twice as many women as men earn less than $50,000.

    The issues relating to salary inequalities was summed up in part by a 2018 article in the New York Times, titled, “Where are all the Female Architects?” The report noted that pipeline is not a problem as it is in other industries, since plenty of women are going to school to train for the profession. Instead, a generalized negative perception of women in the profession could be at the root of the difference. The New York Times reports that as recently as 2018, there were assumptions that women would quit if they got married or had children, or that they would not be able to lead with authority on job sites. Even their creativity has been questioned at times in this male-dominated industry.

    Growing Support Network

    Fortunately, more women are becoming known in the industry today, paving the way for other female architects to join the ranks. The New York Times also reports that more women are getting appointed as deans or directors at architecture programs at prestigious schools like Cornell, Columbia, Princeton, and Yale. Female architects at the top of companies are also gaining more recognition as trade journals and mainstream media are highlighting these women.

    Industry organizations are also beginning to make a place for women – through conferences geared specifically to female architects or committees designed to bring women in the profession together. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is hosting its first Women’s Leadership Summit in September of this year, in an effort to bring together female architects and those that have achieved leadership roles within their organizations.

    According to the AIA website, the goals of the Women’s Leadership Summit are:

    • Increase awareness of women in the industry
    • Create a learning environment by combining women at various stages of their careers
    • Help women discover paths to leadership roles
    • Provide the opportunity for women to learn from one another

    In addition, the AIA New York features a Women in Architecture Committee to develop and promote women in the industry through monthly meetings and other events. The local committee focuses on licensure, mentorship and networking opportunities to help women take their careers in architecture to the next level.

    Pioneers Taking the “Female” Out of the Position

    As more women take the stage in the architectural industry, women following in their footsteps can find both inspiration and knowledge to succeed in their careers. Dorte Mandrup, a Danish architect who is also the creative director and founder at Dorte Mandrup, published an article in 2017, which appeared in Politiken and Dezeen.

    In the article, Mandrup makes the point that she does not want to be referred to as a “female architect.” Instead, she wants to be known as an architect – one whose work can compare with the creativity of any male without having the additional label attached. She believes that until women stop getting referred to as “female architects,” true equality within the industry cannot happen.

    Liz Ogbu trained as an architect at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. However, she referred to herself in the New York Times article as a “designer, social innovator, and urbanist.” Her point was that women can make a name for themselves in the world of architecture to redefine success within the industry. Instead of focusing solely on skyscrapers and museums, Ogbu is focusing on designs for the underprivileged such as shelters for immigrant day workers.

    “In many ways, architecture is a profession that has been the epitome of the dominant white patriarchy, from most of the celebrated starchitects to the all too frequent obsession with buildings that are better known for their beauty of the object rather than the quality of the life that they enable…I’ve been committed to a design practice that is rooted in elevating the stories of those who have most often been neglected or silenced.”

    Whether you are looking for your very first position in the industry or ready to take your career to the next level, we can help. We help architects, interior designers and others in the building design profession find the job of their dreams. Contact CFA today to learn more.


    • Finjohn

      Kudos to all the female pioneers in the architectural field and all others that have been male dominated for many years! 

      To me positions of employment should be strictly based on skill, training, education, a proper attitude and being trainable. Ones gender, color of skin, income level or where they are from should have nothing to do with it. 

      To women fearful of being a pioneer in male dominated environments I recommend Bruce Lee's advice, “If you always put a limit on everything you do, physical or anything else it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

      "Set no limit as your limit." 

      Apr 5, 19 12:22 pm  · 

      It would be nice to see more garbage women or female construction workers though and more male daycare (I'd be happy with even just one) and primary school teachers. Did you know that little boys in Iceland are forced to paint their nails to apparently counter gender specific roles we assign to our kids? I'm saying that as the partner (male) of a woman who's a design director, and as an architect that has worked with as many men as women in leadership positions and firm owners and currently working in a female dominated office, yet again. Almost all the women I graduated with (50-50 male/female) have moved on to work at starchitects all over the world, slowly but surely climbing that ladder to the top at their firms, just like their male counterparts.

      Apr 9, 19 5:05 am  · 

      Here we go again with "Everything is Awesome" in Europe

      Apr 10, 19 5:41 pm  · 


      Apr 11, 19 4:58 pm  · 

      Yeah right.

