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Gender and Architectural Practice in NZ. Gina Hochstein

6 January 2017


by Gina Hochstein, March(Prof) Student, The University of Auckland SoAP

‘I say to young women today, don’t cast out your feminist awareness: when the glass ceiling hits you, you will think it’s your fault, unless you know a bit about feminism, and it will destroy you’. Denise Scott Brown[1]

Scott Brown’s words reflect her observations and experience in architectural practice and education over more than 50 years, which is not a positive assessment of the profession and its image. Gender imbalance in many workplaces can be seen as a wider societal problem, however architectural practice needs to address equity and diversity issues to become more positive overall. Equity in this context is where the same value for work quality is devoid of gender (or other minority) association.

This essay is structured in terms of the Australian Parlour[2] Guidelines to Equitable Practice, together with comments taken from recent panel discussions held at The University of Auckland,[3] and worldwide research and statistics.

Much research worldwide has provided data about the lack of visibility of women in architecture, and surveys providing statistics and data are crucial to understand trends. They are a helpful tool to advocate for diversity in the profession and to help reveal if any gender bias exists in architectural practices.

Karen Burns, in "The Elephant in our Parlour: everyday sexism in architecture”, suggests an idea of ‘critical mass’[4], whereby the number of women in an organization affects the “culture of gender bias.” The number suggested is thirty percent, and in New Zealand and globally we have not yet reached this figure in the architectural profession. The percentage of female NZIA members is currently 18% with the percentage of female registered architects in NZ is 27% and steadily increasing.

Pay Equity
How much one gets paid can be perceived as a measure of how much you are valued by the employer. Laura Mark in the Architects Journal[5] reported in February this year that the gender pay gap at the top level within practices was widening, rather than decreasing. Female directors and partners received approximately £20,000 (NZ$35,000) less in 2016 than their male counterparts, compared with a pay gap of approximately £13,000 (NZ$23,000) in 2015. This disparity mirrors a general income gap between genders, and in New Zealand this currently stands at approximately 12% across all workforces.  A government initiative in the UK requires firms with more than 250 employees to publish gender pay imbalances and league tables from April 2018 onwards[6].

Better news is found in the Architects Journal Women in Architecture Survey in 2015,[7] where the middle salary scale 22% of women and 24% of men were in the same pay band. The New Zealand 12% income gap was discussed by Lynda Simmons in an interview by Amelia Melbourne-Hayward and published online in Architecture Now[8], where Simmons states her belief that the gap has more to do with those working flexible hours being valued less than those working full time, and that this occurs across genders.

It is important to notice that pay equity is good for business, as well as being ethical, and can help to achieve fairness and respect in the workplace for all. To support pay equity, policy change to de-stigmatise flexible and part-time working hours for males is to be encouraged.

‘Long-hours’ culture
Architectural practices that encourage working long hours makes work-life balance difficult, with a lack of flexible hours causing difficulties in family life. This combination was the top reason listed in the May 2016 AIA survey[9] why women are under-represented in architecture. The 2016 Architectural Review[10] study into 'women in architecture' found that women are now on average well into their late 30s before they have children, that 75% of women practicing in architecture worldwide are childless, and also that 83% of women worldwide felt having children puts them at a disadvantage.

My view is that by supporting women having children during their professional career encourages gender equality in later working life, as well as supporting men in their parenting roles.

Part time work
Worldwide, 88% of women have chosen to look for more flexible work after starting a family.[11] This involves either leaving their profession, starting out on their own, working part time at a practice, or joining academia for a better work-life balance. Simmons and Carswell in Architecture Now,[12] state that, although part time work receives less pay, many women choose to work part time to create flexibility and a better work-life balance. However, working part time whilst caring for children is widely seen as a ‘career killer’, and this option is not often taken by male architects. If the profession encourages more men to share the ‘care’ role in family structures via flexible working arrangements, this could benefit both genders. Carswell highlights that Warren and Mahoney (in Christchurch) have more men working part time or choosing flexible hours than women for childcare, a positive example of practice policy.

As mentioned, Warren and Mahoney (Christchurch) is a practice that has responded to the importance of flexible hours for their workforce and men have taken this opportunity more than women.[13] In Australia and New Zealand, 57% of women feel that the workplace lacks flexibility, this compares to 54% worldwide.[14] The same survey questioned their ability to work from home, here 72% of the women from Australia and New Zealand felt they were unable to work from home compared to 48% worldwide. The male respondents from Australia and New Zealand, showed 74% were unable to work from home, compared with 60% men worldwide.[15] This indicates that workplace flexibility is important for a better work-life balance and that there is a need to aim for greater flexibility here in New Zealand.


Employing graduates is seen as a valuable attribute to architectural practices in general, and as there are now an equal number of male and female graduates from New Zealand’s universities, it is assumed that recruitment rates will be equal, although there have been no surveys to confirm this. If this is not the case, the profession misses out on a multitude of skills, knowledge and talent, although anecdotal evidence is that this is not occurring.

