Before accepting every story that gets circulated on social media, it’s important to look at the facts. Gill Matthewson digs deeper and discovers that claims from Vogue and Glassdoor are just not credible.


Photo: Nick Bassett

At Parlour we know the value of statistics. They have been, and continue to be, a powerful device for revealing what is going on in architecture, especially for women. We work hard to ensure that our data is trustworthy; there will always be some level of approximation in any data and that is why we try and obtain it from as many sources as possible. We also work hard to ensure that data is visually understandable.

But we also know that numbers can be manipulated and deceiving, which is why I’m critical when people publish what I think are misleading or out-right wrong stats. I have written about the alarmist headlines generated by the AJ/AR surveys, which I think are NOT reliable sources of statistical information. And I point out errors when I find them, such as the New South Wales Architects Registration Board calculating and reporting the percentage of women architects in their jurisdiction by dividing the number of women by the number of men (to their credit, when I pointed it out, they smartly fixed that).

The other day we received an email from Sophie McLeod titled ‘Fake News?’ alerting us to a story circulating around LinkedIn.

According to this story, the college major that gives the biggest reverse pay gap (i.e., women get paid more than men) is architecture, by an impressive 14%! Is this true, asks Sophie? Well, it is surprising because it contradicts Census data I have that shows about 6% in the opposite direction, plus the 2012 graduate survey, which gave the same figure. I also do work for the Association of Consulting Architects and report on their annual Salary Survey, which has been able to establish that there is a gender pay gap in Australia in favour of men. However, it is a small sample. And so although I can conclude that there is a gap (because it appears every year), I would be cautious about claiming the size of that gap (because the detail of it changes every year).

My motto is that I don’t trust figures unless I know where they come from. You have to dig, and sometimes quite a lot. So, this story is from Vogue but is actually pretty much the executive summary of a report from Glassdoor, ‘The Pipeline Problem: How College Majors Contribute to the Gender Pay Gap’. So, who is Glassdoor and where does it get its information from? According to the website, ‘Glassdoor has millions of jobs plus salary information, company reviews, and interview questions from people on the inside, making it easy to find a job that’s right for you.’ It initially started as a site where employees and former employees could anonymously report on conditions and salaries in particular firms (rather like the short-lived ArchiLeaks, but for all industries). It does more than that now and positions itself as a recruitment site with a difference, because of its inside information. People share their resumes and salary information with Glassdoor, which gives them a very large database to work with – and, as I say above, size matters. It also has a research division that mines that database for trends.

So, let’s look closer at how they reached their conclusion about architecture. First, they looked at the resumes of nearly 47,000 people who had graduated from college in the USA between 2010 and 2017. They then looked at their database of salaries to estimate the median base pay within the first five years. So far so good, but… of those nearly 47,000 resumes, just 317 were from people with an architecture major (page 28 of ‘The Pipeline Problem’ report). And that is not a good sample size considering US schools of architecture graduate around 6,000 people a year. I suspect that this small size might be because architecture graduates tend to use either direct contact or specialised recruitment sites, rather than this kind of general one. Of the ten careers that Vogue promotes as ones where women are paid more than men, eight have similarly small sample sizes. The other two are in engineering, where there is a big push to make engineering attractive to women. Note that the report also looks at the first five years after graduation, and engineering (even more than architecture) has a very high fall-out rate after five years.

The sample is also skewed in terms of gender representation: of those 317 architecture resumes, 64% were from men. That figure is out of line with the overall gender graduate profile for architecture. In the US, like Australia, women are around 44% of graduates (men 56%).

On page 26 of the report, Glassdoor does acknowledge that its sample may not be representative of all college graduates – and it really isn’t for architecture. It’s too small and too skewed in a number of ways. So, I would take its ‘finding’ that women graduates of architecture earn on average 14% more than men with a very big grain of salt.



Dr Gill Matthewson is a researcher, architect and educator, based at Monash University. She is a co-founder of Parlour and her PhD ‘Dimensions of Gender: women’s careers in the Australian architecture profession’ was awarded by the University of Queensland in 2015.

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