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Tuesday22 August 2017

Women make up just 20% of partners in architecture firms

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Largest practices are worst offenders, according to straw poll

Only a fifth of the partners in UK architecture practices are women, according to a straw poll published to coincide with International Women’s Day.

In the largest firms the proportion is as low as 5%. In several of the smallest practices, all the directors are women.

The research was conducted by the Architectural Association for its AAXX100 project which was set up to mark a century since women were admitted, thanks to the efforts of suffragette Ruth Lowy. The questions were modelled on a landmark edition of AD in 1975 – International Women’s Year – for which Monica Pidgeon surveyed 100 women architects.

More than 1,300 architects, part IIs and academics from 64 countries responded to the poll.

The 84 who are UK-based work for practices with a total of 381 directors. Of these, 75 are women. While the poll is too small to be statistically significant, it does back up anecdotal evidence of a gender divide. For example, last year Make appointed a woman to its board for the first time and Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners appointed its first woman partner.  

Yasmin Shariff, director of Dennis Sharp Architects and the co-ordinator of the project, said the findings were a serious matter.

She said: “The consequence of not taking women seriously, treating them unfairly and failing to engage them equally in shaping our built environment is not hitting the headlines as dramatically as Emily Davidson’s deathly encounter with the royal horse but it is seriously impacting people’s lives.

“Millions of pounds of public funding is being squandered on projects that are not fit for purpose because women are professionally alienated and unable to contribute to decision making on the same footing as men.

“If the politicians are serious about democracy and compliance with legislation then not a single public procurement project should be awarded unless companies can demonstrate equal pay and equal opportunity for advancement for all.”

Almost 100% of UK respondents said there should be equal numbers of women and men in the profession, with many pointing out that it is only after university that the gender split becomes skewed.

Role models

Zaha Hadid won the poll for the most inspirational woman architect with almost double the votes of second-placed Kazuyo Sejima of Sanaa.

Alison Brooks and Sarah Wigglesworth were joint third.

Angela Brady, Farshid Moussavi, Rachel Haugh, Maria Smith, Sheila O’Donnell, Amanda Levete and Benedetta Tagliabue also picked up nominations.

Read Yasmin Shariff’s full analysis of the research here.

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Readers' comments (51)

  • Munter Roe

    Feminist twaddle.

    “Millions of pounds of public funding is being squandered on projects that are not fit for purpose because women are professionally alienated and unable to contribute to decision making on the same footing as men"

    How so? Utter nonsense. Meritocracy is what's needed. A skilled & competent architect is a skilled & competent architect, regardless of gender.

    Feminists won't admit it, but a skilled female architect has the world at her feet and opportunities an equally skilled male architect could only dream of.

    "Almost 100% of UK respondents said there should be equal numbers of women and men in the profession, with many pointing out that it is only after university that the gender split becomes skewed"

    Poor snowflakes. If you chose to go down another path after graduation should a male architect be struck off to maintain the balance?

    Yasmin Shariff is the project leader. Enough said.


    Feminist twaddle.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    The fact that not many women are partners has nothing to do with "not taking women seriously, treating them unfairly and failing to engage them".

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    ...assuming that this really is Yasmin Shariff and not an assumed name :) like that "Paul Finch" ...

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  • Stewie

    Indeed all this feminist rubbish has only succeeded in making society more miserable for both men and women. Few people find joy through working for an employer. Women discover this after graduation which is why they bugger off travelling or stay in the easier lower grade, lower paid positions. The ones that have any sense will get pregnant to avoid it all completely.

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  • Ah yes, that's the way to do it: attack the messenger. And whaddya know, it's a woman! Two strikes at once! Well done lads! You just made the point even more forcefully.

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  • Andrew Jones

    @ rosa ainley

    The risk is that the reverse is true.

    "Yasmin Shariff said '[practices were]... treating them unfairly and failing to engage them equally' "

    I'm not clear how the report - anecdotal as it is - reached this conclusion. Empirically, I agree that women are under-represented at all levels in the profession and we see repeated polls, surveys and reports highlighting this imbalance.

    But we never see analysis of why this is the case. Are women being actively or passively prevented from reaching senior positions in architecture or are women choosing not to seek such positions? What is the cause and what is the proposed remedy?

    Bland accusation and "straw polls" risk misrepresenting the true cause and effect of the situation.

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  • How many women have been promoted to partner at Zaha's office?

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  • Robert Park

    I must say. Although women may well be mis-represented in so far as numbers across the board - I think with one exception, every practice I have worked at has had very influential women at partner and director level within the practice. I don't have an answer as to why women are not better represented at a senior level in the profession, it's a shame.

    Though I don't think that it has effected the quality of public sector work that is produced by architects, as the writer insinuates. That was an an odd thing to say. What I do know, is that a good female architect is just as able as male one, and poor female architect just as bad has her male equivalent.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    Not enough black people are partners in architecture firms.

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  • casual observer

    What about the 7percenters?
    93% of people attend State Schools, but I bet that they represent less than 30% of Partners and Directors in Architectural practice.

    I suggest that this is much more socially divisive and ultimately unfair than the Gender gap. The Architectural Profession is destined to be led by a bunch of Hooray Henrys and Henriettas.

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