Zhanina Boyadzhieva and Juliet Chun
Langer Hsu Zhanina Boyadzhieva and Juliet Chun

The Girl Uninterrupted Project has released initial findings from its 2018 Designers Data Survey of mostly emerging professionals in four cities—New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles—in combination with the results from its inaugural 2017 survey of designers in Boston. The initiative was conceived by Zhanina Boyadzhieva, Assoc. AIA, and Juliet Chun, AIA, designers at Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates, following an office-wide discussion on equity in architecture on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017. The 2018 survey was open to participants Feb. 5–April 15.

In a previous interview with ARCHITECT, Boyadzhieva noted that the project aimed to distinguish itself from other studies of the profession, such as AIA San Francisco Equity by Design’s Equity in Architecture Survey, by focusing on “bridging the gap between emerging professionals and leaders in the field.” The survey results, she adds in a more recent conversation with ARCHITECT, may be useful for firm leaders hoping to attract and retain talent, and who want to learn what emerging practitioners are interested in.

The project received support from several collaborators as well as design professionals across the country who helped publicize the survey within their local networks. The results were analyzed by Ivan Petkov, assistant professor of economics at Northeastern University, in Boston, and Sokiente Dagogo-Jack, assistant professor of marketing at Boston College.

In general, the results from the four latter cities surveyed were similar to those garnered from the Boston survey. “Originally, we thought they would be different in many ways but … they all [shared] similar patterns,” Boyadzhieva says.

However, because the 2018 surveys did not garner as many responses as she and Chun had hoped, the results highlighted below provide general takeaways from the cumulative responses tallied across the cities, instead of filtering the results by city, except where the data is visualized on the charts. As with many surveys, the results are subject to self-selection bias.

Following the highlights are a sampling of participant comments from an open-ended question on the survey that offers frank and eye-opening accounts of the architectural profession today.

Respondent Demographics
Across the five cities, the survey had a total of 1,271 respondents—533 from Boston, 211 from New York, 175 from Washington, 213 from Chicago, and 139 from Los Angeles—running the gamut of experience levels and office sizes. Though the survey initially targeted emerging professionals—those with 10 or less years of experience—approximately 16 percent of respondents report having 11 or more years of experience. Hearing from mid-career and senior-level professionals designers ultimately proved invaluable, Chun and Boyadzhieva say, as it offers a preview of the road ahead for emerging professionals and helps connect their data to other studies of the profession.

Overall, approximately 67 percent of respondents were female, 32 percent male, and 0.5 percent preferred not to specify their gender. Approximately 4 percent of respondents worked in firms with up to five people, 11 percent with six to 15 people, 18 percent with 16 to 30 people, 15 percent with 31 to 50 people, 22 percent with 51 to 100 people, and 31 percent worked in firms exceeding 101 people.

Slightly less than a third of respondents report being licensed, while approximately half report being in the process of becoming licensed, 18 percent report not being interested in licensure, and 3 percent are undecided about pursuing licensure.

Result Highlights
Among respondents who said they were not interested in taking the Architect Registration Examinations (AREs), the most common reasons cited were lack of time, lack of motivation, and perhaps most surprising, that licensure “does not apply to my work.”

Generally speaking, male respondents report a higher salary than female respondents with equivalent years of experience. Roughly a third of all respondents report being unhappy with their salary.

When it comes to studio priorities, more than half of the respondents note that their firm, across office size (indicated by the key) encouraged licensure and covered examination fees—making the aforementioned 18 percent of respondents uninterested in licensure more striking. Again, because of the limited sample sizes, one cannot conclude that, for example, a higher percentage of extra small firms than small firms in Washington encourage participation in professional seminars and workshops; rather, the graphs only indicate that a higher percentage of respondents to this particular survey who work in extra small firms than in small firms affirmed the metric.

Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project

About a third of respondents report not knowing their offices’ policy on parental leave despite its near- or long-term influence on determining whether a caregiver stays at a particular firm or even within the design profession.

Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project

More than half of respondents report having negotiated their salary; of those respondents, at least three-quarter report some movement toward their requests as a result.

The majority of respondents report feeling comfortable with asking questions at their firms, but fewer are comfortable with initiating ideas at the workplace.

