Skimming through my email, I glanced at my daily update from Architecture Record, a century old publication for the architectural community, announcing the winners of the First Annual Women in Architecture Awards. As a "woman in architecture," I found myself immediately insulted - what about women's designs require them to have their own category? Are they implying that women need their own category in-order to win anything? And why, in 2014, did this seem like a good time to start making the distinction?
As a young architecture professional, I have never faced blatant gender bias in the architectural profession. Growing up, I was never informed that architecture was a male profession, and going through architecture school, my classes were pretty evenly divided between male and female. D. W. Arthur Associates is actually half women, so I reached out to them for some shared feminist outrage.
Their reactions were a bit more tempered by their longer exposure to the profession. Unlike me, they had faced obvious gender bias and outright sexism from other professionals, clients and contractors. I became aware that my flippant parity assumptions may not be based in fact, and I dived into some data and articles about the very thing I took for granted - "women in architecture".
In 2013, 39% of the applicants for the National Council of Architectural Registration boards were female - a significant improvement over the 10% female applicants of 1990. Yet according to the American Institute of Architects (of which 80% of the profession are members) only 17% are females. A lot of women do not make it through the registration process and even more leave the profession before their late 30's. There is a lot of speculation as to the reasons why women are leaving the profession - much of which points to motherhood - yet that alone cannot explain the numbers when viewed against the statistics of other demanding professions.
Articles exploring the gender gap in architecture can be found within Architectural Record itself, as part of their "Women in Architecture Now" series. Crashing the Boys Club essay by architecture critic Sarah Williams Goldhagen has a lot of statistical meat and calls to action that have merit. Eventually, I landed upon an editorial by Cathleen McGuigan, editor in Chief of Architectural Record. Titled Lets Talk About Sex, the rationale behind a 2014 Women in Architecture Award starts to resolve itself. McGuigan notes that many women interviewed for the "Women in Architecture Now" series did not want to be referred to as "women architects," just "architects" - which I completely agree with. Yet McGuigan argues that it's "essential to keep talking" about gender inequality in order for it to be addressed.
Through the process of my research, my righteous anger died down to a dull rage - how one typically feels when faced with inherent discrimination with no discernible cause or solution. Am I going to be one of the women who drop out of the profession before I'm 35, just another statistical bleep? Somehow I don't think so, not with the upswing of gender parity underway in the profession, the growing number of female architectural critics and the fantastic female architect mentors I have here at work. May we all find ourselves in 20 years no longer needing the Women in Architecture Award.