Newsletter | Nov/Dec 2014

Missing 32% Symposium, San Francisco Art Institute, October 2014. photo: Jen Tai

Reflections on the Third Missing 32% Symposium -- Equity by Design

by Pamela Tang
The energy was palpable. Participants from around the city, the state and the country were arriving, eager to understand the results of one of the largest grassroots surveys in the profession and participate in an overdue conversation with like-minded peers on how to define a more equitable future for architects. Leaders in our professional organizations -- AIA, NCARB, NCSA -- were there to listen and engage.

What started as a need to understand the attritional forces that were diminishing the number of potential female architects grew to encompass a broader base of issues integral to fostering a sustainable professional ethos that would benefit all architects.

The Missing 32% Project (TM32PP) started with the simple question, "Why do women account for only 18% of licensed architects in the country when they represent 50% of the architecture school graduating class?" The first Missing 32% Symposium in 2012 discussed the role of women in architecture in the 21st century through learning about different career paths in the profession. The second Missing 32% Symposium in 2013 explored work/life balance, firm culture, communication and negotiation skills, and approaches to leadership. Denise Scott Brown skyped with the audience and received a standing ovation recognizing her lifelong contributions to architecture.

To initiate change within the profession, AIASF called upon firms to support the 50/50 initiative, an initiative that would increase the overall representation and participation of women on architectural award juries, Boards of Directors, and speaker line-ups for AIA events.

As one of the Missing 32% on-ramping back into architecture and licensure after an extended leave to take care of my family, I consider October 18, 2014 an historic milestone for the profession.

Technology is facilitating our ability to disseminate information and coalesce support. The change we want to improve the quality of professional life for women in architecture can happen. We are gaining the critical mass as women of all ages and in different stages of their careers are engaged in the conversation. It is finally really about us.

At the 2014 symposium we witnessed open communication and collaboration within the professional community with the leadership of our professional organizations. If we can continue to work toward the common goal of neutralizing the obstacles that prevent 32% of us from reaching our potential, the quality of professional life as a whole will be enhanced for the active 68%--our architects. But we must continue to work together to bring about meaningful improvements to the way we work and grow as a profession and leverage our influence to create a ‘new normal.’

AIA San Francisco has been instrumental in pushing ahead efforts to address the implicit forces that have allowed the loss of talented women from the profession to grow to 32%. This third Missing 32% Symposium brought the top leadership of NCARB and AIA. Having women lead two years in a row on NCARB, AIA (top photo) and NCSA exemplifies the common goal of equity in the profession. What has started as an issue that the community of AIASF embraced is instantaneously spreading through electronic media and is being embraced across the country by women in the profession.

Through the ‘Design Success’ Survey launched in spring 2014, TM32PP has quantifiable data to explain some of the reasons behind the brain drain in the field of architecture. The results of the survey reveal our collective struggle to succeed in our profession of choice and provide us with an insightful overview of pinch points that derail the best planned careers. In 2015, the Missing 32% Project will present its work at the AIA National Convention.

One size no longer fits all. Work, especially in the creative professions, has evolved rapidly with the integration of multiple disciplines; design processes have adapted with the rise of technological advancements. The fundamental needs of diverse workplace environments have challenged architects to rethink form, materials and spatial relationships. Architects who have observed these new modes of work, modified daily routines and the redefined the work day, and the emerging patterns of planned and spontaneous collaboration are bringing back ideas to their workplace.

Is the practice of architecture immune to the change that has transformed the tech industries, where innovation is vital to competitiveness? Architects are reflective observers, highly educated problem-solvers, and vocational designers with the vision and training to deliver practical solutions. If creativity is a rare talent, then creativity with purpose, backed by disciplined training, is a valuable resource that we must protect. The perplexing logic of our system is that we fail to follow through in our support of some of the best minds to enter the profession. Given the resources that our educational systems expend and the sacrifices and challenges that graduates overcome, we should strive to maximize the yield of productive, licensed professionals from our graduating classes to serve our communities.

article photos: J. Nilsson

Why do women leave? Feedback from the recent survey essentially highlights what hinders success in the profession for women over the course of a 35+ year career.

1. The first 10-15 years:
During this stage women are less likely than men to get licensed.
All four major career pinch points compound during this stage; paying dues, licensure, caregiving, glass ceiling.

The greatest obstacle to licensure are the long hours and high costs of licensure. The 2013 NCARB By-The-Numbers Report shows that it takes an average of 5.33 years to complete licensure; it took 6.18 years in 2010.

Top reason for taking a leave of absence is childbirth
Perceived impact of taking leave
1) Perceived lack of commitment to career
2) Delay of advancement/promotion
3) Reduced rate of compensation
4) Less desirable project opportunities

Pay and promotion for men and women have the smallest gap in this stage
Most women leave in the first 5 years
1) Low pay
2) Long hours
3) No opportunity for promotion
4) Unprofessional behavior, bullying
Women are 4 times more likely to start their own practice for Work/Life Flexibility. Women are more likely to turn down opportunities to preserve work/life flexibility

2. The second 15 years:
Women in this stage are more likely to get licensed than men.
Women report low job satisfaction.
Women are more likely to work on production and Construction Documents even though their top desired experiences are to lead the design team and manage the firm.
They are finding that their day-to-day work is less relevant to their long-term goals.
Men are being promoted a lot faster than women and take on firm leadership positions and become principals.
Men are being paid a lot more than women; in general men are paid more than women through the entire career span and the differences widen over time.
Women are still the primary care-giver in the family -- aging parents, children.

3. After 30 years in the profession:
It takes 30 to 35 years to reach a position where women feel greater job satisfaction.
Women are still being paid a lot less than their male peers.
The percentage of women in firm leadership positions continue to lag behind their male peers.

The survey confirms some of the prominent factors that prevent women and men from licensure. To show that it has kept up with constituent concerns, NCARB recently announced major changes to the licensure process, facilitating licensure to begin in June 2015:

1. Reduce number of IDP hours by one-third, shortening the time to licensure;
2. Integrate the path to licensure so that Education, Experience and Examination do not have to be sequential, again shortening the time to licensure;
3. Revamp AREs so that the competency testing is relevant to today's professional requirements.

In addition, AIA will be launching AIA University at the beginning of 2015 to deliver online education to AIA members that will support life-long learning, meet membership and licensing requirements, and simplify the reporting process.

The stars are lining up. The Missing 32% Project symposiums have demonstrated that our voices can bring about change. 2014 is the year in which Julia Morgan became "the first female to receive the AIA Gold Medal" (albeit posthumously) because we joined our peers and stepped up to advocate for her recognition. It is mind-boggling to think that we played a role in Julia Morgan's award by signing the electronic petition. Let us remain focused on the collective goal and continue to influence future outcomes. Clearly, we matter.

Equity by Design Symposium group photo by Daniel Wang

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