Gender Inequity and Design Technology

Daniel Davis – 9 November 2014

At a time when more and more women are becoming architects, very few are becoming design technologists. It is a curious situation because, at least on the face of it, design technology doesn’t appear particularly ‘masculine’ apart from the conspicuous lack of women. This will be obvious to anyone who has been to a technology conference, but for those outside the technology bubble, the strange demographics of design technology may not be apparent.

In October last year I began writing an article about design technology’s gender imbalance. In the year since, I’ve thrown out that article, rewritten it, got cold feet, rewritten, discarded, and eventually finished it for ARCHITECT magazine. The length of the article’s gestation is unusual and a reflection of how much I struggled to find my voice in this subject. While I’m not one to shy away from a good debate, gender is such a loaded subject that I found it quite intimidating to write about. In the end, I decided it was enough to just draw people’s attention to the imbalance and leave other to discuss what this means and what should be done about it.

The article begins with some numbers:

The last three decades have seen increasingly more women in the profession of architecture, but the number of women entering the field of design technology remains disproportionately small. Statistics released by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture show that women make up slightly more than 40 percent of architectural graduates in 2013 (up from 25 percent in 1985); 25 percent of designers in the profession; and 18 percent of major design awardees in the 2010s (up from 3 percent in the 1980s). Yet women account for only 5 percent of technology directors at American architecture firms, according to ZweigWhite’s 2013 information technology survey.

The majority of the article is spent confirming the ZweigWhite statistics and discussing why they matter. In short: computers are changing design and, in general, these computers tend to be controlled by men. The connection is obvious but it tends to be overlooked by the people studying the architectural profession. I argue that this connection is critical in understanding the profession because awards and registration rates show us what the profession was like, but who is controlling technology shows us where the industry is going:

The common failure is that we still tend to see technology as circuits and software, and auxiliary to architecture. The fast pace of technological development sharply contrasts that of the slow progression towards gender equity. As a result, we often discuss diversity in architecture by looking backwards at accomplishments and accolades when we should be looking ahead at the future leaders and disruptors in the industry. For now, many of architecture’s most significant changes are coming from the male-dominated world of architectural technology. At a time when many people are championing equality, nearly all have failed to see that significant changes have been anything but equitable.

Read the full article here. Thanks to Wanda Lau for editing the article, William Wong for making the hero image, and everyone I spoke to while I was trying to get my head around the gender of design technology.

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