The AIA San Francisco Equity by Design (AIASF EQxD) committee presented the early findings of its 2018 Equity in Architecture Survey at its fifth sold-out EQxD symposium, held Nov. 3 at the San Francisco Art Institute. Designed in partnership with the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) and with the input of volunteers and focus groups across the U.S., the third iteration of the biennial survey is the largest data set collected on equity within the profession to date in the United States, aggregating the experiences of 14,360 respondents in every state and across six continents, according to the AIASF EQxD committee.
Broadly speaking, this year’s survey found that female and minority architects and designers earned lower salaries than their white male peers and were less likely to hold positions of leadership. The survey also found that being a primary caregiver pays a price in architecture. Long workdays and uncertainty about employer values correlate with a lower likelihood of job satisfaction and firms are still lackluster in their efforts to implement equitable practices.
Some good news: As compared to the past EQxD surveys, white women have made some moves to close the leadership and pay gaps, “but we're not seeing movement in a positive direction for respondents of color,” says Annelise Pitts, AIA, who spearheaded the EQxD research effort alongside EQxD committee founding chair and AIASF president Rosa Sheng, FAIA; AIASF EQxD co-chairs Lilian Asperin, AIA, and Julia Mandell, AIA; ACSA executive director Michael Monti, Allied AIA, and director of research and information Kendall Nicholson, Assoc. AIA. (Ming Thompson, AIA, of San Francisco–based Atelier Cho Thompson, designed the infographics.)
“Voices, Values, Vision,” the theme of the 2018 symposium, set the framework for the presentation of the survey results, which at its essence aim to identify how equitable is the design profession. “Voices” looks at personal and professional milestones that can affect career progression and retention. “Values” examines how the personal ideals leading one into the profession compare with industry expectations and how valued they feel in their current position. Finally, “Vision” distills what makes architecture a satisfying career and how designers and firms can create a culture of equity both within the workplace and in society at large.
As in 2016, survey participation was by email invitation only to ensure the integrity of the respondent pool. AIA, state and local AIA components, AIA Students, ACSA, the National Architectural Accrediting Board, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), and the National Organization of Minority Architects all contributed to outreach, along with design firms. Invitations were also sent to the alumni mailing lists of 47 architecture schools.
Between Feb. 12 and March 16 of this year, 14,360 respondents—53.1 percent men, 46.5 percent women, and 0.4 percent non-binary—completed the survey. The gender ratio of respondents is comparable to that reported by the 2018 “NCARB By the Numbers” report. Pitts says that in the future, the EQxD committee will offer more detailed findings about those reporting as non-binary but, due to the small sample size in this year’s survey, the research team must be more diligent about the analysis and ensure that “no personally identifying information is revealed … for this small group with pretty distinctive experiences.”
Of all respondents, 85.1 percent were actively practicing architecture, and 14.9 percent had moved beyond the profession, often to aligned fields such as design education, construction, and real estate development. The committee plans to publish a deeper dive on the responses by those who have gone on to teach in the future.
Survey respondents were predominantly white, although the racial and ethnic make-up of respondents does largely align with that of the overall profession. The unprecedented number of survey respondents this year means that the EQxD research team will be able to conduct further analysis on responses within individual ethnic and racial groups—white, black, Asian or East Indian, Hispanic or Latinx, and multiracial—which Pitts says “is new and exciting.”
Also, as shown in NCARB’s report as well as AIA’s 2016 “Diversity in the Profession of Architecture Report” indicate, the design pipeline is becoming more diverse.
Because male respondents on average reported more years of experience than female respondents in the EQxD Survey, Pitts says that the data was controlled for years of experience to ensure “we can compare apples to apples.”
The Life of an Architect alluvial diagram mapping each respondent’s trajectory through specific milestones is worth study. One takeaway is that makeup of respondents who are currently designers or emerging practitioners skews toward women of color, while “the vast majority of respondents who reported being principals are white men,” Pitts says. An interesting exercise may be to trace your own path through these milestones to see where you align among the respondents.