The overseas trend[16] highlights that a majority of women architects end up in a small practice, a statistic which may be affected by a disparity in small versus large practice numbers.

Career Progression
In the April 2016 issue of Architecture Now[17] it is revealed that only 1% of women are in senior roles in New Zealand, but Simmons is optimistic and that over time this dismal percentage will change.[18] Carswell is one of two female principals at Warren and Mahoney (Christchurch) and feels it is advantageous to have both men and women in senior roles. She also believes that women make better communicators and can ‘read between the lines’, and that through collaboration they are able to ‘bring something different to the table’. This position is contradicted by Simmons in the same publication, who does not believe that differences in architectural practice can be attributed to gender only, as there are so many other aspects that contribute to the profession, and finds gender generalisations unhelpful.

The profession is still geared towards a linear progression of a ‘traditional’ career path. Women during the course of their career will inevitably have multiple breaks, coupled with intense and changing roles working both in practice and related areas. This has adverse effects on the careers of women, despite levels of talent, commitment and experience.[19] While it is mostly acknowledged that any unconscious bias mainly exists on the construction site, one should be careful to recognise that there can be more subtle and passive forms in architectural practices, where women may sometimes be directed to work on projects that supposedly are ‘most fitting’ for them.

Salaries offered can be a result of the job market and the applicant’s confidence at negotiating when starting. It is believed that a lack of negotiation desire or skill affects the pay levels offered to women. Jill Showell from Bespoke in the UK feels that women are easier to accept the first offer and not negotiate. “Their self-worth does not seem as strong as that of their male contemporaries”.[20] She also believes that lack of empowerment results in childless female architects staying on low salaries, rather than reaching similar senior positions of their male colleagues.

Elisapeta Heta, an architectural graduate currently working for Jasmax, believes that there is too little transparency on the levels of pay in practice and that there has to be more discussion on how to negotiate a pay rise. As a female graduate she feels ill prepared to put herself forward in pay negotitations.[21]

In the UK, most medium and small businesses[22] do not have transparent wage scales, and salaries can vary quite a lot, depending on supply and demand and time of recruiting. In architectural practices the salary bill is usually the firm’s biggest outlay,[23] and managing (and concealing) differences in wages can be difficult.

Career Break
Carswell[24] believes that women taking leave and not returning to the workforce is likely to be the reason why there are fewer women in senior roles, although it has already been seen that women who choose not raise a family are also affected by lack of promotion. Under New Zealand, women receive eighteen weeks maternity leave and their job is left opened for 6-12 months. Paternity or Partner’s leave is 1-2 weeks. Different architectural practices have different parental leave policies, offering a variation on the minimal legal periods.

Overseas research has shown that women take a career break more than twice to that of men (43.5% women to 20.6% men). Half the men take a career break to travel or study but only a quarter of women do. More than half the women who had taken a career break was to care for family or children. [25]

Succeeding as an architect requires the right alignment of social, cultural and political factors as well as talent and commitment. To nurture this success, the more strategic leadership in practice needs to be. As there are few women in senior roles, by sheer lack of numbers, they are less likely to be in a position to implement change. Teresa Borsuk, who recently became UK’s Woman Architect of the Year, stated that “Women in leadership roles will inevitably encourage more women and so will help equality.”[26] This reinforces the idea that more role models in turn improve gender diversity in the workplace.

Many architectural graduates highlight a need for female role models who hold senior positions who could act as mentors.  To help with architectural and career development, female graduates are encouraged to request a mentor.

Women represent only 27% of registered architects in New Zealand,[27] however architecture schools in New Zealand have over 50% female students and have had so since the turn of the century. Membership of the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) is 18%, with a similar percentage in Architectural Designers New Zealand (ADNZ)[28], which supports those who elect to become a Licenced Building Practitioner (LBP) rather than a Registered Architect. The percentage of female LBP’s in the Design sector is 10%, much lower than the number of women who are Registered Architects.[29]


In an Australian study in 2014,[30] from which one can infer a similar trend to that of New Zealand, women were far more likely to become employees rather than employers. A third less women were employers than men. Not only are there less women in senior positions but they also earned less. Of the few women who were directors or partners in a practice, they tended to be part of small to medium sized practices. There has been extensive research carried out on architectural practice in Australia by New Zealander Gill Matthewson, as part of her PhD submission to The University of Queensland, Dimensions of Gender: Women’s careers in the Australian Architecture Profession (2015).

I believe that we need to have greater awareness of this issue in our architectural schools, not just for future women architects but also for future male architects. Schools of Architecture can influence discussions and institutions can validate them. We need more debate on diversity within the architectural curriculum, even in architectural history, by promoting projects designed by women and those of other minority groups. Current and future generations of architects entering the field  are diverse and are not currently reflected in the practices they are entering. If architecture is to be truly social, we must recognise the debate on gender and diversity and ensure that talent is not prematurely lost from the profession through a kind of neglect to nuture it.

