‘Greedy’ professions demand more time over and above what might otherwise be expected, and contribute towards the gender pay gap, writes Louise Rodgers

Louise Rodgers crop 2

Louise Rodgers

Recently, I was reading about the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, winner of the 2023 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Professor Goldin has focused her work on making sense of women’s progress in both education and employment and in her book, Career and Family, she identifies certain jobs as “greedy”, a term first coined in 1974 by sociologist Lewis Coser.

Greedy jobs are those that may pay well but demand too much; too many hours, too much flexibility, and an excessive amount of what Goldin calls “exclusive and undivided loyalty”.

Goldin’s premise is that greedy jobs, which include parenting, are partly to blame for the gender pay gap, and for the gender pay discrepancy between mothers and non-mothers.

Architecture is a profession that demands passion, purpose, and commitment, and people who have already progressed through the architectural ranks may argue that it is impossible to fulfil the requirements of the job without sacrifice. Is architecture, then, a greedy job?

I have certainly come across practices where it is normal for people to receive, and send, emails when they are on holiday. Would that count? I have also coached individuals within practices where long hours are expected and attending evening networking events is seen as part of the job. Is that “greedy”, or is it just how things are?

It may be that that is just how things were, because the indications are that some things have changed, post-pandemic. There are signs that people are less likely to put up with working for a greedy boss or a greedy organisation, and so employers are going to have to find ways to adapt to that.

As one practice leader said to me recently “It’s like everything is back to normal, but everything has also changed.” He was talking not only about the priorities of the people who have worked for him for many years, but also the different expectations of those more recent arrivals in the workplace, some of whom experienced two years of disrupted studying or working, during the critical, early, years of their professional lives.

To some extent, the market will decide. If the market favours the employee and not the employer, the latter will be reluctant to lay down the law, for example about a certain number of mandatory days in the office, even if they feel that delivers the greatest benefit to the business.

But when the market shifts, and jobs become more competitive, the pendulum tends to swing back the other way. A lot of the small gains that employees made concerning when and where they work could be lost, particularly if their employer has been a reluctant rather than enthusiastic adopter of flexible working practices.

I genuinely believe that most of the practices I work with are consciously trying to be less greedy and more accepting that the people who work for them are multi-dimensional and have rich, creative, and productive lives; with or without parenting responsibilities; outside of the workplace. Yet they struggle to introduce ways of working that will make more of what the Financial Times economic journalist Tim Harford calls “substitutable” jobs. These are jobs that can be done my someone else, or by several different people, with the same skill set.

It takes time and effort to create substitutable jobs, he argues. Processes need to be standardised, excellent records must be kept, and tasks assigned and monitored using a workflow system rather than, for example, email.

Reading this, it occurs to me that many aspects of architecture are substitutable, yet I am not aware that beyond the most junior level of the profession, if at all, workload systems are designed to enable it. Is this because those who hold responsibility for them haven’t prioritised it?

Or has it more to do with professional ‘preciousness’; the belief that there is only one way to do something, and if more people are involved it increases the chances of diversion from this? Perhaps it is even because delegating and empowering others is something that many senior people aren’t very good at, so it is therefore more expedient to do a task oneself?

I don’t know the answer, but I do think that these are questions that need to be asked more often. Architecture has one of the biggest pay gaps in the professional services industry and this seems to be growing. A great focus on substitutable jobs isn’t going to make this go away but may help.