The 2018 survey examined respondents’ entrée into architecture school. In every group, the majority of respondents report at least one parent with a college degree. “Given that we live in a country where less than half the population earns a college degree, it does mean that we're not reaching the full audience of potential architects,” Pitts says. Generally, a higher proportion of black, Hispanic, and Latinx respondents—and particularly males—reported being a first-generation college student than did white and Asian respondents.
Perhaps not surprisingly, respondents holding graduate degrees reported more college debt than B.Arch. recipients. However, even after a decade post-graduation—a typical repayment period for a loan, Pitts notes—black men with master’s degrees reported carrying five times as much college debt than Asian women with master’s degrees.
“The next thing to look at is what are employers doing to help pay down this debt,” Pitts says, “and I think the answer is—nothing.” A graduate degree in architecture does little to elevate one’s salary, particularly in the first decade of working, the same period during which many loan creditors come to collect. In other words, firms are not paying more for employees who can offer greater value and elevate the studio’s prestige. Furthermore, women with master’s degrees reported lower salaries than men with bachelor’s degrees across all experience levels. (This finding elicited hissing from the otherwise enthusiastic and supportive live audience at the EQxD symposium.)
Respondents were most likely to report wanting to stay in their position if they felt their work had an impact on the community, if they had friends at the office, and if their firm offered individual mentoring. Similar to the 2016 survey, respondents who felt that their ﬁrms offered no training for their duties or who reported no oﬃce friendships were least likely to stay.
Caregiving and Its Ramifications
Contrary to what some may believe, many designers want to and do have a family and a career in architecture. Women who identified as sole practitioners were more likely to report being mothers than those working in firms and those beyond architecture. For sole practitioners, the proportion of female respondents who became mothers crossed the halfway mark approximately seven to eight years post-graduation; for women beyond architecture, this occurs nine to 11 years post-graduation; and for women in firms, 12 to 15 years post-graduation.
However, research finding that women, even with full-time jobs, carry more of the albeit enjoyable burden of childcare, or are single parents, still holds true, with 44 percent of female respondents reporting to be the primary caregiver as compared to 5 percent of male respondents. About a third of the men and women surveyed say they split child-rearing responsibilities equally. However, primary caregivers report making less than the mean of the average respondent, while secondary caregivers—often men—report earning significantly more than the average. If families are deciding which parent should step back from their career to manage caregiving responsibilities, logically, for better or worse, “there's a clear financial incentive for it to be the female right now," Pitts says.
Depending on whom is asked, the criteria for moving up in a firm varies. Respondents at the principal level emphasized project successes and business development efforts while the everyday respondent wasn’t as informed. This suggests that firms could improve efforts to communicate performance and growth expectations, Pitts says.
Most of the respondents working for firms with all or nearly all white leaders. This may correlate with the lower likelihood of a person of color to be a firm principal than their peer, Pitts says. “Maybe you can't be what you can't see.”
The Schwartz Value Survey, created by social psychologist and researcher Shalom Schwartz, identifies 10 universal values that exist along a continuum that basically sort individuals within cultures and also professions along two gradients: how focused are you on yourself versus others, and how focused are you on avoiding change and self-preservation versus pursuing self-expansion and change.
For survey respondents, the most popular values driving them fell under the categories of personal focus and growth and self-expansion: happiness, curiosity, honesty, and social justice. The rose diagram makes clear that few respondents eye amassing wealth or social power through their career decisions, but ambition, personal achievement, and success were twice as frequently cited as a personal than broad-mindedness, social justice, and equity. So architects are not "driven by purely altruistic motives as a profession," Pitts explains.
However, when asked to identify their firm’s values, respondents frequently named client satisfaction, profitability, and growth rather than individual growth and learning, counter to their own personal values.
When it comes to feeling valued by their firm, survey participants who indicated feeling overlooked or that their work was meaningless were less likely to respond positively. These factors along with not knowing for what their employing firm stands were less likely to indicate that the respondent planned to stay in their current position.