      May 19, 19 1:37 pm  · 

      Yikes! Making those little boys do that is so wrong! I would be home schooling if that were my sons. 

      And I agree that it would be nice to see more of a mix in what is usually just men or women roles. 

      Apr 9, 19 1:51 pm  · 

      Sweet Jesus. 

      Gender Equity

      I ask school mum, Ninja Omarsdottir if she thinks the school’s approach is helping her 4-year-old son Eric.

      “It’s good that the boys are taught more tenderness and that the girls are more assertive,” she says.

      "You can see just with the Me Too movement we need boys to break the stereotyping of what it means to be a man.”

      If you google this topic, the first half dozen headlines are so fucking atrocious.

      Apr 9, 19 10:33 pm  · 


      Apr 10, 19 4:14 pm  · 

      I should note; I support what they are doing in Iceland. They've nailed just about everything else.

      Apr 10, 19 9:24 pm  · 

      You support young boys being forced to paint their nails like girls? I disagree with that. There is nothing wrong with men being masculine and women being feminine. The problem is that men have for too long dominated positions/roles that women can do just as well or better. It is an individual thing and should have nothing to do with making men more feminine or woman more masculine. IMO that is wrong. The solution to me is that positions/roles need to be offered to people based on their individual skills, experience and training and it should have Nothing to do with their gender or skin color. Filling jobs based solely on gender or diversity requirements is wrong and they should simply be offered to the best person for the job, male or female.

      Apr 17, 19 12:52 pm  · 

      No one is forcing boys to do anything. Let Iceland, be Iceland; they're better than all of us anyhow; Bjork.

      Apr 18, 19 5:06 pm  · 

      I agree that it would be nice to see more of a mix in what is usually just men or women roles

      Apr 16, 19 10:57 pm  · 

      I may do similar research for other minorities in our profession. Thoughts?

      Apr 17, 19 10:21 am  · 

      Go on.

      Apr 18, 19 5:07 pm  · 

      Women are not a minority.

      Apr 19, 19 5:24 am  · 

      you need to factor in the co-efficient. It' s a math thing. Men do it all the fucking time. Without trying. Math geniuses, all of us.

      Apr 25, 19 10:35 am  · 

      Still, women are not a minority, they make up over half of the population, treating them as a minority is condescending.

      Apr 26, 19 10:29 am  · 

      oh to be a woman, with all of that power.

      Apr 28, 19 3:15 pm  · 

      It would be appreciated.

      Jun 27, 19 3:57 am  · 

      By the way, the photo at the top of the post is of Julia King, one of the most impressive architects out there, female or otherwise. I dont think she is mentioned in the text, so google her.

      Apr 25, 19 10:39 am  · 

      Thank you. I added a caption under her image.

      Apr 25, 19 2:47 pm  · 

      Thank you for sharing.

      Jun 27, 19 3:58 am  · 

      But the NY power brokers are demolishing the 52-story JP Morgan Chase building designed by Natalie Griffin de Blois - a fantastically beautiful building in mid-town Manhattan. Being torn down by a male egomaniac at Chase and a male idiot pretending to be a mayor for no good reason at all except that they can. 

      May 6, 19 9:44 pm  · 

      Dorthe Mandrup is an architect I admire greatly. Her comments are very reflective of Danish society and the Danish working industry, however I believe she is also very naive to the industry outside of Denmark. In the US we were told we would have to choose between motherhood and our architecture careers. We were told explicitly that once we had children, we might not be treated seriously by clients. This is not the 60s, I’m talking about 2015. Only one of my female professors had children.

      There are so many less barriers to female leadership here compared to the US, especially in the architecture industry. I feel taken more seriously here and treated with more respect- my gender never “gets in the way” like it did in the US. Studies show still though that even in Denmark, women’s careers still take a hit if they have kids compared to men even though there is legally mandated access to paid maternity and paternity leave.

      I embrace the title of female architect, as well as architect. To me it is not an insult and it does not make us less equal. What affects our equality is rooted in cultural issues and engrained sexism. Not a descriptor. Historically, architecture and construction has been a male dominated profession. Times are changing now because we are having these discussions, but I’m still waiting for more women to be Pritzker winners. Not because of their gender but because their works are deserving of recognition.

      Jul 16, 19 5:51 am  · 

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