I’m not sure whether I should be happy or sad that there was a standing-room-only crowd earlier this week for a panel discussion on the profession’s failure to promote and retain women. The good news, the half-glass-full perspective, is that the first step to rectifying this problem is acknowledging its existence. That the audience at the Dallas Center for Architecture was, if not evenly divided, at least substantially populated by men was a positive sign. As I noted during the discussion, the lack of women (and diversity in general) in the architectural profession isn’t a women’s problem, it’s an everyone problem. Those who occupy positions of authority bear a special responsibility to address it. The necessity for strong leadership on this issue is particularly strong in Dallas, given the number of large corporate practices here.
So that’s the good news, but the bad news is pretty darn bad. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on the “glass ceiling” facing women in architecture. Although 50 percent of today’s architectural students are female, only 19 percent of licensed architects are women. The statistics have improved over time (in 1994, the number was 11 percent), but not at anything close to an acceptable rate. In Dallas, only 9 of 130 Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (“Fellow” being the highest professional designation) are female. That’s abysmal.
Why does this situation persist so strongly? Blatant sexism is a factor. In a 1951 essay, “The Architectress,” Joseph Hudnut, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, tried to dispel some of the stereotypes about women — in particular, that their “gossamer minds” are not capable of the spatial thinking required in the making of buildings, and so are better left to interior decorating. That is bunk, but one still hears it bandied about with disappointing regularity. […]