Why are there so few women architects?

Clearly, women represent a smaller percentage in architecture firms when compared to men. I think that there are lots of factors for that. But the answer given on this video by Robert Stern, Yale architecture dean, is very particular.

What do you think?

Seen at Javierest.

Cite: Basulto, David. "Why are there so few women architects?" 26 Mar 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 20 Sep 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=17985>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    I’m lucky to be partner and husband of a Woman Architect. And I don’t agree with Stern in that there is no difference between men and women in architecture.

    They are more sensitive, generous, subtle, cheerful and professional in the architecture they do.

    A hint of a project she designed and directed:


    And some pictures of it from Jesus Granada:


  2. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    i disagree sir. women can have children and then go back to work, or work from home while feeding. it’s the cultural shift towards “stay at home dads” that has YET to occur. however, i further contend that this economy will be THE game-changer, and now that there are more women in the workplace resulting from the gender wars of the 60′s and 70′s, it will soon come to pass that men will take a more equal role in the family and begin staying at home as a result of financial burden more than anything. the social shift towards stay at home dads will become more acceptable as a means of financial necessity initially (i.e. job loss), and later as a matter of choice.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    I hope that Mr Stern’s sons and daughters have a beloved architect mother that can take care of them when their father is spending an incredible amount of money in his international journeys. (sic) I think that this is one of the most stupid arguments that I’ve ever heard about this issue.

    actually, It seems that Feminism must be a very difficult issue for Mr. Stern’s wisdom. maybe, retirement time has finally come.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    There is already a strong and growing female presense in Architecture. Honestly I’m more shocked by the absense of Blacks from Architecture. Went to Pecha Kucha NY on Monday and maybe the only Black people were DJ Spooky(who presented) and the security guards. Its the Ivy League, unpaid internship, culture of exclusion that needs to disrupted.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    I hope it’s not feminism heresy to state that there are indeed differences between men and women. One major difference is our biological clocks and window of fertility. Men are able to put off having children with little stress, knowing that they can father children their whole lives, while women know that their fertility exponentially decreases as early as their 30s. With all the education required to become a licensed architect, and years of experience necessary to gain a “professional” status, brings many women right into the point of when their “clock” ticks with pressing urgency. Perhaps taking a “break” from work to have children ends up taking longer (for A break of in whatever degree is necessary), or they enjoy being the primary caretaker and end up not exerting the extra effort (after getting out of the groove) for getting back on the horse towards getting professional status. All I know is that these are issues that worry me, as a young woman about to graduate from grad school at 27 and looking at 3 years of hard work before gaining professional status. Then I am looking at having a busy career and a child raised in daycare. Sacrifices one way or the other are necessary, and so far, it seems women are the ones to graciously take the blow.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      I am a 25 year old in grad school and I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t know what the answer is, but there are clear discrepancies between men and women in this field especially that need to be resolved.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    I don’t know why you’re all getting all bent out of shape here! To the responders that are so adamantly opposed to his position, please clarify why YOU think there are 50% women in architecture schools and significantly less in the profession. I’m not saying there are not other reasons this is so – it’s a very complex issue and Stern had a very short time to respond, but motherhood and architecture are a difficult balancing act. I know it doesn’t seem PC to admit that but it’s the case and I hope that the other responders are correct that stay-at-home-fathers will become more of a norm.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    talking about inequality stirs the pot, but not talking about it deters progress. frankly, we need to be asking these questions…

    stern was asked a direct question about a statistical fact and frankly, he gave the “safe” answer – that the motherhood timeline interferes with the typical architect’s timeline. safe because it’s a common conjecture and because it implies that women have made a conscious choice about leaving.

    truth is, it’s a hell of lot more complicated than that (isn’t everything?)…

    as a practicing female architect (age: 31) thinking about having children and an undergraduate studio professor (first-year b.arch) encouraging my 50/50 class to work hard and think critically, i see the discrepancy in female representation between the profession and education firsthand. i should also note that my (all-male) co-workers will tell you, i’m no shrinking violet, especially when it comes to women’s issues.

    anecdotally, i see five major factors which have turned my female classmates and colleagues away from the profession over the years – i offer them up for the purpose of discussion:

    1. the persistent “i can’t maintain this work schedule if i care at all about raising my kids to be decent human beings” feeling. i think this also explains you don’t see a lot of single fathers in architecture.

