• David Manes

Redesigning the Culture of Architecture: Female Architects Take On Sexual Harassment and Gender Disc


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Redesigning the Culture of Architecture: Female Architects Take On Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination

Graduating architecture classes have an equal split of men and women, but that’s where the equality ends. As women architects ascend through the ranks of architecture training, more and more slam into the glass ceiling. Many drop out then. Meaning that less than 20% of architecture leadership are women. In a society focused on revealing and correcting gender discrimination in employment, statistics reveal an ever decreasing population of female architects.

“For a woman to go out alone in architecture is still very, very hard. It’s still a man’s world.” – Zaha Hadid, the first woman to receive the esteemed Pritzker Architecture Price in 2004.

When researchers consider the reasons why so many women drop out of this highly competitive field, the same but true answers are tossed around. Female architects deal with sexism, gender bias, harassment, and lack of mentors. All these factors together create a hostile work environment for women.  At this stage, women architects should consider their legal options and contact an employment lawyer.


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Sexism: Can I Speak To The Real Architect?

Female architects negotiate gender discrimination and sexism on a daily basis. Whether it’s the result of working in a male-dominated field or just ignorance, these lady bosses learn to navigate awkward project meetings, on-site catcalls, and petty comments. It’s not uncommon for a female architect to hear a client, broker, engineer, real estate agent, or contractor ask for “the real architect” on the project.


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 “We absolutely face obstacles. Every single day. It’s still largely a white, male-dominated field, and seeing a woman at the job site or in a big meeting with developers is not that common. Every single day I have to remind someone that I am, in fact, an architect. And sometimes not just an architect, but the architect. I’m not white, wearing black, funky glasses, tall or male. I’m none of the preconceptions of what an architect might be, and that means that every time I introduce myself as an architect, I have to push through the initial assumptions. Every new job site means a contractor who will assume I am the assistant, decorator or intern. It usually isn’t until the third meeting that the project team looks to me for the answers to the architectural problems.”

—Yen Ha, New York

Women who have worked as architects for decades point out that nothing has changed in the industry. For every three steps forward, women suffer five steps back. In fact, female architects see less and less opportunities than in past years, and this has everything to do with gender discrimination.

Over 70% of female architects throughout the world confess that they dealt with sexual discrimination, harassment, or victimization while working. Naturally, these types of actions show up in a variety of ways. Some women recall attending meetings and being expected or told to take notes, get water, and serve the coffee. Sometimes it takes almost three project meetings before the men begin to respect a female architect’s ability to problem solve and design stunning work.

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Employment discrimination worsens for the female architect who is not white. Women of ethnic background or different skin color climb a steeper mountain to success, whether they view success as a principle architect or an architect firm owner. Being a part of two different minorities within the architecture industry placed these architects at a larger disadvantage.

The Architectural Review’s 2017 Women in Architecture Survey reveals the top offenders for gender discrimination. The 1,617 respondents to the survey shared that in events of sexual discrimination or bullying, men were often the culprits. However, from there, opinions varied. The survey listed supervisors, peers, and clients as some of the main instigators of ongoing sexism in the workplace directed at female architects.


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All of this points to a blatant disrespect of women and what they can offer to architecture. The survey also revealed that more than half of women architects and a third of male architects assert that they have witnessed sexual discrimination in the office and on project sites. Sexism comes in the “normal” expectation of women to set up the food and drinks for a meeting, but it also can be more extreme, where female architects are expected to flirt with clients or be seen and not heard. These seemingly small expectations place strain on the careers of women architects

When gender discrimination continues to reveal itself in these types of hurtful actions without any chance of resolution from an employer, a lawyer may be needed. An employment lawyer recognizes what is and is not illegal according to the law and creates a plan of action for pursuing an employee’s rights under the law. If an employment decision has been made based on gender, it might be time to contact a lawyer.

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The Scarcity of Mom the Architect

Female architects with children are a rarity because women know that to have children while pursuing any type of architecture career often sidelines their hard-earned forward momentum. Architecture demands full attention. When a female architect takes maternity leave or time off to care for a child, she faces even more struggle to break back into the industry.

“There’s a big stigma for leaving architecture. Once you leave, it’s like falling out of the pearly gates of heaven: You can never get back in.” Rosa Sheng shared with Architect Magazine in 2014.

In studying the lives of architects, surveys tend to show the benefits of waiting to have children in an architecture career. Women who had children before qualifying as an architect often took, on average, four and half more years to qualify than women who did not have children. Meanwhile, the women who gained higher roles within the industry often did not have any children.


