Centre for Architecture Theory Criticism History
School of Architecture

Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architecture Profession: Women, Work, and Leadership

Team: Project Timeframe: ARC Linkage Project. 2009

Women have been an active and highly successful part of the architecture profession in Australia for more than a hundred years, however they remain dramatically under-represented at senior management level and in professional leadership roles. As Paula Whitman noted in her landmark 2005 study ‘Going Places: The Career Progression of Women in the Architectural Profession,’ at that time in Australia women graduated from architecture in roughly equal numbers to men, but only 1% of company directors were women. Whitman found that women architects chose not to pursue high levels of seniority because of the sacrifices it would entail for their families and personal lives, and found a surprising number of survey respondents had actually declined a promotion at some time in their career. Whitman’s study clearly demonstrated that there were impediments to women, not of their own making, which continued to slow and stymie their progression to the highest and most influential levels of the architecture profession. Today these impediments continue to be poorly understood by both the profession and its representative bodies.

In response to this problem, in 2010 a collaborative group of scholars from five universities across three states were successful in applying for an ARC Linkage grant for the project ‘Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architecture Profession: Women, Work, and Leadership.’ The project will interrogate patterns of women’s participation, progression and representation in the architectural profession, paying particular attention to women’s under-representation in senior management. The project aims to map women’s participation in the architectural profession in Australia and understand why women are under-represented at senior management level; to identify actual and perceived barriers to women architects’ promotion and progression, and identify examples of good employment practice in architecture; to understand the ways that gender is a factor in structuring professional identity and aspirations in architecture, and explain how gendered behaviours particular to the profession are reproduced and reconfigured within specific workplaces; and to examine the impact of women’s participation on practice and innovation in architecture, and better understand the social, economic, and architectural advantages of a gender-diverse workforce. One of the projects’ key outcomes will be a draft national policy on equity and diversity in the architecture profession for the peak professional body, the Australian Institute of Architects.

Funded by an ARC Linkage grant (2011-2014), the project has five Industry Partners: The Australian Institute of Architects (National Chapter); Architecture Media; BVN Architecture; Bates Smart Architects; PTW Architects. The research team is large and collaborative, with eight scholars representing five institutions: Dr Naomi Stead (The University of Queensland); Associate Professor Julie Willis (The University of Melbourne); Professor Sandra Kaji-O'Grady (The University of Sydney); Professor Gillian Whitehouse (The University of Queensland); Professor Susan Savage (Queensland University of Technology); Dr Karen Burns (Monash University); Dr Amanda Roan (The University of Queensland); and Ms Justine Clark. Ms Gill Matthewson was the successful applicant for the project’s dedicated PhD scholarship, and is undertaking doctoral studies at the University of Queensland 2011-2014. Ms Kirsty Volz is the project’s Research Assistant.

For enquiries on the project please email Dr Naomi Stead.