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Female Architects Can Break Barriers

Female Architects Can Break Barriers

As the older of two daughters (my father really wanted a son), I quickly became the tomboy of the family. I grew up assisting my father with everything from building a deck to constructing an addition. My parents emphasized that I could do anything my male counterparts could. It was with that mentality I began my journey through architecture school and eventually licensure. Still, I was taken aback when a female professor told me “You better be tough because you will face challenges in this profession until you retire. If you’re not up for it, you should look at other professions.” I like a challenge though, so her comment fueled my fire. My professor was right though; those “challenges” she spoke of still exist. They may try to put you in a pretty box, but who says you have to stay there? With the right support and company culture, our goals are in reach.

Despite being in the 21st century, “many females in architecture still run into challenges not experienced by their male counterparts,” stated a recent New York Times article. Yen Ha, a New York architect interviewed for the article, said: “Every single day I have to remind someone that I am, in fact, an architect. And sometimes not just an architect, but the architect.” She was just one of many top female architects who shared their experiences about gender inequity in the article. My experiences have been similar.
I’m proud I’ve become a licensed architect, and that I have been lucky to work with great people who do not judge by gender. Without that support and encouragement, my path would have been much more difficult. Many women in my profession aren’t as lucky and don’t have the support they need in their workplaces. Some struggle to even find employment, and as a result, leave the profession after receiving their degree. The result is lost talent and diversity, which are necessary for the profession to flourish.

A recent “Diversity in the Profession of Architecture” study, sponsored by The American Institute of Architects, looked at factors that impact underrepresentation of women in the profession.

The study found the top three reasons that contribute to the underrepresentation of women include:
  • Concern about work-life balance.
  • Long work hours that make starting a family difficult.
  • Lack of flexibility to work remotely, job share or have flexible hours.
My employer, MSA, is known for its flexible workplace. Management encourages employees to find a balance between their work and personal life. As a mother of a toddler, I appreciate this benefit because it allows me to handle my responsibilities in the workplace—and at home. My supportive husband, who also works full time, enables me to fulfill both roles. I know others aren’t as lucky.

About 43% of students enrolled in accredited architecture programs are females. Upon graduation, those numbers decline and continue to fall even more as we look at older demographics. The industry is losing well-trained talent because they are not doing enough to adapt the office culture into one that promotes balance for everyone. We need skilled architects of both genders to create a well-balanced, thoughtful and responsive built environment. We need role models, male and female, to help influence the future of the profession in a positive way.
Architecture is an exciting, fulfilling profession that benefits from diversity. If the industry is going to meet a growing demand for architects, employers should take flexibility into consideration and explore ways to both attract and retain their female talent.

Maranna Binder
Maranna Binder, AIA, LEED® AP, is a licensed architect in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. She works out of the firm’s Champaign office and was on the design team for the award-winning Skyline Tower, a 14-story, LEED®-certified structure.

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