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Children require a lot of time and focus so when climbing the corporate ladder demands long and unusual hours, an architect mom might not have the time to give to her career. Survey responders also pointed out that children kept parent architects from networking at evening events. For women, maternity leave can present the biggest problem. Often, the new mom architect returns to work to discover that opportunities and resources have dried up. She no longer receives big projects and has less pay raises than male counterparts. This type of treatment is employment discrimination.

The mom architect not only balances work and family life, but she also needs to deal with other particulars. For example, a woman architect with a newborn baby might need to pump breast milk at the office, and this will eat into her time. But she also needs a place she can do that. While some practices aren’t accepting of these responsibilities, others are very child friendly. The truth remains children complicate a career, and female architects often experience employment discrimination for having children.

“I think you need to be as creative about being a mother as you are about being an architect. Be creative about time. Amend your schedule when you have to put family first and then make up for it. Be sure that you generally advocate and help out others, and that has to happen at a state and national scale.”

 – Marilyn Jordan Taylor, “How to Be an Architect and a Mom: 3 Women Tell Their Stories,” Architizer.

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The Pay Gap in Architecture

The argument isn’t whether the pay gap exists or not, it’s the question of how big the pay gap is between male and female architects. From assistant to partner, women face a longer amount of time to reaching their desired role in an architecture practice. Worse yet, female architects are paid much less than male counterparts every step of the way. Almost 60% of female architects believe that they would earn more if they were male.

When female architects take on the role of mother as well as career woman, they further suffer less opportunities and fewer pay raises. Also the main caregiver, the female architect seems to lose on all sides. Women are penalized for having children.

The pay gap varies based on education, experience, and job title. However, in the United States, according to the 2016 AIA San Francisco (AIASF) Equity by Design survey, female architects made 24% less than male architects. Basically, while men earned $94,212, women architects took home $71,319.

Fairness and equal opportunity without gender discrimination is obviously an unknown concept in the architecture industry. But, the federal government and Pennsylvania state government outlines specific protections to women who work. Gender discrimination is against the law. An employee who suffers negative employment action based on gender should reach out to an employment lawyer for possible legal solutions.

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Drafting A More Diverse Future For Architecture

The environment found in the architecture industry won’t just change on its own. In fact, to make actual strides on the behalf of the minorities, such as women and different races, within architecture, architecture leaders need to introduce and encourage practical ways to alter the perception of women in architecture. The change can’t happen in a day, but awareness starts the change.

Do Something


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Take note when some type of discrimination occurs in the architecture industry, whether big or small, and find a way to draw attention to the injustice. Ignorance or unawareness of a problem needs to be confronted just as frankly as intentional discrimination. A real competition judges architects for their abilities and not their genders.

At the beginning of 2017, a group of architects banded together and sent a letter to the Architect’s Newspaper, responding to the fact that no female architects were billed to give a keynote at the 2017 AIA National Convention. One woman was listed, but she was not an architect. The letter stated, “The keynote panel is in no way representative of our collective intellect. If the AIA was serious about changing its image – and we do not mean a superficial marketing strategy – then they should lead the profession and put forward a panel of keynote speakers that is reflective of the diversity in architecture.”

Pursue Female Architects for Jobs

Architects gain the ability to be influential mentors by experience as decision-makers and equity-holders. When women architects aren’t given those opportunities, then they’re unable to mentor incoming female architects. Companies who see this as a problem are striving to promote training workshops and networking opportunities for new employees.

Think Outside of Gender Discrimination

Since people like to work with people who are like them, female architects need to be creative in dealing with gender discrimination. Men who refuse to work with a female architect could face legal recourse, but women can avoid the issue by starting their own architecture practice.

One female architect decided to fight gender discrimination by hiring a male developer to track down the financing for her projects. In the past, she’s failed to gain financing, and she suspects it has to do with her gender. She’s applying creativity not only to her designs but to her business structure as well.

Call in the Legal Employment Experts


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Putting off seeking legal help for ongoing sexual harassment or gender discrimination only hurts the fight for legal justice. Therefore, when sexual harassment or gender discrimination occur, a female architect should be quick to explore her legal options by speaking with an employment lawyer. A lawyer understands uncomfortable employment situations and what types of actions are illegal under the law.

Prepare for Legal Action

  1. Document details of employment discrimination based on gender or race

  2. Notify boss or HR department that discrimination is suspected

  3. If discrimination continues, contact an employment attorney

If you are a female architect in Pennsylvania and have experienced employment discrimination of any type or sexual harassment, contact an employment attorney now to hear your legal options.

Chat with an employment attorney: (412) 626-5626 or lawyer@lawkm.com.


#genderdiscrimination #PregnancyDiscrimination #sexdiscrimination #sexualharassment

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