Women constitute about 10 percent of the building and construction industry workforce, and are under-represented at every stage of the construction process, from planning to architecture to building and finance. According to a licenced builder of the Women into Building Showcase, Sam Sheppard, and founding director of The Buildmore Group, “[Representation in the] trades is much lower at around two percent, with many trades not even registering a percentile.”

Whilst representation of women is higher in professional services like architecture, for women architects, the real attrition happens once they reach the workforce.

A network of architects, researchers and scholars, called Parlour, has studied women, work and leadership in the architecture profession to answer the question: where do all the women go?

The case for gender diversity in business leadership is well established, with a series of reports by the global management consultants, McKinsey and Company, called Women Matter, providing some of the most comprehensive and conclusive data. Their 2007 report found that women leaders have a positive impact on corporate performance metrics, double the market capitalisation of listed companies, and their companies have higher profit margins and return on investment.

Women in architecture experience a dramatic half-life

Parlour undertook a survey Where do all the women go?, using Australian Research Council Linkage Project funding. This survey investigated women’s participation and engagement in architecture. A comparative survey captured men’s experiences in And what about the men? The raw data from these surveys are currently being compiled into a final report, due for release in the coming months.

One piece of early data is very revealing. Parlour investigated 2011 census statistics, and discovered a dramatic downturn of women in the profession at the age of 29, whereas attrition for men begins at age 39 and is much slower.

Number of employed architects by gender. 02011 census data. Graph Gill Matthewson. Credit: www.archiparlour.org
Number of employed architects by gender. 02011 census data. Graph Gill Center; Credit: www.archiparlour.org

Presently, 40 percent of graduates are women and Parlour is working to prevent a similar attrition rate affecting the current workforce.

Why women leave

In the lead-up to completing the final report, Parlour has published a number of insightful articles, one of which explores the crucial issue of why women leave.

Justine Clark, an honorary research fellow of Melbourne University, part of the Parlour research team and editor of Parlour’s website, says architecture will continue to lose a huge chunk of its ‘talent pool’, at a time when the profession really needs to keep smart, agile thinkers within its ranks.

Parlour research indicates many issues affecting women, including unequal pay, under-representation of women in senior roles and long work hours, as top-ranking concerns.

Lack of mentoring, inability to return to work after a career break (such as maternity leave) and inequitable recruitment, promotions and performance reviews also rank as issues.

Many of the challenges that face women in architecture also affect men, however, they tend to affect women more, says Clark.

Clark is keen that the architecture profession doesn’t wait for the report to start changing how they recruit, promote and retain women. To this end, Parlour has created a Guide to Equitable Practice to show architects how to create an equal work environment for men and women and help foster and keep a thriving talent pool.

As well as an introduction of the topic, the guide covers: pay equity, long hours, part-time work, flexibility, recruitment, career progression, career breaks, career progression, leadership, mentoring and registration.

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