    2. the subtle reminders women tend to get from bosses, co-workers, contractors, and even clients, that they have to prove their worth – it wears you out over time, trust me. (btw, i think this is the reason #4 exists)

    3. in my experience, women intertwine social dynamics with professional dynamics. if there is dissension women tend to respond towards repairing the social balance – they can be consciously competitive, but it becomes unsustainable (the self-critique is hard to escape). this leads women to be hard-working employees who wait to be recognized instead of arguing their case away from the competitive showmen. it eats away at you in such a thankless profession.

    4. this one’s tough to admit, but… women tend to be the most vituperative when it comes to judging women (something i have never gotten used to – nor do i really understand). it erodes the already tiny pool of positive female mentors (in a profession supposedly rooted in the concept of mentorship). to those awesome women architects out there – let’s put an end to this!

    5. the profession has not adjusted to accommodate the external pressures women face because, by and large it is still run but old men. cynically, i think they’ll have to die off before real progress can be made towards equality (gender and racial, alike). further slowing the equalizing is the fact that unlike other professions, where you can measure merit by profitability, growth, or “results” – architecture is subjective in all stages and that keeps those not-so-lovely “traditions” in place longer.

    let’s all begin to move beyond the anecdotal into the analytical – really examining and rectifying this issue is the only way we can keep my female students in the profession for years to come.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    “Why are there so few architects in their 80´s in the profession?”

    Because they quickly turn to a sort of social dementia and embrace out-of-date and out-of-reality worldviews which inhibit their hability to contextualize their architectural work in a relevant way for contemporary society.

    Like someone else said: maybe it’s time for retirement.

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    If you look on the universities it is fifty-fifty. Really equal balance. But it is an enormous difference, where you go work. An architect is acknowledged if he has his own enterprise and leads an office, not rarely in partnerships or ko-ops. You have to realise: Foster is not big, (only) because of his design talent, rather of his orginising/manager capabilities. To be succesfull as the owner of an architect office you need other qualities and ambitions as creativity and technical knowledge: at a certain point you also need manager-talents. And this is in other professions also a men-domain. It is not the abcense of women: it is their position. I don´t think women work less dedicated: they are just not so absessed with power and success.

  10. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    It is really interesting in fact, that during my studies, the percentage of women versus men was 50/50. Where are they now?
    I can surely think of a couple of reasons, why there are such few well known women architects out there.
    They are probably working for a man boss who is the front man, the one who signs the deals with other “big men bosses”… But they all know that without the hard working women, on which they can count on to cover their backs, they wouldn’t be able to keep their end of the deals. I think that women love architecture as much as men and are just as dedicated, but they are not such attention and power seakers.
    Motherhood is for sure one of the factors as well.. I’ve actually had a woman boss when I started my career and it was so sad to see her two children miss their mom.. I felt sorry for them and thought to myself “I wonder into what kind of people they will grow up..” If you don’t want them to call their grandmother “Mom” and if you don’t want them to grow up into emotional invalids, you have to be there for them.
    One other thing, among many actually, is the construction sights.. I’ve worked on bigger projects and had to visit the construction sights where there were more than fifty men working at once and not a single woman. I was the only one and I was there to give them a hard time, if things were not going according to the plans. But it was damn hard to get them to take me seriously at first as I heard whistles and shouts about a “WOMAN” present on the site.. and this was when I made a conscious effort to look like a man-dressed dyke with a bad attitude. How frustrating. In my opinion, that is also a reason, why a lot of women prefer to work in the interior design, where there are not looked at like hookers on a stag night and can still remain what they are… ladies. And they contribute a lot!

  11. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    Why are there so few Black Architects????

    Female Architects = 20% of registered architects
    Black Architects = 1.5% of registered architects

    • Thumb up Thumb down +2

      And I’ll unfortunately add that in France
      Female Architects = 20.25 % of registered architects
      Black Architects = 0.4 % of registered architects (if not less)

  12. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    hm… well, this is the same that my mother – architect (and my grandma is a civil engineer)- said to me when I said that I want to became an architect. She said it’s impossible to have a family etc (but she was married and has 2 children…that proves she is not right)
    So, ladies, what shall we do next? ;)

  13. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    The idealogical concept is, if you are passionate about doing something, you’ll do it no matter what the difficulty. However, life is a journey and everyone has to make their choices. At the end, will anything change?

  14. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    this poor poor man.
    he should have just said women can’t design cause their boobs get in the way . hahaha!
    men design, women design. it is as simple as that.
    some get lucky, most don’t.
    if anything perhaps, there are more unlucky women, than unlucky men.

  15. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    My Architecture University is 50/50 – male/female. I had no idea there were going to be that many females when I first started.

