The 2018 Equity in Architecture Survey Encourages Industry Soul-Searching

Responses from 14,360 architecture graduates signaled modest equity gains, though major gender- and race-based professional gaps remain.
2018 Equity Architecture Survey results

The 2018 Equity in Architecture survey results were revealed at a recent symposium, organized by Julia Mandell and Lilian Asperin, along with the AIA San Francisco Equity by Design Committee. Graphic by Atelier Cho Thompson, courtesy Equity by Design [EQxD]

What is the life of an architect actually like and how can the architecture profession encourage diversity in its ranks? In the latest survey released by AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design Committee—the largest analysis of equity and the careers of architecture graduates—there are some striking correlations between people’s gender/ethnicity and their experience in the field, suggesting that there are some institutional biases at work. The results, which were released at the “Equity by Design: Voices, Values, Vision” symposium in San Francisco on November 3rd, will be available in the coming weeks on the Equity by Design website.

More than 14,000 architecture graduates, from roughly 50 architecture programs, at 130 firms, and from the membership of AIA chapters across the country, provided responses for the 2018 Equity in Architecture Survey. The survey, when it was first conducted in 2014 (under its previous incarnation, “The Missing 32% Project”), was designed to highlight the gap between the number of women graduating from architecture programs and practicing architecture. But its 2016 and 2018 iterations have expanded their purview to address equity in a broader sense, reflected in questions that ask respondents about their ethnic background and their sexual and gender identity. (The 2018 survey respondents were 53 percent male, 47 percent female, 76 percent white, and 90 percent heterosexual.)

2018 Equity Architecture Survey results

Graphic by Atelier Cho Thompson, courtesy Equity by Design [EQxD]


The results show that on average, white men earn more than their female and non-white counterparts with similar levels of experience and are more likely to take a leadership role at their firms. Gender differences also appeared to materialize in the architects’ perceived value: Men who worked on building relationships with potential clients earned more than women who did the same; meanwhile, women were more likely than men to report they were valued for their work ethic. “There’s a homogenization of the profession going on, so you’ll see that the principal role is dominated by white men in a way that our sample overall isn’t,” says Annelise Pitts, the committee’s research chair and an associate at San Francisco–based Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. “It’s important for those who are thinking about coming into the profession to know that there are models for who they could become in the future. And unfortunately I think for a lot of groups there aren’t enough.” White architects of both genders tended to advance from a staff role to project architect sooner than architects of color, and the financial burden to enter the profession in the first place was particularly high for black graduates of both genders with a master’s degree—they had the highest average school debt to pay off.

“What we see is that the gap between white men and women has narrowed, but meanwhile the gap between white men and people of color has gotten wider over time,” says Pitts. “I think that means the equity conversation has been having a positive effect, but there’s a lot of evidence that some people are being left behind. It’s not just a gender issue.” The national AIA and the University of Minnesota are working on a series of “Guides for Equitable Practice” to help guide firms, and the first installment should be released by the end of the year.

The survey also asked respondents about their parenting responsibilities, values, and job satisfaction. “Architecture has an entrenched culture that is studio-based, with the idea that you need to provide your worthiness by sacrificing your health, welfare, and safety in pursuit of design excellence,” says Rosa Sheng, who’s the founding chair of the committee, AIASF President 2018, and a principal at SmithGroup. “But what if we tried to change the culture? The symposium was designed to be a safe place for these conversations to happen—we’re all here to solve this challenge together.”

Katie Okamoto, Metropolis Magazine’s senior editor, contributed reporting for this piece.

Editor’s Note: The images included in this article are a selection of graphics from the 2018 Equity in Architecture Survey.

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Categories: Architecture