In Sweden 52% of practising architects are women. Sweden has one of the best parental support systems in the world, but there are also structural differences in the way the profession is organised that play an important role in women staying in the profession. Amanda Roan reports on her recent research trip.
When trying to understand women’s representation in the architecture profession in Australia the usual problems spring to mind. Long hours and the demands of practice are often incompatible with raising young families, and long-day child care or nannies can be too expensive for those in the establishment phase of their careers.
On a recent trip to Sweden I was fortunate to meet with representatives of the Swedish Association of Architects and interview several leading Swedish architects. There has been an increase in the number of female architects in Sweden, where women now make up 52% of the professional association’s practising architect members and 62% of its student members. If the current trend continues, women may eventually constitute two-thirds of Swedish architects. Despite changes to Sweden’s welfare system, there is little doubt that they still enjoy some of the best parental support in the world.
Swedish citizens receive up to 480 days paid parental leave and men are encouraged to share this leave with their partners. Women have the right to work reduced hours until a child is eight years old and the state makes up the difference in salary. Those interviewed also believe that citizens have an obligation contribute to their economy through paid work. How much of the difference in women’s participation can be explained by access to affordable child care and a supportive environment remains an important question.
There are, however, other significant differences in the practice of architecture between Australia and Sweden. Swedish architects have a simpler and less costly registration system. Membership is based on achieving education qualifications from an accredited university and after two years’ documented professional experience in her or his professional field, architects are entitled to use professional titles. The profession of architect covers architect, landscape architect, interior architect and planning architect. Discussions with architects also revealed that they tended to occupy a slightly different role in the construction industry and were, as a result, less exposed to legal liability than their Australian counterparts. Could institutional factors be at play here? Is being an architect simpler, more inclusive and less expensive in Sweden, and could this have an impact on women’s involvement in the profession? Women architects still spoke of long hours in the studio, the challenge of travelling to construction sites and the juggling act required meeting family responsibilities. The good news is that a recent report from the Swedish Association of Architects showed that this feminisation of the profession had not resulted in a lowering of wages. It seems that Sweden provides an important case study for more reasons than its system of social support.
May 14, 2012
These are very positive statistics from Sweden and I hope they will be mirrored in Australia soon. Aside from the registration differences and differing roles between Australian and Sweden architectural practice, there is one major hurdle that we would need to overcome – the logistical issues (and possibly cultural issues) surrounding part time work in architecture in Australia beyond the financial.
Well before I had a child, I battled with several practices to gain part-time work in order to undertake further study (A Masters and PhD in Architecture). You might think this would be seen as an asset to the practice but was usually seen as a hindrance. I was only asking to work a 4-day week yet I was told over and over again that this would complicate relationships with clients & consultants and that the complexity of architectural practice required an ongoing full time role. In larger practices, I had seen examples of women working part-time but their roles were usually diminished/limited to working on tasks like marketing, submissions writing, or even worse, specification writing.
Part-time work could indeed complicate things but is this also partly a cultural response that needs changing? Or does practice itself need changing in order to better accommodate part-time workers, both male and female?
I don’t know what the solution to this is but wonder whether the old fashioned idea of job-sharing might be something worth considering in architecture. At a recent mother’s group meeting I attended, one of the mother’s – a doctor, was considering completing her obstetrics training by job sharing with another doctor who also had a child. I wondered whether this would work in architecture. Could two people work on exactly the same projects in a practice and job-share? Is this a viable way to manage part-time work in architectural practice in order to provide continuity?
Perhaps we need to look at Swedish practice in more detail. How do the Swedish manage part-time employment in architectural practices and can these be adapted to suit Australian conditions?
Anna Wilson says:
Jun 5, 2012
I wonder if there are also more men employed part time in Sweden, so it is somewhat normalised?
I don’t think job sharing would really work, it would be too hard to keep the other person up to date, but if there is already more than 1 person working on a job then whoever else is working on it with you could answer builder or client questions on the day you’re not there.
I also wonder if a good solution might be to work the equivalent of 4 days, over 5, so you can leave to pick children up from school. This is assuming you work a 40 hour week in the first place of course, most architects I know work a 5 day week equivalent in 4 days.
Ultimately I think practice needs to change, but for that to happen the professional world more broadly needs to change. Men need to start working part time too for it to become normalised and accepted, and much like building regulations, the only way that is going to happen is through legislation and the enforcement of that legislation.