While practice is moving towards parity, underrepresentation of women in architectural education means students get warped ideas about the built environment, writes Kat Martindale
When Eva Franch i Gilabert was despatched from the AA in 2020, the response on social media was decisive. Regardless of each commentator’s position on the portrayal of Franch’s leadership, vision or the circumstances leading to her departure, this was not good. It said nothing good about the AA and it said nothing good about the manner in which women are perceived and treated within schools of architecture or academia more broadly.
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Of the 56 UK-based RIBA-validated schools of architecture, only 12 are led by women. That’s a mere 21 per cent. Although, as one female associate professor pointed out, that is much better than it used to be. The first question this raises is: what impact is this having on the careers of female academics? For those seeking more senior positions, the response is one of frustration particularly when, despite having more qualifications and greater experience, women lose out to younger, less experienced men.
One head of an interdisciplinary school commented: ‘I wouldn’t employ a woman of your age, you’re a liability’
In addition, once secured, senior positions lead to further opportunities such as research funding, leading research projects and appointment to panels, as well as external opportunities, including profile-raising speaking opportunities and visiting posts at other institutions, all serving to reinforce position and seniority. It’s the career equivalent of compound interest.
Of the top 30 academic journals in the field of architecture, the editor in chief role is filled by 52 people, of which only four are female: less than 8 per cent. Academic publisher Elsevier reports that almost twice the number of papers submitted have male authors, an imbalance that increased during the pandemic. All of this means that almost everything we know and understand about the built environment and rate as important has been, and continues to be, defined by men.
In the final year of my PhD, after presenting at a US conference known as an event for recruiting students into academia, one head of an interdisciplinary school commented: ‘I wouldn’t employ a woman of your age, you’re a liability.’ He then continued to rattle on about the ‘financial costs’ and ‘inconvenience’ of maternity leave and child-rearing on teaching schedules and the academic year.
But, it would appear, that there is no good age to be recruited. A friend with a PhD in architecture and a teenage daughter, was repeatedly overlooked for academic roles despite the breadth of her professional and academic achievements. As the roles had all been offered to those much younger than herself, this led her to conclude that that this was ageism in full flight. It is a point the Australian equity advocate Parlour has spent a decade researching, reporting that female architects drop out of the profession in their early 30s. Just imagine how this low rate of female leadership across academia impacts on female students.
My undergraduate course was staffed entirely by men. The only woman not working in an administrative or catering role was a sessional lecturer on the graduate course. The comments regarding her role, contribution and expertise were relentlessly derogatory. This tone persists today with male staff often dismissing the contribution of female colleagues or minimising it by talking up the impact of their own research and teaching.
Although practice is moving towards parity, the glacial pace of change in academia means students can pass through their education without seeing or experiencing the change that schools and industry needs.
I moved in a different direction as a direct result of my experience. So, what impact does the imbalance in architectural education have on female students today? And what does this say about the future of the profession?
Source: Architects’ Journal
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