Largest practices are worst offenders, according to straw poll

Only a fifth of the partners in UK architecture practices are women, according to a straw poll published to coincide with International Women’s Day.

In the largest firms the proportion is as low as 5%. In several of the smallest practices, all the directors are women.

The research was conducted by the Architectural Association for its AAXX100 project which was set up to mark a century since women were admitted, thanks to the efforts of suffragette Ruth Lowy. The questions were modelled on a landmark edition of AD in 1975 – International Women’s Year – for which Monica Pidgeon surveyed 100 women architects.

More than 1,300 architects, part IIs and academics from 64 countries responded to the poll.

The 84 who are UK-based work for practices with a total of 381 directors. Of these, 75 are women. While the poll is too small to be statistically significant, it does back up anecdotal evidence of a gender divide. For example, last year Make appointed a woman to its board for the first time and Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners appointed its first woman partner.  

Yasmin Shariff, director of Dennis Sharp Architects and the co-ordinator of the project, said the findings were a serious matter.

She said: “The consequence of not taking women seriously, treating them unfairly and failing to engage them equally in shaping our built environment is not hitting the headlines as dramatically as Emily Davidson’s deathly encounter with the royal horse but it is seriously impacting people’s lives.

“Millions of pounds of public funding is being squandered on projects that are not fit for purpose because women are professionally alienated and unable to contribute to decision making on the same footing as men.

“If the politicians are serious about democracy and compliance with legislation then not a single public procurement project should be awarded unless companies can demonstrate equal pay and equal opportunity for advancement for all.”

Almost 100% of UK respondents said there should be equal numbers of women and men in the profession, with many pointing out that it is only after university that the gender split becomes skewed.

Role models

Zaha Hadid won the poll for the most inspirational woman architect with almost double the votes of second-placed Kazuyo Sejima of Sanaa.

Alison Brooks and Sarah Wigglesworth were joint third.

Angela Brady, Farshid Moussavi, Rachel Haugh, Maria Smith, Sheila O’Donnell, Amanda Levete and Benedetta Tagliabue also picked up nominations.

Read Yasmin Shariff’s full analysis of the research here.