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Awards for Women in Architecture: Positive Discrimination?
Caroline Stephens

The Architects' Journal recently held a lavish ceremony for the Women in Architecture Awards, celebrating the merits of female architects, students and industry professionals and presenting prizes to those deemed 'role models' for aspiring young women. WAN's Business Information Manager, Caroline Stephens, explains her sentiments towards awards for women in architecture.

When I applied to do my Part 1 at the University of Greenwich (more than a few years ago), there were seven men to one woman. For my Part 2 there were five men to one woman. In practice there were four men to one woman. Architecture and


the construction industry are dominated by men. Fact.

But maybe things are changing. Natalie Monk who is in the final year of her Part 1 states that the sexes are evenly matched: "Looking at my year group it seems that its 40 - 43 girls to boys, so practically half and half. We also have six studios this term headed by two tutors, and five of those have a woman and a man running the studio together."

At WAN, we are sensitive to how contentious and current this issue is as we received criticism for one male-only jury panel despite hosting fifty-five other more balanced juries. We make every effort to acquire a broad spread of skills and expertise on our jury panels and on this one occasion we were unable to balance the gender scales. No one questioned the panel's eligibility for the role, just what sex they were. So in the act of criticising the gender, isn't this sexism in itself?

When I first started working in practice, I noticed that I was in a minority, but I did not ever feel threatened by the fact (moreover revelled in it) until people began promoting women in architecture campaigns.

I think that this has a double edge sword effect. Whilst no-one can disagree that it raises the profile of women in architecture, it also negates the many years of hard work that you may have done in order to work


within a male-dominated profession without this 'help' in promoting women architects.

I have experienced sexism in practice but I expect most of us have, male or female.

I personally find it even more degrading to have an award for Best Woman Architect or a campaign to have an architectural practice employ half men and half women. Do we have a male architect award? And if we did, would this be construed as sexist?

As an employer, I would begrudge having to employ a woman over a man purely so that it was equal. This is unfair and sexist, and where would it stop? I'm probably not alone in thinking that all architects should be recognised for their skills and ability not their sex/colour/creed and not be treated differently.

Caroline Stephens
WAN Business Information



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