Anecdotal evidence suggests that many architects feel there is pay inequity in some sections of the profession. So what can we do about it? Neph Wake has collated a series of helpful links, along with some questions to help check how gender friendly our workplaces are.

Photograph: Nick Bassett.

Employers – legal requirements

The principle of equal pay for equal work has been enshrined in law for several decades. If it is still confusing you, it’s probably worth brushing up on both the principles and the legal requirements. The best place to do this is through the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA, previously known as the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency). Specific resources are below:

  • What is pay equity?
  • Facts about pay equity
  • Facts and Fiction: Misconceptions about the pay gap [aka snappy answers to those reasons that begin with ‘It’s because women…’]
  • Pay Equity Information (includes Australian research and statistics from 2009 on)
  • Toolkits for assessing pay equity, including a payroll analysis tool (Excel file developed for Windows) and an online course on pay equity

Bonus requirement: If you’re currently employing over 100 people, you’re legally required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on your gender ratios and payroll. This has changed a little lately, as Amanda Roan outlines here. If you’ve recently dipped below the 100 person threshold, you may still be obliged to report. Success is such a curse, isn’t it?

It’s not all about pay rates though. Hidden sources of inequity include valuing different kinds of work differently. Historically, ‘soft’ or caring work (which in architecture may include client liaison, contract admin, marketing and interior design work) is valued far less than ‘technical’ work (which may include negotiating with engineers, onsite supervision and detailing), even when the skills required are similar.

The Fairwork Ombudsman wrote this factsheet on unlawful discrimination. These protections apply to all employees, including part-time and casual workers. The Australian Government website, includes information on employing people, with section focusing on equal opportunity employment.

Employers – best practice tips

Always use gender neutral position descriptions. Avoid indicating gender in position titles (tradesman/filing lady) and when outlining duties. That means no gendered pronouns (eg ‘he will be expected to’ or ‘she is responsible for’). You can use the words candidate, applicant, graduate, employee, person or gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ instead.

Even if an employee has turned down an promotion opportunity in the past, you’re allowed to offer again! An offer which was unsuitable 6, 12 or 24 months ago may now be most welcome – circumstances and minds do change.

Be careful that your own values and expectations aren’t influencing your employment decisions (such as beliefs about the amount of time mothers with young children should be out of the home). Even if well intentioned, this can lead to unlawful discrimination.

Learn about unconscious bias, and consider developing objective, skill- and experience-based job descriptions when searching for employees.

Consider using innovative work contracts, such as “results-only work environments” (ROWE). This may let you pay for outcomes, rather than “presenteeism”.


Ann Lau’s article for Parlour on this topic is fantastic and well worth reading in full.

The tl;dr [too long; didn’t read] version is a list of questions that everyone from graduates to principals can use to check how gender friendly their work place is.

Key questions to ask about a practice would be:

  • Is there a balance of gender mix from the most junior through to the directors of the practice?
  • What are the roles filled by women in this practice? Are they typically in management, marketing, interiors or designing low-profile or “soft” projects?
  • Are there women who have been promoted by the management?
  • Do women rate a public profile in the organisation? (Although, in light of my opening remark this may not be a reliable indicator!)
  • Are women designers being celebrated?
  • Is there a diversity of gender and ethnicity in senior roles and directors?
  • Do women actually run and/or own the business?
  • Is the culture of learning systematically promoted?
  • Is the practice profile uniform or does it embrace diverse viewpoints and approaches?

For more on pay equity and the gender pay gap see here – and remember look at the extra links on the right hand column on this page.