Money, Money, Money
Though several firms have publicly announced taking steps toward pay equity, the median salaries of male respondents who identified as design principals, project managers, project architects, and production staff were still higher than those of women holding the same title—though the gaps are smaller than those recorded in the 2016 survey.
Among design peers with comparable years of experience, white men reported the highest average salary while black women reported the lowest. Around the 15- to 20-year mark, the discrepancy is striking, with black women earning approximately 30 percent less than white men.
Architects moving up the career ladder likely know that winning clients and projects for their firm are key. However, men involved in business development efforts still make significantly more than women who undertake those efforts. Research by the global nonprofit Catalyst suggests that women tend to be rewarded when they take the initiative to advance themselves within the firm and build their own personal skill set, Pitts says. “Meanwhile, men who conduct external [tasks] like staying on top of industry trends, meeting with recruiters, and building relationships outside the firm” are rewarded, Pitts continued. But since men also grow within the firm and individually, they have more opportunities for increased reward “while women tend to be more awarded for loyalty,” she says.
Transparency in hiring, promotion, personnel reviews, and compensation are strategies that the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law has advocated in the hopes of mitigating implicit bias. Still, fewer than half of survey respondents report that their firms have implemented such strategies as they relate to compensation and promotion criteria.
While more than half of respondents report that their firms are hiring more diverse talent, they report that other equitable practices are less common. For example, Pitts says, only 10 percent of respondents noted that their firm discusses equity with clients, suggesting that architects may be “missing an opportunity as an industry to become experts on [equity] in a way that helps the built environment.”
When asked about work–life balance, many architects will laugh or roll their eyes. Pitts says the EQxD survey asked two basic questions: “Do you have enough time to complete your work? And do you have enough time to do what you want to do outside of work?” The workday is a big factor: Compared to those with a negative view of their work–life balance, Pitts says, male respondents were three times less likely to report regularly working more than 10 hours a day, while female respondents with a positive view of their work–life balance were more than six times less likely to be report working long days.
Seventy percent of respondents do not feel free to use benefits—such as flexible work schedule and telecommuting—that companies often exhort when asked about the work–life balance of their staff.
“Another key piece to the culture and relationship puzzle is whether or not someone feels like they can be their authentic self at work,” Pitts says. Success often requires personal connections made over time by collaborating with clients—who you hope will become repeat clients—and consultants, who may help steer you to future work. When respondents in the LGBTQ community were asked if they felt comfortable sharing their gender identity and sexual orientation, the majority said they were among family and coworkers, but the percent drops precipitously when it comes to those outside the immediate group. More white men felt comfortable sharing these details across the board, while people of color report feeling the least comfortable, even with personal contacts.
Naturally, being acknowledged for the hours and work you put in feels good. More than half of the women surveyed report being praised on their work ethic or drive—“literally, how much are you putting in at work?” Pitts says—followed by their creative and design skills, while more men than women report that their technical contributions are recognized. Nearly 10 percent of respondents of color report not receiving recognition for any of their contributions.
The life of an architect is not easy and it can be disheartening at times, but about 75 percent of respondents believe that their work has had a positive impact in the world. And while it’s always good to please your clients and your supervisors, survey respondents, who as a reminder frequently pointed to social justice and equity as strong career guideposts, would likely be more pleased if the impact of their work reached more underserved communities and the society at large.
Even with this influx of new information to digest, AIASF EQxD is already planning their next move. “Where we're trying to go next in this organization is to make these connections between building an equitable workplace and doing work that makes a really positive impact in the world and the communities we serve,” Pitts says. “These two things are really intertwined.”
In short, by examining their own voices, values, and vision in the profession and passion, architects, designers, and firms can better help those around them.
The complete early ﬁndings of AIASF EQxD's Equity in Architecture Survey 2018 will be published at the committee’s website soon. Check back here for updates.
Note: This article has been updated since first publication to clarify several data points.