The slow crawl up

Errol Haarhoff’s recent report on the gender in architectural education, reveals the staggering progress that women have made in the architectural profession. They now constitute a mere 18% of registered architects.  This follows on from Gill Matthewson’s 2004 SAHANZ conference paper (“Take it to the Limit: Women as Breach in Architecture”), the watered down version of which was massaged into Exquisite Apart – the NZIA’s celebratory tome.  In this paper Matthewson compared the then percentage of women architects (13.4%) with other professions.  The numbers suggest it is easier to become a judge than an architect if you are a woman.

The dismal chances of women becoming registered do not relate to the number of women entering architecture schools, nor the numbers of women graduating.  Errol’s graphs provide the evidence of this.

It’s not just New Zealand which is an unhappy place for women practicing architecture.  The numbers in Australia, America and Britain are not dissimilar.  In these countries women architectural graduates are said to number in the 35-40%; while registered women architects are more than half that.

De Graft-Johnson, Manley and Greed’s report for the RIBA “Why do women leave architecture?” summarised the reasons why women leave architecture as follows: “it is the accumulation and drip drip quality of their negative experiences rather than one single overriding issue which leads to frustration, disillusionment and eventual departure.”  This suggests cultural issues related to the profession and practice of architecture, rather than single events such as registration.  Something more insideous and less easy to address than simply more money and less hours – though no doubt that might help too …


de Graft-Johnson, Ann, Sandra Manley and Clara Greed Why do women leave architecture? (Bristol, May 2003)

Haarhoff, Errol Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008 (Auckland, 2010)

Matthewson, Gill “Take it to the Limit: Women as Breach in Architecture” Limits: proceedings from the 21st Annual Conference of the SAHANZ (Melbourne 2004) v. 2, pp. 319-325.

Stevens, Garry “Women in Architecture” (2010-2011)


2 responses to “The slow crawl up”

  1. Great post – thank you. After attending the NZIA conference last week, it was again rammed home to me just how much of an old boys club the profession is – as equally hard for the young and inexperienced to gain a foothold is, as it is for women to get by in as well. Out of a total of 18 speakers at the conference, only one was a woman – Christina van Bohemen, and she was also just about the only speaker with hair that was neither silver nor absent in entirety. Certainly not a lot of female role models on show.

    Related to this is the awful statistics given out by the brilliant speaker Eric Cesal, on which we will post more shortly. Let’s just say: an increase of 760% unemployment amongst architects. Ponder on that….

  2. In a related matter, I was reading the Huffington Post the other day and found an interesting article – or, to be precise, the comments after it were more interesting than the article itself, as to who the top US women architects were, and why there may not be that many of them:

    If you’re interested, here is the link:

    While there are some comments of typical banal sexist male style, such as Runtime AI who says that the reasons are:
    “When it comes to spatial, my wife is sorely lacking. And she knows it. So the answer is, lack of spatial.”

    I suspect that Runtime AI is not necessarily a sexist pig, but certainly is a computer bore. Maybe even a boar. There are also more erudite and thoughtful comments such as LaughingMan who says:
    “My architecture undergrad and Graduate classes had 60/50 ratio in favor of women and most of the girls were just as creatively skilled and capable if not more, in most cases, than the guys were.
    The problem is what happens in the profession between graduation and trying to get licensure. It’s a brutal, punishing, and (thanks to the incompetence of the NCARB, and AIA) ridiculously convoluted process that sadly leaves little room or capacity for those wanting to have families or provide for them.
    And then there’s the rampant sexism and old-boys-club nepotism that happens in the profession .
    None of any of this is ever appealing to women who know they have a limited window after finishing school during which they can start and have a family and comfortably provide for them.
    If you ask me, the main reason would be that women in architecture are just smarter than their male counterparts and figure out early enough to get out of the profession while they still have the most productive part of their lifetime available to them. By the time their former male classmates figure it out, it’s just too late and they’re just in too deep to be able to comfortably leave without losing a lot.
    Simply put, it’s not a great profession to be in (just ask any architect now during the recession – depression for them) if you’re a woman or a minority.
    Not even remotely close. ”

    I suspect that this is more of the real reason – it is on the whole no longer a profession with masses of sexism, although a mild dose of sexist behaviour still permeates the older generation – but that it is more that it really is a ridiculously cyclical profession, tied as it is to the vagaries of the almighty mortgage dollar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *