WHY DO WOMEN LEAVE ARCHITECTURE?

Issue date: 03 July 2003


The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), today published the results of its research into the drop-out rate of women from architectural practice. This is the first research of its kind to have been completed. Carried out by the University of the West of England on behalf of the RIBA, the report found that a combination of factors, including poor employment practice, difficulties in maintaining skills and professional networks during career breaks and paternalistic attitudes, cause women to leave the profession.

The survey of 170 women revealed that the gradual erosion of confidence and de-skilling caused by the lack of creative opportunities for female architects, sidelining, limited investment in training, job insecurity and low pay, led to reduced self esteem and poor job satisfaction in architectural practice.

The research found that women’s career paths slowed after childbirth and that inflexible working arrangements, including long hours and a lack of transparency in relation to pay and promotion, were the main reasons cited for women with children leaving the profession.

The research concluded that women’s decisions to leave the profession were not linked to academic or practical ability or to poor career choice.

The report also stresses that many of these factors would apply equally to men leaving the profession.

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George Ferguson, President of the RIBA, said:

“This is a hard-hitting report. Addressing the issue of diversity in the profession is one of the priorities of my Presidency. We have some brilliant women architects but we are losing some of our brightest graduates because of poor working conditions, the macho culture and low pay in the profession. Architectural practice needs to take action if we want to be able attract and keep talented and committed architects in the industry.

“There is no excuse for poor employment practice. Family friendly working arrangements benefit both men and women. The project-based approach of architectural practice is ideally suited to flexible working. Practices need their eyes opening to the benefits and this report makes an excellent start.”

Currently, women comprise just 11% of RIBA chartered architects. The number of women entering architecture courses has risen from 27% in 1990/1 to 38% in 2002/3. Following the findings in the research report, the RIBA will be making recommendations to its members, producing online guidance on employment law and will be highlighting best practice flexible working to employers.

Speaking today, RIBA Director of Education Leonie Milliner said,

“The issues are complex. Women, and men, are deciding to leave the profession for practical and cultural reasons. Action to reverse this trend will require the commitment of individuals and employers, supported by the RIBA. I am confident we can make progress by demonstrating the business benefits of good employment practice within the profession.

“Education also has a role to play by ensuring that an appropriate working culture is maintained in the design studio so that graduates, when entering the workplace or setting up in practice can translate this into a supportive work environment.”

The report in full can be viewed at the RIBA’s website www.architecture.com.

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The research team’s recommendations centre on the culture and organisation of the
profession and as such are recognised as being beyond the scope of the RIBA to tackle alone. The RIBA will be presenting the research to CIC, SCHOSA and CABE in the next few weeks. However the institute is committed to action which it hopes will turn the tide of both men and women leaving the profession.

Immediate action will focus on developing the following areas:
-Supporting RIBA members as employers
-Demonstrating the benefits of flexible and family friendly working
-Collection of member data and promotion of diversity
-Establishment of diverse role models within the Institute and the profession
-Promotion of diversity and equality in all RIBA education activities
-Extension of career development information, support and guidance
-Support for career breaks and returning to practice.

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Notes to Editors

1. In July 2002, the RIBA Equality Forum, Architects for Change, commissioned the University of West of England to conduct research into the gender imbalance within the architectural profession. The aim of the research was to establish reasons for the high drop out rate of women architects from the profession and in particular to understand more fully the human experience behind the statistics.

2. The research was undertaken from October 2002 to April 2003 for the RIBA by the University of West of England. The budget was £5,000. The University of West of England was chosen by competitive tender from a field of 12 applicants (primarily universities). The research team brought matched funding (in terms of staff hours), and a research methodology that built upon quantitative research previously undertaken by members of the team.

3. A research website, linked to www.architecture.com, featured an on-line questionnaire designed to obtain detailed information on the experience of women architects who had left architectural practice. This was followed-up by in-depth interviews to establish a series of case study profiles demonstrating the range of problems that lead women architects to leave the profession. 176 questionnaire responses were obtained, against a target of 100, and the planned 10 case study profiles were extended to 12. Reaching those who have left the profession as well as those remaining in it was achieved through a process of cascading news of the project through RIBA and other professional networks, and by carefully managed press coverage designed to keep the issue ‘live’ throughout the course of the research.

4. For further information contact Abigail Scott Paul in the RIBA Press Office on 020 7307 3641.

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