Following the 2013 Architects Journal Women in Architecture survey, we were asked for comment…
here’s the original comment…
I’ve just been preparing a talk for 3rd year architecture students about the virtues of solo practice v. large practice and I’ve been reflecting on my 15 years experience. When set out I expected a smooth run from student, to architect to associate to director, this has not been the case.
From personal experience, going back to my first placement at a large practice, of the project team of 5 that I worked with, 3 men 2 women, the 3 men are directors and the 2 women have been made redundant several times, myself included.
Now, I walk into rooms of property people and there’s a sea of suits; women are barely there, there are very few actual high level construction professionals who are female.
The profession is tough, as I’m sure all architects irrespective of gender can agree. So is the absence of women explained because they value their time more highly? Seeking an alternative to low fees and lack of reward for long hours.
It’s a game of snakes and ladders, if you’re a man it’s mainly ladders- for women it’s pretty much all snakes. Even though we start off pretty evenly out of college, soon the sexist industry kicks in. So if you can’t make it to associate or partner before you break for maternity there’s no chance.
Let’s face it the odds are stacked against us. Given that on a straight run, not in a recession, you can make Architect by 25, that gives 5 years in practice before the clock starts ticking so you take a break. In that time industry changes, peers who don’t take time out get promoted above you and to be honest confidence plummets. The longer you’re out the harder it is to retrain or get up to speed.
The only way to level the playing field is to start up your own practice.
Setting up on your own requires confidence, experience and business nous. With all of that you’ll probably find that you are being undercut by those less qualified and with poorer experience. I’ve found groups like Women in Property are essential to maintain support and contact .
Why does this all matter?
It matters because women can offer so much more to clients, emotional intelligence, the ability get to the core of issues easily, diplomacy, reasoning, people skills, client facing team working and leadership: all whilst maintaining the skills of the profession. But there needs to be a massive step change in the profession if we are to survive the economic cycles as any progress made in the peak of the market is immediately lost in a recession.
We need the industry to change and support women, offer respect, reskilling and confidence, otherwise this will keep on happening to the detriment of the entire construction industry.
Lisa Raynes is Managing Director of Raynes Architecture She established her business in October 2010 out of the firestorm of recession and redundancy – and has not looked back. An architect with 15 years experience in commercial, housing and listed building refurbishment.