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Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Last night, a major political party broke the glass ceiling by nominating a woman, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as its nominee for president of the United States. Politics aside, it's a historical moment. Does this mean that we're about to have the first female president? We'll have to wait until November to see for sure. But what it does mean, is that no matter what, the possibility of having a female president just became a whole lot more likely. Whether it's starting next year, four years from now, eight or even longer, it means that the country is now at a point where a woman can run for the highest political office.

What does this have to do with architecture? As I'm sure you're aware, glass ceilings exist not only in the corporate world, or even the political world, but also within individual industries. How many women do you know involved in the construction industry? Not that many. I talk to a lot of people in many different fields while researching and writing articles, and I know I talk to a lot more men than I do women each day, week and year.

All of this talk of breaking glass ceilings and the possibilities of our children to believe that they can do and be anything they want to be, whether they're a boy or a girl, black or white, or anything in between. The conversation that is currently taking place reminded me of the conversation that exists within the architectural profession, where the gender inequality in the profession of architects is so glaring, there's a movement within the industry.

In 2011, AIA San Francisco formed a committee for The Missing 32% Project, which looks at the questions of what happens to women in architecture to cause them to leave the profession, and why are so few women in leadership roles? The group's name changed in May 2015 to Equity by Design, and according to its website, in the U.S., women represent less than 50 percent of the students graduating from accredited architecture programs. The number of women who are AIA members, licensed architects and senior leadership varies between 15 and 18 percent of the total.

Equity by Design released a report in 2014 on its findings of its 2015 Equity in Architecture Survey. The 53-page report, "Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action!," reviews the gender makeup in architecture schools and the profession historically. Women make up 42 percent of graduates from programs accredited by the National Architecture Accrediting Board, but only 28 percent of architectural staff in AIa member-owned firms, 26 percent of licensed architects (who are not principals or partners), and 17 percent of principals and partners. According to the report, the low percentage of women in senior roles is attributed, in part, to the history of the field as being male-dominated.

Will having a woman president mean more women become architects? Maybe. Maybe not. But it reminds us that regardless of how high that glass ceiling may feel, it can and will be broken. Sometimes it takes awhile for it to happen, but it will always happen.

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