Changing Our Mindset: Work and Life for Women in Architecture

 In Culture, Lifestyle / Light

By Raquel Mayorga & Abry Deshong

I am a highly optimistic twenty-six year old, and an architecture intern with BIG aspirations. I graduated in the fall of 2010, did an internship program for 9 months, and was offered a full-time position with Gettliffe Architecture soon after. I’m excited to continue to build on my current momentum and ultimately hope to be in a leadership position at a design firm. At the same time, I hope to raise a family with equal commitment and success.

But are these ambitions compatible? Does the current system of architecture education, training and professional life allow successful women in leadership positions to also be mothers who can dedicate enough quality time to their children? From the beginning, architecture students are trained to spend long hours in the studio, pulling infamous “all nighters,” over weekends and holidays. In various summer internships and architecture jobs, it was not uncommon for me to work up to 80 hours a week to meet a deadline. For those of us in our early twenties, long hours and short deadlines are a way to accelerate learning. In the long run, however, it’s simply not a sustainable pace for anyone seeking a balanced work/family life.


The Architecture Gender Gap

The topic of striking a work/family life balance as an architect is applicable to parents of either gender, but I have chosen to limit the scope of this post to women because of the disproportionately larger impact on women’s architectural career paths than on men’s. Consider this: roughly half of architecture graduates are women[1]. However, a few years later, when long work hours come into direct conflict with finding work/life balance, only 12% of those women continue to practice architecture[2]. Although there has been progress – the AIA reported a 7% increase in female membership, from 9% in 2000 to 16% in 2012 [3] – there is still a major gender gap. Marika Shioiri-Clark, Principal at SOSHL Studio and co-founder of MASS Design Group, considers the scheduling expected of young architects to be an key factor in these gender differences: “there are definitely women who choose to leave the profession or scale back their work when they have children.”

The reality is that, faced with a choice, more men prioritize work over family, whereas more women put their families before work. In light of this, it is not surprising that men surpass women in architectural career advancement. This does not reflect a gender difference in design or leadership competency, but rather an overall difference in choice and obligation. This has led to an architecture industry that is less rich than it could be. Practitioners, leaders and future leaders, is this the direction we wish to continue to see in our field?


Changing the Mindset

One feasible response to these issues would be to adopt more flexible hours so that mothers can spend quality time with their children and succeed as architects. This change suggests that instead of striving for traditional means of advancement (i.e., working long hours), women architects who also want families should develop and have access to other means of career support. Marika Shioiri-Clark, believes this type of support is at the heart gender balanced leadership: “I believe that as women slowly become principals of more firms, this kind of scheduling will slowly change…what kind of impact would be made in the profession by creating a widespread organization for female architects who supported each other and referred each other for projects. Small organizations like this already exist, but nothing on an accepted national scale.”[4]


Hope for the Future

We are seeing progress in closing the architecture gender gap, and further change is possible with a commitment to progressive leadership. I already see this at Gettliffe Architecture, which offers flexible schedules for new parents.

I believe we can recreate the industry so that women don’t have to choose between having children and being an architect, and that ultimately the field of architecture will be far richer as a result.


[1] Stevens, G. “Women in Architecture”. Retrieved 2 May 2013.


[2] Stephens, S. “Not only Zaha. What is it like to be a female architect with a solely owned firm in the U.S. today?’Architectural Record, December 2006. Retrieved 2 May 2013.


[3] –. “Facts, figures and the Profession” . The American Institutes of Architects, 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2013.


[4] Ibid.

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