RIBA director of practice Lucy Carmichael explains why you should care - and what you can do

Lucy Carmichael BW 2018

Some architects might question the need for action targeted specifically at encouraging women to stay in the profession and progress to senior levels, half a century after the Equal Pay Act 1970 and Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (replaced by the Equality Act 2010). This includes women at the start of their careers – where they are still 50% of the profession – and the minority of women who have made it to the top.

But the 10.4% median gender pay gap in architecture speaks for itself.

There is no getting away from the need for practices to better understand why there is still such a low proportion of women at senior levels – and what they can do to eradicate this imbalance.

Closing the gender pay gap requires practices to tackle some hidden issues and unconscious biases. Even the most well-intentioned employers might not be fully aware of some of the invisible barriers to gender equality: whether that’s language coded to gender stereotypes in job adverts, deterring women from applying for roles in the first place, subjective interview processes, judging women more harshly for negotiating their pay, making assumptions about women’s career aspirations if they have children or work part-time, or evaluating the same characteristics attributed to men (eg “dynamic”) more critically when demonstrated by women (eg “bossy”).

Action also needs to be taken to close the “confidence gap” between how women and men rate their abilities as architects, not to mention putting an end to the discrimination and sexual harassment we know some women still experience. There is also no getting away from that fact that practices without the flexibility to enable talented architects to continue progressing their careers through parenthood is a significant barrier.

But there are some real ABCs to effect change: flexible working offered for all roles including project and studio leads up to senior level; promoting shared parental leave; and a working culture that allows a healthier work-life balance.

The bottom line is that change isn’t going to happen unless practices become more conscious of the full range of factors standing in the way of a gender-balanced profession and commit to do things differently.

But the good news is that the transparent employment practices that our guidance, Close the Gap: Improving inequality in practice, calls for – to improve access, retention and progression for women – will also improve diversity in the profession more broadly. And with it our collective creativity, innovation and profitability will be boosted. We know there is a lot of good practice across the profession. We now just need to see it become the mainstream.

The RIBA’s guidance is accompanied by a #CloseTheGap pledge which has been developed and signed by a core group of RIBA reporting practices, a group of large practices who are required by legislation (as they are above the threshold of 250 employees) to disclose their gender pay gap data.

The pledge commits practices to several actions including: operating fair, equal and unbiased recruitment and promotion procedures; supporting flexible working patterns; and appointing a diversity champion or taskforce.

The RIBA is encouraging all chartered practices to sign up to the pledge as a demonstration of their commitment to improving gender equality, broadening opportunities and ensuring that individual career prospects are independent of gender, race, background or any aspect of an individual’s identity.

RIBA’s gender pay working group

Bruce Tether, professor of innovation management, University of Manchester

Daniel Elsea, Allies & Morrison

Deborah Phillips, AHMM

Ella Cessar, Grimshaw

Helen Ratcliffe, AHMM

Jo Bacon (chair), Allies & Morrison

Kaite Atkinson, Grimshaw

Kirsten Lees, Grimshaw

Lorraine Dixon, Allies & Morrison

Patricia Riberio, AHMM

Peter Morris, AHMM