We recently came across this New York Times headline that immediately grabbed our attention: “I am NOT the Decorator: Female Architects Speak Out.” This particular topic is very important to us here at SolarGlass, not just because we completely agree, but because so many of the professional architects, designers, and homeowners we meet and work with on a daily/weekly basis are women! Professional gender inequality is a topic that should be important to every business because it literally affects everyone. The fact that in 2016 we’re still struggling with these issues across so many industries in the United States is shocking. It’s time we all started paying a little more attention.
It’s Not Just About Architecture. It’s About Women in Every Field.
Granted, this particular article highlighted the issue in the architecture industry, but by no means is the problem unique to female architects. A quick Google search for gender inequality turns up examples in nearly every industry, market and vertical … engineering, IT, sports, entertainment, the list goes on and on.
You might think, at first glance, that industry-specific inequalities exist simply because there has traditionally been less interest by women in/for particular fields. Or you might argue that there are just as many women-centric industries that employ very few men. Both statements may be true … or at least, there is probably some degree of truth in them. However, gender disparities should be interest-based, and not the result of discrimination, harassment, sexism, or ignorance. Really, why would anyone want to pursue a career in an industry that completely ignored them, their point of view, or their work, and treated them badly?
“Every new job site means a contractor who will assume I am the assistant, decorator or intern. It usually isn’t until the third meeting that the project team looks to me for the answers to the architectural problems.”
—Yen Ha, New York
Yen Ha’s experience is far too “normal.” Even though we’ve been fortunate to work with so many female architects in Colorado, we’re very aware of how rare that is (and how lucky we are). So much talent and opportunity is lost to outmoded attitudes in our industry … it’s appalling. Why, in 2016, are we still struggling with this?
Architect Magazine reports that in 2013, there were 145,439 full-time architects in the US … only 31,000 of which were women, and of them, only 300 African-American women. According to a recent report from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the percentage of female architects in the United States has barely grown in the past 12 years – only 1.7%, in fact. But these numbers aren’t really that surprising. The professional challenges these women continue to face (unequal pay among them) makes this slow growth quite obvious … just take a look at the New York Times article linked above. More and more women are leaving the industry to pursue other careers, and it’s a trend that needs to stop.
What can we do about professional gender inequality?
It would be great to say that our company was unique in this area. It would be amazing, in fact, to claim that half our employees were women, but we still have some work to do. At the time of this post, our team here at SolarGlass consists of 71% men and 29% women, only one of whom is on the management team. We need to do better, and we will, but it will take more than just hiring more staff to solve the problem.
Our industry, like far too many others, has evolved with a mindset we need to change.
“Subcontractors, who have [fewer] opportunities to work with women architects and designers, seem to think that we do not even know how to change a light bulb and that our only role is just to decorate interiors.”
Addressing the “boys’ club” mentality must become a priority … and soon. Just one comment, attitude or action taken to undermine or discredit anyone’s talent, ability or experience is too much. It reflects poorly on all of us … not just on that one “good old boy” company, salesman, contractor, etc. It’s damaging to our industry as a whole. Every instance of this sexist mindset hinders innovation, opportunity, talent and growth along the way.
“The design profession won’t be integrated until the construction industry is, too. (Good luck with that!)”
—Bronwyn Barry, San Francisco
It’s time to change the rules, and promote equality for every profession. Amity Kurt has some great suggestions to get us started. Her “Pritzker Path” rules of engagement certainly rang true for us, and we hope will do the same for you … to summarize:
- Never call anyone over 18 a girl, it’s patronizing.
- Make sure you introduce yourself to the women on the project.
- Do not comment on their bodies/clothing more than you might a man’s.
- Don’t apologize for swearing in front of them.
- Don’t interrupt them or talk over them.
- Don’t devalue their social ability.
- Do promote women into positions of power and influence.
*Image courtesy of Shutterstock