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.

Related Publications: 
  • Website

    A primary outcome of this research project was the establishment of the website Parlour: women, equity and architecture. The website was set up as a ‘space to speak – bringing together research, informed opinion and resources; generating debate and discussion; expanding the spaces for women in Australian architecture’.

    Policy: Parlour Guidelines to Equitable Practice in Architecture  

    A set of principles and guidelines were launched in 2012 which address some of the key challenges faced by women in the profession. The guidelines cover a range of issues including pay equity, leadership, long hours and career progression, to name a few.

    Publications

    Naomi Stead ed., ‘Dossier’, a commissioned section reporting on findings for the project Equity and Diversity in the Australian Architecture Profession: Women, Work and Leadership, published in Architecture Australia, vol 103, no 5, Sept/Oct 2014, pp. 53-69.

    Naomi Stead ed., Women, Practice, Architecture, Routledge, London, July 2014.

    Amanda Roan and Naomi Stead, ‘A “New Institutional” Perspective on Women’s Position in Architecture: Considering the Cases of Australia and Sweden,’ Architectural Theory Review, vol 17 no 2/3, August/December 2012, pp. 378-398.

    Awards

    Parlour, was shortlisted for the Royal Institute of British Architects President’s Award for Research in 2015. 

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