Last week, ArchDaily covered a story about the gender pay gap at Foster + Partners. We thought such a story was "unsurprising" given that the gender pay gap is something that is widely reported on, and present in almost every industry, and we wanted to share a case of it happening in an architectural firm many of us are familiar with. What we did not expect was that readers would think it is a non-issue, or that such reporting was sensational. Is it possible for us to talk about gender in the workplace without being up in arms? Why does the gender pay gap issue make people uncomfortable?
Some of our editors discussed how gender plays into their workplace experiences as well as some hopeful recent signs that we are on a path to change.
Joanna Wong: I think it’s important to first outline that the gender gap at Foster + Partners is a result of having less female representation in senior or managerial levels, rather than having women paid less for equivalent jobs that men do.
Pola Mora: I believe there are more and more discussions related to equality in women’s work conditions in a way that has not happened before. These new demands make people uncomfortable. It's like, "It has always been happening, so just let it stay that way."
Eduardo Souza: Right. People do not accept that things change, and so when someone confronts the gender issue, it's natural that people react in a sensitive way.
Joanna Wong: We've also been hearing a lot from male readers who perhaps have a more advantageous position in the working world over their female counterparts. If they have not experienced the same obstacles that women face in this profession, it's easier for them to say that the gender pay gap is nonexistent.
Eduardo Souza: And going back to what Joanna said, it is important to ask: Why do women not ascend professionally as much as men? Perhaps because they adopt other roles in their lives as well?
Joanna Wong: Domestic roles for sure.
Eduardo Souza: The thing is, I do not know if they put these roles above their career, or if it is a role left over for them, and they have no choice but to pick up these responsibilities.
Pola Mora: Well, that's a matter of discussion only if we put maternity in the equation.
Eduardo Souza: I've never felt gender affect me in the jobs I've had, maybe because I'm a man, but I've definitely heard stories of women being fired after returning from parental leave.
Joanna Wong: Men also have domestic roles, many are proud fathers. But women, at some point in their career, will be confronted with the choice of having a child or not. Bearing a child would mean being inevitably absent from work for months. During this time they would have to give up their time, wages, and opportunities.
Pola Mora: Stepping out of the child-bearing argument, women – mothers or not – simply do not have the same pay conditions. Some people say, "Your payment doesn’t reflect your talent, but your capacity for negotiation.” I think: "Things shouldn’t be like that!" That’s why I think transparency is essential when we want to talk about salaries across genders.
Joanna Wong: (laughs) Pola, I was going to say that too! When people move on to senior positions, their pay is more of a combined result of their past merits and negotiation skills.
Pola Mora: And that's when women have to put their "male suit" to go and negotiate "as an equal" with a man. That's why having women in higher positions could balance this inequality.
Joanna Wong: If we delve deeper into the gender pay gap issue, I think we can also see that it stems from problems within the profession of architects: the long hours, sleepless nights before competitions, years of education, and not-so-well-paid salary compared to other professions that also take years to advance. When considering their domestic roles, perhaps these women would opt for a more rewarding alternative.
Pola Mora: Here’s another thing. It is not related to payment, but to how men react to women at work. I know couples that work together, and when the male partner cannot go to surpervise construction, the workers ask the female partner "Lady, where is the architect?" And we all know situations in meetings where the only woman present is expected to serve coffee!
Eduardo Souza: Yes, I totally agree, women on construction sites need to fight way more than their male counterparts to be seen, heard, respected by the workers there.
Pola Mora: And then these things like the perception of co-workers can affect women later when they negotiate their salaries as well.
Joanna Wong: Yes. To do better, we’ll need more transparency.
Pola Mora: I believe all the public attention this issue has been getting can help to empower women architects at work. If female students cannot see enough women winning the Pritzker, giving lectures, running offices as CEOs, that’s a problem. How are they going to feel the drive to fight for an equal salary if they don’t see a space for them in the field?
Eduardo Souza: As it is, we definitely need to improve on representativeness and transparency.
Pola Mora: So hopefully transparency reports like this article about Foster + Partners can help women to know how much their counterparts are earning, right?
Eduardo Souza: Yes. And it helps men too. I believe that having awareness is a first step.
Joanna Wong: Having female architects represented in the media is fundamental to raising awareness. In addition to that, people in teaching positions should make sure that examples by female architects are included in the course material. It's important to have examples of female pioneers from the past, like the Woman's Building at the Columbian Exposition in 1893 by Sophia Hayden Bennett, and not just recent works by Zaha Hadid or Sejima of SANAA from the 21st century. They are important too, but we need a wider scope.
Eduardo Souza: Yes. In Brazil, the interest in the work of Lina Bo Bardi has been increasing as well, which is awesome. Like Sophia Hayden Bennett, she did not have the recognition she deserved in her time.
Pola Mora: Fortunately at ArchDaily we have a lot of super-qualified women in leadership positions. It’s a great place for me to work. And as a media organization, I think we have a huge responsibility to highlight these women. In the end, the media seems to be doing a lot of work putting these issues up for public debate. Come to think of it, this year’s Venice Biennale, the most relevant event for architects in the world, will be held by two women – Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, and a lot of countries have also chosen women to curate their pavilions! So hopefully we will find the space to continue the discussion.
Joanna Wong: We're starting to see the changes.
Pola Mora: Our efforts are finally seeing the light!
About the editors
Pola Mora is Head of Content at ArchDaily en Español since september 2013. She is an architect with a Master in Cultural Management from Universidad de Chile. Last year, she was one of the curators of Chile Biennale of Architecture “Diálogos Impostergables.”
Joanna Wong is an editor at ArchDaily China. She is in charge of bringing news and projects in China to a global audience. Prior to joining ArchDaily in 2017, she completed a BA degree in Architectural Design and Art History at the University of Toronto.
Eduardo Souza (Dudu) is an architect and urbanist. He graduated from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) with a Master in Urban Planning from the History and Architecture Program at UFSC. Has been collaborating in ArchDaily Brasil since 2012, and is currently Editor of Architecture Classics and Articles.