All surveys and data reveal a serious need for change in the workplace – particularly to redress the pressing issues of long hours, low pay and the lack of availability of meaningful work. Addressing these problems is essential to the ongoing viability and sustainability of the profession as a whole.

On a personal note, it is encouraging to hear from so many architects who are engaged and positive about their architectural lives.[31] Stories from both male and female panel members give me great hope with my own journey, where I know I will have to recognise the glass ceilings as Denise Scott-Brown defines, due to both my gender and my age.



[1] Architects Journal, 2013. From a pre-recorded address to the AJ Women in Architecture Awards, London 22 March 2013. Denise Scott-Brown is the work and life partner of Robert Venturi, who was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1991. Despite being an equal contributor in both Practice (Venturi Scott-Brown) and Education since the 1960s, Denise Scott-Brown did not receive recognition in this award. At the time, it was stated that the award is only given to individuals, and she did not attend the ceremony in protest. Ten years later, the Pritzker Prize was awarded to a partnership. (Herzog & de Meuron, 2001).  The Pritzker Foundation was petitioned in 2013 by a group of Harvard Students to retrospectively award Denise Scott-Brown, although this was denied in the same year. Since its inaugural year in 1979, the highest accolade to be awarded for architecture is the Pritzker prize. The first woman to receive the Pritzker Prize is Zaha Hadid in 2004 (the only woman to receive the Pritzker in her own right), followed by Kazuyo Sejima in 2010 in a partnership of SANNA, representing only 5% of those who have received architecture’s top accolade.

[2] Parlour: Women, Equity, Architecture. is an Australian-based organisation who carry out research, publication and advocacy, bringing together resources for ‘generating debate and discussion’ on issues of gender and architecture.

[3] Four panels were held during Semester 2 2016, as part of The University of Auckland’s School of Architecture and planning Practice management Course provided in the M.Arch(Prof) course, delivered by Bill McKay and Lynda Simmons. Panel members were: Harriet Mildon-King, Dylan Kane, Bobby Shen, Kate Rogan, Dom Glamuzina, Thom Gill, John Ingham, Yvette Overdyck, Marianne Riley, Richard Archibald, Graham Applin, Charissa Snijders, Craig Moller, Belinda George, Briar Green.

[4] Karen Burns, "The Elephant in our Parlour: everyday sexism in architecture". Parlour, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[5] Laura Mark, "Disbelief as gender pay gap widens at top level of practices". The Archtect’s Journal, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[6] Ibid.

[7] "AIA 2016 Diversity in Architecture Report", The Insitute of American Architects, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[8] Amelia Melbourne-Hayward, "Women in Archecture #1". Architecture Now, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[9] "AIA 2016 Diversity in Architecture Report", AIA Cincinnati, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[10] Bruce Tether, "Results of the 2016 Women in Archtecture Survey Revealed", The Architectural Review, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Melbourne-Hayward, "Women in Archecture #1".

[13] Ibid.

[14] Tether, "Results of the 2016 Women in Archtecture Survey Revealed".

[15] Ibid.

[16] Mark, "Disbelief as gender pay gap widens at top level of practices".

[17] Melbourne-Hayward, "Women in Archecture #1".

[18] Since 2013, this has increased to 10% in Warren & Mahoney and Jasmax, with the promotion of four females to senior positions.

[19] Justine Clark, "Where do all the Women go?", Parlour, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[20] Mark, "Disbelief as gender pay gap widens at top level of practices".

[21] Amelia Melbourne-Hayward, "Women in Archecture #2". Architecture Now, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[22] this applies to most architecture firms

[23] Mathew Turner, "The coach: My less experienced colleague is paid more than me", The Architect’s Journal, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[24] Melbourne-Hayward, "Women in Archecture #1".

[25] Clark, "Where do all the Women go?".

[26] Ella Braidwood "‘Radical action’ needed to boost gender diversity in construction", The Architect’s Journal, accessed October. 26, 2016,

[28] Astrid Anderson, "ADNZ Presentation," (Lecture, University of Auckland, New Zealand, September 15, 2016).

[30] Clark, "Where do all the Women go?".

[31] Four panels were held during Semester 2 2016, as part of The University of Auckland’s School of Architecture and planning Practice management Course provided in the M.Arch(Prof) course, delivered by Bill McKay and Lynda Simmons. Panel members were: Harriet Mildon-King, Dylan Kane, Bobby Shen, Kate Rogan, Dom Glamuzina, Thom Gill, John Ingham, Yvette Overdyck, Marianne Riley, Richard Archibald, Graham Applin, Charissa Snijders, Craig Moller, Belinda George, Briar Green.