Chris Craiker, The Architex Angle: Women in architecture and construction | Home & Garden Columnists


When the accomplishments of women architects come up, Julia Morgan always comes to mind. Historically, this 4-foot,11-inch lady was a true trailblazer, a towering figure in California and especially the Bay Area.

She devoted her life 24/7 to architecture. She never married and is not known to have had any relationships other than business clients.

Perhaps her most notable creation was Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo County. She and William Randolph Hearst had a rocky relationship creating California’s first Disneyland for adults.

As the first female architect licensed in California, her truly greatest accomplishment was helping to rebuild San Francisco after the horrific 1906 earthquake and fires that leveled the city making 250,000 people homeless. 

While she was California’s first female architect, the numbers swelled and the ratio of women architects reached close to 30% by 1930, but the Depression forced many out of the business.

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Today the number of women freshmen entering architectural schools is over 51%. However, the number of women graduating with a bachelor’s or master’s degree is fewer than 40%.

The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) found only about 15 % of licensed architects are women. They still are paid less than men. Too often the assumption still is that women will quit after marrying or having a child, and therefore don’t deserve their male colleagues’ wages.

With chronically lower salaries, fewer career-building opportunities and lacking mentors, female architects leave the field in disturbingly high numbers. Those who persisted continue to find employers and their clients skeptical of their skills or their ability to exercise authority on the building site.

In one survey, 75% of the female respondents reported having experienced sexual discrimination in architecture somewhere. That is slowly changing.

Women in construction

It’s no secret that the construction industry is experiencing ongoing labor shortages. Attracting new workers with the variety of skills required for home building should be a major industry objective to help close the chronically unfilled job rosters. If a woman can multi-task kids and a household, they can join the team.

Women in construction have always been low in numbers. Many women enter the construction industry as spouses, perhaps starting in the front office, or inherit ownership. While only 9% or about 1.1 million of the Nation’s total construction workforce are women, and of that 75% are subordinate managerial, administrative, and backroom production employees and not in construction itself.

Why don’t more women go into construction? Not every job requires “swinging a hammer.” The vast majority of construction jobs involve intelligence and commitment. A woman can run a tractor and fix plumbing every bit as easily as a male. Why don’t more women get into it, especially now that we have such huge workforce shortages?

There are several factors that explain this enormous gender gap, including unconscious gender and cultural bias, a lack of adequate training and negative perceptions of women working in construction. Despite these barriers, women continue to find their path in the industry.

Although more diverse representation in the construction industry isn’t a reality today, one report showed the most gender-diverse companies are 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than companies with less diversity. After a year of industry-wide growth in 2021, hiring more women is an optimal way to capitalize on that.

The current shortage of labor in the industry presents an opportunity to hire even more women in construction jobs. As new construction technology surges, many companies are hesitant to experiment for a lack of tech-savvy staff. Training and hiring women in the IT departments of construction companies, big and small, will help with the staff shortage, improve the companies’ diversity and be more profitable.

Although there are still obstacles for women entering construction, diversity is a proven roadmap to profitability and a key ingredient in solving the construction industry’s labor shortage. With more and more groundbreaking women chipping away at gender inequality to level the playing field or building site, the construction is becoming more diverse, inclusive and sustainable for future generations.

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB was asked why he hires women Architects. “Because you pay them less?” I say, “No, I get more quality out of them.”


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