Grow where you’re planted. It’s an old saying that could really help a lot of female architects. The numbers are staggering: while architecture schools contain a balanced 50/50 male to female ratio, the percentage of female registered architects hovers near single digits at a mere 12%. Family life presents difficult choices (according to many male architects) which can thwart a woman’s plans of licensure or postpone it indefinitely. The ‘female temperament’ – less aggressive than a male counterpart – is sometimes blamed for the reason women don’t succeed in obtaining a license. Other times, it is proposed that women simply don’t have the same drive and desire to earn a license as men.
While it is good to bring the issue of disproportionate licensure to the forefront, it seems we dance around the problem while failing to come up with positive solutions and recognize ways to really work with what we do have. It seems very similar to the problem of architect titles: we moan and groan about the way things are but never seek out a way to make things better. Instead of just standing around commenting on the problem, what if we found a solution? A group of ladies started a scholarship fund called Women in Architecture to do just that. What if more women (and men) in architecture started acting positively to enable women rather than sitting in the bleachers?
While architecture has long been a ‘boy’s club’, there are plenty of well known female architects. The attention on starchitects such as Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima, and Jeanne Gang help to shine the spotlight on women in architecture. Attention brings awareness, but this is only one aspect of women becoming leaders in architecture and completing the path of registration. There is a niche field in which I believe female architects have an acute advantage over their male counterparts. However, it often goes unrecognized and uncultivated. That niche is residential design and remodeling.
Research shows that residential design and remodeling is a field that is ripe for female architects. Now, the numbers have little to do with how women are designing a higher percentage of residences than men. The research doesn’t point to statistics that indicate any advantage for the female designer. However, the research does indicate that women are the primary decision makers in home purchases and home improvement projects, including major renovations. Now let’s put our analytical skills to use. If a female designer is likely to be the primary decision maker within her own home purchase and improvement projects, wouldn’t it stand to reason that she would also be a prime candidate for helping another woman achieve a design vision? Women have a distinct advantage over men in this regard: they are the ones who usually make the decisions about their home, so they can leverage that to make design decisions about their client’s home.
Designing within the residential arena can become as simple as a woman asking herself: how would I design it for myself? The intuition and understanding of how women live, move and work in their homes becomes the reason behind new designs. As a woman, I can predict how another woman will most likely utilize a space I create for her. I understand the challenges of keeping a house clean while wanting to spend time with my family. I feel the pressure when my kitchen just isn’t designed properly for the size of my dinner party. I connect with another woman when she says she wants an entertaining room that feels inviting and comfortable. I can balance the desires for luxury and practicality because I’ve been there. I’ve had to scrub out wine stains from the couch before I went to slip covers. I’ve often weighed the option of knocking out a wall or two in order to be connected to my house guests. As a woman, I get it. Now, how many female architects use this to their advantage? Probably very few.
Part of the solution of making women leaders in architecture is to recognize that they are different than men. As such, we women need to market ourselves differently. Instead of saying ‘I can do what a man does’, why not try ‘I can do different things than a man can do’ and add value in the process? For example, women are often more in touch with emotions, and can identify with the needs of others. Why not use that as an asset during planning meetings? A woman may understand the reasons behind a program requirement, which gives her the ability to interpret the requirement in multiple ways beyond face value. As women, we tend to share information more freely and desire to connect to others. Why not use that as an advantage and focus on being a team leader that disperses project information? Alternatively, women could help bridge the gap between verbal explanations and visual designs. Since women are more likely to utilize a verbal response than men, they can help pitch a project in concise terms. Even better, as creative and talented architects, they can add visual sketches of spatial solutions to the conversation as they sell it. If more women were utilized in ways that showcased their differences as talents, perhaps more would be inclined to pursue their license. I would argue that the biggest obstacle for women obtaining their license is the fact that it doesn’t add a clear advantage for them; if they are currently under paid, under utilized and under valued, what would a license really add? Perhaps the reason more women don’t rise through the ranks in architecture is because their true innate talents aren’t fully utilized. It is time to change that perception by recognizing women first as women: positively different from men and able to add value through those differences. Perhaps if women felt valued they would pursue a license within their profession. A man’s definition of value and success is probably quite different from that of a woman’s. It is time we learn the differences and work with them in a way that encourages and enables women to be leaders in architecture.
As I progress through designs for a kitchen and house remodel, I am able to connect with the female head of the household in ways that give me a unique advantage. I really understand what it is that this client wants, not solely based on my design training, but because I’m a woman. It is one way to even the playing field, regardless of registration. I plan to use that to positively impact my designs. I’m going to grow where I’m planted.
- Marketing to Women Quick Facts (She-conomy)