Women in Architecture

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‘Women can do everything men can do, and we can do it in high heels!’

That’s how I closed when I wrote about the subject over a year ago. I have a stronger belief in the statement today as I continue to meet women of the profession who have made a significant impact in their careers. Yet the number of these women is staggeringly low.

I was at the 2011 AIA Communications Summit last month where the AIA leadership and marketing field experts got together to revisit the image of architects in the society, the impact of the profession, and the branding of AIA and architecture. One point in discussion was that based on a public survey, the image of an architect in society continues to be that of an arrogant, unapproachable, rich white male. We would all agree that this is far from reality. But we do need to address the gender gap.

It is a general fact that managers sub-consciously tend to hire or promote the people in whom they see their own image. If the leadership of a firm is composed of men in the majority, women automatically will face a bigger challenge getting across. How will the place of a female architect improve within and outside the profession?

There are many male architects portrayed on the big screen in creative, romantic, and sometimes sadistic roles. In a rare occurrence, the 1996 movie One Fine Day shows a female architect played by Michelle Pfeiffer who predictably finds it very challenging to create work-life balance, juggles between her responsibilities, faces a difficult boss who doesn’t understand, and almost jeopardizes her career when she cannot stay for drinks with the clients in the evening. Fifteen years later, how far have we come?

One Fine Day

I was thrilled to see the recent AT&T TV commercial about Helping Small Businesses Work Better. Among others, the ad shows a female architectural designer who says that she would like to design more buildings. Is it progress to see another female architect on screen after 15 years? Of course she cannot compete with the recognition of Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, but it is certainly a start. Also, we finally have an architect Barbie™ after all these years! There may be a looming debate over her clothing and shoe selection, but many of us do wear dresses and heels to work and don’t necessarily visit jobsites every day. A woman can look like one and still have a career.

Running lists of impactful female architects can be found all over the web. They include the women that worked behind the scenes with male starchitects of the past centuries, and continue on to the women of today who have made a mark on their own and are not hiding behind the scenes. Female architects have come far. They are equipped and ready than ever to face the challenges of this profession. Whether they are dressed in the usual black suits or wear a dress with high heels, they will conquer.

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