The last chart shows metrics for students, graduates, NCARB applicants, architects, and architecture awards for the past 35 years. Starting at the top with the green and red lines, we can see that the proportion of women among NAAB accredited degree earners has historically trailed the proportion of women among enrolled students. However, over the past ten years these two lines have converged. In other words, women are graduating with accredited degrees at approximately the same rate they’re enrolling, indicating that there is no longer either a gender-based achievement gap or pipeline delay within architecture school.
The purple line shows the increasing participation of women among NCARB Record applicants, based on a chart recently published by NCARB. For instance, in 1985 women represented over 25% of architecture students enrolled at NAAB-accredited programs but fewer than 10% of NCARB Record applicants. This is a classic example of what we call a leak in the architecture “pipeline.” If this gap reflected only the pipeline delay, or time that it would take for these women to progress to further stages at the same rate as their male peers, we would see the proportion of female NCARB Record applicants exceed 25% a few years after 1985—not fifteen years later, in 2000.
However, in recent years, NCARB Record applicants have reached 40% and has continued to climb indicating that, by comparison to their male colleagues, female students and graduates are substantially more likely than they were in 1985 to take this step towards licensure.
The blue line shown above represents those working as architects or unlicensed architectural designers as measured by the BLS. While the BLS is cautious about certain analyses based on time series data (in part because they occasionally adjust their occupational definitions), even with a sizable margin of error it is clear that there are far fewer women in practice than in school. This pipeline leak requires a better understanding of the lived experiences of women working in the profession. ACSA’s partnership with AIA SF Equity by Design in 2016 and 2018 uncovered unequal pay, numerous barriers to work-life balance, and a glass ceiling in job roles and responsibilities as just a few reasons why women leave the profession.
Lastly, the yellow line at the bottom represents the winners of architecture’s highest honors, i.e., the AIA Gold Medal, Topaz Medallion, Pritzker Prize, and ACSA Distinguished Professor. While the numbers, shown as percent of female recipients per decade, have steadily increased, we have not yet reached gender parity. This lack of gender balance among the most prestigious awards in architecture reveals a larger problem with the perception of an architect in society and how the field more readily ascribes design excellence to men.
Although the data show gains in gender equity, there is still much room for improvement. For example, we see that the longer a woman continues to work in and contribute to architecture, the narrower her opportunities become for recognition and community building with other women. The research provided above chronicles the need for greater representation of women in the discipline. However, it is important to note that this attention to representation and diversity is not the same as what is required to create an equitable future for women across the discipline. This research is only the beginning of a longer discussion. Not only do we need to attract more women to schools of architecture, but we need to support them when they get there, and continue supporting them as they engage the profession throughout their career.