Architectural Blatherations

Women in Architecture 2: Squish Those Big Swinging Dicks

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The Good Oil

We have thought a lot about why women get so much of a raw deal in the architecture profession since we published Part 1 of this article, some years ago. Much as we hate to say it, the reason that women do not do well in the upper-ranks of the architecture profession is because they do not have penises. Simple as that. Do we think that's good? Of course not!

Architecture is a Profession of Big Swinging Dicks

And women do not have dicks. We can think of several occupations where males utterly dominate; such as boxing, financial fraud, national genocide, and serial murder. Women just cannot compete with Mike Tyson, Bernie Madoff, Adolf Hitler, and Luis Garavito.

No, in all these fields, as in architecture, it is the big swinging dick who reigns. We encourage women everywhere to embrace their architectural careers, but we reluctantly have to warn them that the fabled glass ceiling operates in architecture. Our fondest wish is that a generation of woman architects break through this barrier, and show the big swinging dicks just what tiny penises they have.

The fabled glass ceiling

Female architecture graduates: lots of them!

US data

The graph below shows the proportion of female graduates from US architecture schools, using the most recent data we have. Quite a solid steady climb in the proportion of women from 1970 to the early 1980s, but then we see the ratio gently bump into the fabled glass-ceiling. Though the 2000s, the ratio has settled into the 40-44% range.

Female architecture graduates from US schools as a proportion of all
Female architecture graduates from US schools as a proportion of all. Source: National Center for Education Statistics.

Australian data

Over the past ten years, the big expansion in architecture students in our own Australia has come from a female influx. In 1984 only 21% of architecture graduates were female; in 1996 this had grown to 35%, and the proportion is closer to 40% today.

UK data

In the United Kingdom, 38% of graduates are women.

Female architects: where are they?

A prime mystery is: what happens to these female graduates? In the USA, the UK, and Australia, about 35% to 40% of architecture graduates have been women for between 10 and 20 years. We should expect to see something like that ratio reflected in the data for practising or registered architects. The data we can find suggests that women graduates do not spend long in the occupation. True, the data is scant and spotty, but it is all we have.

Consider this table for the United States, showing female participation in various occupations. That's not registration or licensure, just participation.

Category % women
All workers in the USA 47%
- Management, professional and related 51%
-- Management, business and finance 43%
-- Professional and related 57%
--- Computing 26%
--- Architects 24%
--- Lawyers 32%
--- Civil engineers 10%
--- Physicians and surgeons 32%
--- Artists 47%
--- Designers 54%
--- Writers 64%
- Service 57%
- Sales and office 63%
- Natural resources, construction, maintenance 5%
-- Construction and extraction 3%
- Production and transportation 21%

Percentage of women in various occupational categories in the USA. Source: Current Population Survey, 2010.

In the United Kingdom, only 12% of registered architects are women. Data for registered or licensed architects from the USA is difficult to obtain, thanks to state-based registration: one estimate puts it at about 9% (source: Fowler and Wilson, 2004). The same problems apply to Australia.

Others have pointed out that you can count the celebrity women architects of today on one hand: Dame Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima, Gae Aulenti. And: so many others seem to be part of a husband and wife team — Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney, Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry, Alison and Peter Smithson of yesteryear; and more recently Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andres Duany, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio.

So of those women who do stay in, quite a lot are married to other architects. Or they have the funds to support them for decades without a paying job. A goodly portion of the others end up in academia or become critics, maintaining their registration but never practising.

Where do the other graduates go? We don't know.