When asked how often they pull 10-plus-hour workdays, respondents were more likely to report a few days per month—better than the alternative options of “all the time” and “few days/week,” but certainly not as great as a “few days/year” or “never,” particularly when most respondents report that the extra hours put in did not translate into overtime pay.

Still, the majority of respondents across all office sizes reported being “happy” or “very happy” at their current workplace. “People are happy regardless of the size of office because each one offers something [that] maybe the other one doesn't, so it balances out,” Chun says.

Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project
Girl Uninterrupted Project

Real Perspectives
Though the survey data offers some high-level takeaways, a more intimate look into the career trajectory of an architect comes from the survey’s open-ended question inviting participants to share thoughts and experiences. “We had no idea we would gather quite a lot of quotes and vulnerable stories,” Boyadzhieva says. “That, for us, was really kind of special.”

Several of these responses, published exactly as written by the participant, are below.

“Regarding gender, I found myself being put in positions of admin, like helping to clean, make coffee, answer the phone, set up food, and other ‘domestic’ tasks when male coworkers were not asked to do that. When I started as an intern, I was asked to help answer the phones because I was the newest person. A new male intern started and I asked why he wasn't asked to take the task of answering the phone, I was told that he is not ‘very good at using the phone’ so it wasn't going to be his task. I continued to have to do this as multiple new people were added and it distracted me from work constantly.” —Female, 0–2 years of experience

“I feel like having a purpose or impact (social or otherwise) beyond making shiny buildings is pretty important to my generation—particularly re: motivation, satisfaction, happiness, etc.—but got glossed over somewhat here. I've quit jobs where my employer had no interest in societal impact.” —Male, 3–5 years of experience

The general studio toxicity of the architecture office continues, it seems like a relic from the 1950s where women are not elevated at the same rate, long hours are rewarded rather than good work, there are a lot of old, white men holding the future of the firm/profession in their hands without giving any room for younger employees to flourish and grow. We sell innovation but don't practice it ourselves on a daily basis. —Female, 3–5 years of experience

“I have not been able to negotiate proper confidence in the workplace. I'm at my best when I do as I'm told. I want to be a team player and fill my role. I don't want distance myself from authority through disagreement. Society tells me to both ‘do as I'm told’ while simultaneously ‘challenge the world around me’ it is a very tricky balance for me to negotiate.” —Male, 6–10 years of experience

“I work for myself now it is very liberating, I was tired of complaining about the work atmosphere. And i have more opportunity to learn now. Higher risk and greater return.” —Female, 6–10 years of experience

“Pursuing Architect License is not my highest priority as family + children is the priority, for them to have my full attention outside of work allows to have better work/life balance. Pursing ARE exams would inflict higher stress level that's not necessary in this stage of our growing family. Knowing that there's many other opportunity in the design and construction industry, you don't need an Architect License to be successful, although it's nice to have.” —Male, 6–10 years of experience

“Work life balance isn’t a gender issue, it’s a human wellbeing issue. Once men and women stop being so demanding and strive for perfection (a myth) then the gender pay and parity should solve itself. We don’t have a pipeline problem, we have a leadership work ethic problem. Leaders should lead by not working more than 50 hours per week to set the tone, in my opinion.” —Female, 6–10 years of experience

“Architectural firms are a steep pyramid. Only a few get to have opinions. And some of the most opinionated are the women in the office.” —Male, 11+ years of experience

“Collaboration is a word verbalized only. Salaries are still stagnant. Sexism and wage inequality are prevalent.” —Female, 11+ years of experience

Next Steps
Ultimately, Chun and Boyadzhieva hope to publish the results from all the surveys into a manual similar to what they created for the Boston survey analysis. In the meantime, they say, they will continue to analyze this latest round of results and, thus, are uncertain whether they themselves will conduct the survey again. Many designers located in regions other than the five surveyed cities have inquired about the survey, Chun says. “We would love to do every major—and minor—city, but that isn’t sustainable.”

“I think we'll try to find collaborators,” Boyadzhieva adds, “and think through it at some point when we get a bit of a break to reflect back.” Boyadzhieva, after all, is in the process of completing her AREs.

This story has been updated since first publication.