It is no secret that in the field of architecture – and in the construction industry in general the gender balance is far from equal. Last year, influential architecture and design website Dezeen did a survey of the 100 biggest architecture firms in the world, and found that just 10 percent of them had women leaders at the very top level. When they looked at senior and middle management levels together, the survey found that women make up just 18 percent. Most commentators took the fact that young women entering the profession did not rise to the top level to reveal inherent prejudice in the field.
To celebrate Women’s Month this August, we interviewed three top South African women architects. While all said they had noticed that the industry is changing, they nevertheless felt that women have to work extra hard to prove themselves. It was interesting to note what they believed women brought to the field – from unique design perspectives needed to envision our urban future, to a sense of calm and people skills.
All mentioned (with the proviso that they didn’t want to generalise too much) that women are better than men at multitasking! What is undeniable is that the women in the field contribute an enormous amount, and that transforming the gender balance in architecture would benefit not just women, but the whole industry. They also, and keenly, felt the need to be mentors and role models to young women architects. It needs to happen so that another generation of young women architects follows our interviewees to the top level.