A Gender Imbalance

November 12, 2014

The topic of gender inequality within the technological world is nothing new or ground-breaking, but one that runs so deep within social structures that it deserves far more attention than it receives. Judy Wajcman’s piece titled ‘TechnoCapitalism meets TechnoFeminism’ gives a good insight into the history and current position of women in the IT industries. As Judith points out, technology is commonly designed by men, for men[1]. This unfortunate truth has only helped to strengthen the patriarchy, causing a distinct butterfly effect of gender inequality and exclusion still entrenched in modern day society.

Through the exclusion of women from what is commonly seen as ‘manly technologies’, a vicious cycle has appeared where women are often intimidated to learn because they are viewed as technologically ignorant, or not capable[2]. This in turn breeds a further lack of confidence.

This common viewpoint where women are seen as less capable with technology than men, led me to think of the gender imbalance within the architectural profession. Although the numbers of women entering into architectural education are equal to their male counterparts, 44% to 56% in 2010 respectively[3], these numbers do not carry through to the professional workplace (20.4% of registered architects were female in 2010)[4]. So why is still so difficult for women to break through a traditionally male dominated field when they are equally as educated and capable?

A large part of the answer could lie with the vicious cycle mentioned above. Architecture is a profession bound to other traditionally ‘manly’ professions, i.e. engineering and construction. It requires the architect to meet with the engineers, go to site, meet with the builders, and all the while act as the spokes person and right-hand-person to the client. Women are commonly viewed as less tech-savvy and therefore tend to start off on the back foot. It is an unfortunate reality that women often have to gain the respect of their male counterparts to be seen as competent[5]. A well-known female Australian architect named Kirsten Thompson once wrote:

“It got to the point where I would take an older male engineer with me because if it came from his mouth it was going to be more believable.”[6]

So where does the hope lie for all of those female architecture students whom endure the 5 gruelling years of architecture school? Is this an issue that needs to be brought into architectural education to be overcome? And are we really teaching students the reality of life after education?

Emma Crea

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[1] Judy Wajcman, ‘TechnoCapitalism Meets TechnoFeminism: Women and Technology in a Wireless World, in Labour and Industry, vol. 16, No. 3, April-May 2006, p.9

[2] Judy Wajcman, ‘TechnoCapitalism Meets TechnoFeminism: Women and Technology in a Wireless World, in Labour and Industry, vol. 16, No. 3, April-May 2006, p.8

[3] Matthewson, Gill, Naomi Stead, and Karen Burns. “Women and Leadership in the Australian Architecture Profession: Prelude to a Research Project.” Women and Leadership in the Australian Architecture Profession: Prelude to a Research Project (2012): p.250. Web.

[4] Matthewson, Gill, Naomi Stead, and Karen Burns. “Women and Leadership in the Australian Architecture Profession: Prelude to a Research Project.” Women and Leadership in the Australian Architecture Profession: Prelude to a Research Project (2012): p.250. Web.

[5] Alexander, Harriet. “http://www.smh.com.au/executive-style/executive-women/mind-the-gap–the-gender-imbalance-in-architecture-20101004-163vt.html.&#8221; Editorial. The Sydney Morning Herald[Sydney] 04 Oct. 2010: n. pag. The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media Network. Web. 02 Nov. 2014. <http://www.smh.com.au/executive-style/executive-women/mind-the-gap–the-gender-imbalance-in-architecture-20101004-163vt.html&gt;.

[6] Alexander, Harriet. “http://www.smh.com.au/executive-style/executive-women/mind-the-gap–the-gender-imbalance-in-architecture-20101004-163vt.html.&#8221; Editorial. The Sydney Morning Herald[Sydney] 04 Oct. 2010: n. pag. The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media Network. Web. 02 Nov. 2014. <http://www.smh.com.au/executive-style/executive-women/mind-the-gap–the-gender-imbalance-in-architecture-20101004-163vt.html&gt;.

3 Responses to “A Gender Imbalance”

  1. bingibjarts Says:

    I think you are right that the reason for so few women breaking through as professional architects is the gender mix in the building industry as a whole. The building industry in general is almost an all-male industry and has been so since forever. The building industry is and will continue to be a place of hard physical work. That is the nature of it and that will never change. We need to get more women into the industry in general to help fix this. I have for example never met a female contractor and very few workers. Of course thats only part of it. The current industry has to look itself in the mirror and be more open to give women the opportunity to build.

    • emmarcrea Says:

      Thank you for your comment! It does make sense that these male-dominated professions do make it harder for women to break-through as head architects, and of course as builders and engineers.
      It is interesting that construction is often associated with ‘hard work’ and never with ‘active’ or ‘healthy’. In my design studio this semester, I had the privilege of designing and building a small structure at KTH. After 4 weeks on site I undoubtedly felt healthier and stronger. I wonder: if construction was marketed as an active and healthy profession, would there be a shift in the gender balance?
      Emma Crea

      • bingibjarts Says:

        That is an interesting question. I certainly believe that the idea about the strong construction worker is more related to the fact that people get stronger when working in active and physically challenging environments. Not that strong people get “naturally selected” into these jobs. As a teenager I worked as a construction worker for one summer and I just grew into the job. I certainly did not have the physique of the “strong” worker. And then actually none of the guys I was working with would fit into that category. In general actually quite unhealthy characters…

        this is in my opinion also related how we treat these working professions in general in our society. Being a construction worker is generally put lower than other professions connected to the building industry. The inherent hierarchy of the industry today needs to be addressed and questioned as well. For example that the most technically “intellegent” people should be encouraged to study carpentry and building not only that these people should be pushed to become engineers.
        That would as well lead to a better gender mix in the industry as a whole.


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