Architecture is anticipating a labor shortage, so firms will need to embrace socially aware policies if they want to attract and retain talent. That’s what John Peterson, curator of Harvard University’s Loeb Fellowship, told the audience of an ARCHITECT Live presentation at the AIA Convention in Philadelphia last month. Numerous studies support his assertion: Both Millennials and Generation Z have a deep and widespread commitment to social justice. It follows that these emerging professionals will want their employers to espouse the same values.
If you’re a firm principal or partner and this all sounds daunting, don’t worry: You don’t need to move to Burundi and build a school (though it would be lovely if you did). Equity begins at home. A good way for firms to start embracing social justice is to simply revisit their own human resource strategies. An inclusive hiring policy is vital, obviously; it’s also the law, so no points to be scored there. But at most firms, there are wrongs that need righting even among current staff—and among women staffers specifically.
At another ARCHITECT Live session, Rosa Sheng, AIA, a senior associate in Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s San Francisco office, reviewed the outcomes of a 2014 survey conducted by Equity by Design, an AIA San Francisco committee that she co-founded. (A new batch of results from the 2016 survey is due this fall.) The upshot? To paraphrase the classic Virginia Slims ads, you haven’t come such a long way after all, baby.
Women in architecture are promoted less frequently than men, make less money than men, occupy fewer leadership positions than men, receive fewer awards than men, find their jobs less satisfying than men, and, not surprisingly, abandon the profession in greater numbers than men.
Despite these inequities, it’s not women but men who are more likely to leave architecture due to low pay, long hours, and lack of opportunities, according to the Equity by Design survey. Women instead are more adversely affected by cultural issues: a lack of role models, unprofessional behavior, bullying.
Addressing sexism and other problems that impede women in the architectural workplace may strike some as a Pandora’s box of red tape and feeling statements. Too bad. It’s every manager’s ethical responsibility. There are even some emotionally uninvolved, strictly procedural ways of doing so. In the audience during Sheng’s presentation was a CEO who told me about a step he (yes, he) recently took to help balance the scales at his large firm: He reviewed the compensation package of every employee and gave raises to all of the women who made less than their male counterparts.
That, my friends, is a hard-boiled, quantifiable way to foster parity among women and men. Firm leaders who think they can’t afford it should think again. Ever lose a commission unexpectedly and shave a point or two from expenses to make ends meet? Finding the money to rectify the gender wage gap in salaries at a firm is no different: It’s all a matter of rethinking priorities. Put off buying the new 3D printer. Trim back the holiday party. Reduce executive bonuses.
Above all, take this as a given: If a firm can’t afford to pay and promote women on the same scale as men, its business model simply isn’t viable. That should make the decision a lot easier.