  16. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    “Why are there so few women architects?”. Now, let’s turn to a man for the answer……Sigh. You idiots.

    • Thumb up Thumb down -1

      That is exactly what I was wondering. When I clicked on the subject “why are there so few women architects?” I expected a woman to be answering this question. How in the hell can a man answer this obviously inexplicable question? I, as a woman myself, am wondering the same. I am currently working on my B Arch and am preparing to enter the profession. I wonder where all the women are. Are they in the profession but just take a backseat to the competitive male dominance? Do they continue to make up the 50% who pursue architecture but then lead a different path? (and if so what makes them stray?) or is Leslie right in saying that all the old men have to die off before we see the females begin to find place? I certainly hope not. From what I have seen in my schooling thus far is that the women undertaking architectural studies are just as ambitious, passionate, mindful, and diligent as their male counterparts if not moreso. So why then do we not hear from and learn more about women in architecture? I agree that women entering the field need more women mentors. I think the male dominance in the professional field is probably discouraging especially since it is already a field that requires much figuring of self-place and I feel that women struggle more with the issue because they do not have women mentors. Somewhere along the line we women need to take charge of our positions and question ideals that are set forth as we make a place for ourselves in the professional field. Also, women who succeed in the profession are often referred to as a bitch. But I believe that it is the result of men recognizing a woman’s tenacity and simplifying them into a “bitch”. Women just have to fight harder, speak louder, and persist more because we are not taken seriously. We have to prove ourselves, and in the process women who become successful are deemed bitches. So, in answering what can be done to change the scarcity of women in the profession–this is to the men–graciously accept that women in the field have done exactly what you have to get to where you are. We are just as inventive, creative, and design-intelligent as you are. So if we have to push our ideas a little harder than you do because we have barriers to break, don’t assume we are a bitch. We are just like you, we love architecture, and we are just as dedicated to architecture as you are! babies or not.

  17. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Ok…let me see… This man, tells us what he thinks ok?…
    I don’t agree, but neither disagree…’cause he have a point.

    But… if this wans´t the answer, WHAT IS IT? WHY ARE THERE SO FEW WOMEN ARCHITECT??


  18. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Change the words “architect” by “doctor”, “layer”, “engeneer”, anything, and the speach would still stand, and be perfectly valid…..if we were in 1960.

    Cheers from pertedetemps.

  19. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I totally agree with what he said. Yes we are living in a time where we think the impossible is possible but we must face that it is not. As much as we women try to be independent and still be able to have a family like men do we fail. For you see the road to greatness is cold and lonely the other is warm and comfortable. Name me one GREAT architect that is a woman and is not married or has children. Men have families and the wifes takes care of what they neglect it’s been done since the dawn of time.

  20. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    Tania!! Gender roles are prescribed by a long history of war-making patriarchal societies, and genetic predispositions which became obsolete when homo sapiens achieved conciousness. Cognitive evolution!

  21. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    the reason:women are not as adept in math as men.they also lack spatial thinking.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      That’s an inaccurate statement. I’m a female architect and have great spatial thinking and scored higher in structure exams then most of my male classmates.

      Personally, if I quit architecture, it would be to pursue a career that pays better and requires less overtime. I have no interest in having children at this time, but do value a life outside of architecture.

      I believe part of the reason that there are less female architects is that females are generally less competitive when it comes to masochism.

  22. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I read this and thought – how sad.
    I went through arch school in the late 80s – 50/50 entry but only 25% of the graduands were female. We endured a fair amount of sexual harassment/dicrimination – one retrospective slide show by a professor showing group activities had a number of shots of my bare legs. That was standard crap (and Stern sounds like a prof from that era). Some women dropped out during the time because they felt the atmosphere wasn’t worth it, or moved on to law school or other discplines that rewarded intelligence and planning over the culture of all-nighters.
    Family must be on the minds of a fair number of men and women – but it didn’t seem to register with the women I have worked with. At some point one has to evaluate why one is working on a Saturday evening for one’s boss without the prospect of a promotion or bonus pay. Babies or not, the mindless masochism of devoting one’s weekends and evenings time to a shopping mall or second home at the expense of a social life can sometimes strike one as a bit of a time-waster.

    Other discplines do tend to be more rewarding in terms of financial metrics, promotion opportunities and work-life balance. Don’t assume women aren’t in architecture because they are busy spitting out babies – a study tracking where they went after architecture may very well show these women went on to far more lucrative and rewarding careers, ones in which they become the client and hiring force for architects.

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