On International Women’s Day this year (8 March 2018), the influential architecture and design website Dezeen launched an initiative called Move the Needle. The campaign was designed to publicise issues of gender equality in the fields of architecture and design, with the ultimate aim of shifting the balance of power in a male-dominated industry where there is a strong sense that improvements in gender equality are taking place too slowly. Apart from the urgent need to redress the gender pay gap in these fields, Move the Needle also addresses imbalances in the representation of women at top levels in the workplace, at architecture events, in industry organisations, on the judging panels of industry awards and among recipients of prizes.
The initiative arose after Dezeen conducted a survey of the diversity in management among the world’s 100 biggest architecture firms last year. The survey found that among these firms “only one in 10 senior positions are occupied by women, and that 16 per cent of firms have no women in their management teams”.
The survey report adds: “Our research shows that the percentage of women decreases steadily at each ascending tier of management. Across all senior and middle management tiers in all 100 companies, women hold 18 per cent of positions.”
As Africa’s largest architectural studio and the only African representative on the BD 2018 World Architecture 100, UK architecture journal Building Design’s annual survey of the world’s top 100 largest architecture firms, Boogertman + Partners was eager to engage with Move the Needle.
In early 2017 Boogertman + Partners, which employs 96 registered architects among a staff of 260, voluntarily began on a comprehensive exercise to assess levels of equality in the company and embarked on a process of transformation to redress imbalances.
Boogertman + Partners saw Move the Needle not only as an opportunity to publicly commit to change as an industry leader, but also as a chance to bring local challenges to the ongoing debate on a global level.
To stimulate conversation and debate on the pay gap issue particularly, Dezeen created a quick, simple online gender pay gap calculator that helps companies work out whether they pay men more than women. The calculator represents the disparity as a percentage.
“Measuring the gender pay gap provides a transparent mechanism for benchmarking gender imbalances that go beyond tokenism,” says Bob van Bebber, director at Boogertman + Partners. “It is the best starting point to begin addressing the problem proactively and consistently.”
Boogertman + Partners found that, according to Dezeen’s online calculator, it pays women 19 percent less than male employees. The firm was initially surprised at the figure because it was higher than they had expected. Van Bebber points out that, after last year’s comprehensive benchmarking process, Boogertman + Partners created a detailed structure of job categories for its 96 architects with corresponding salary brackets. “We assessed every employee in the firm, considering his or her qualifications, how long they’d been qualified, how long they had worked for the company, years of experience, and so forth,” says Marlene Krause, Employment Equity Manager and Financial Director. “When we look at what we’re paying and who we’re paying, we do not consider race or sex.”
Further analysis revealed not only that the figure compared favourably with global industry leaders, but also that transforming the industry needs to go beyond closing the gender pay gap alone.
(Foster + Partners, for example, the first major global architecture studio to join the initiative, the UK biggest architectural firm and one of the top 10 in the world, reported that a calculation of its average salaries revealed a mean 23.8 per cent gender pay gap. Its more detailed Gender Pay Report, however, made the distinction between mean and median, and reported that it “pays women 10.5 per cent less per hour than men, based on the median of its staff’s salaries”. The median is a calculation based on the middle earner in a company. AECOM, one of the world’s largest global architecture and engineering firms, announced that its “median pay for women at the company is 21.9 per cent lower than men, while the mean is 21.5 per cent lower.” In the field of architecture in UK, the gender pay gap in architecture is approximately 24 percent, which lags behind the UK national average of 18 percent.) In South Africa the national average is 27%. (Source: IPSOS Pulse of the People report 2017.)
“The result of our engagement with Move the Needle made it clear to us that the real issue we face is not an equal pay issue, because hour for hour, men and women receive equal pay at Boogertman + Partners, but an issue of transformation at all levels,” says van Bebber. “In our own journey of transformation, we believe that real, meaningful change must go deeper.”
Boogertman + Partners believes that in its aim to achieve diversity and gender equality, particularly at senior levels, a more sustained process needs to be encouraged, ensuring fairness and the promotion of merit, irrespective of gender, while also driving meaningful, sustainable transformation. In the company’s Johannesburg office alone, five of the last seven staff appointments have been women.
Boogertman + Partners also addresses other issues in architecture that lead to the attrition of many women architects before they attain senior roles, such as difficulties balancing childcare with the time pressures of the architectural field. Its Johannesburg office has dedicated childcare available for company employees and to those of some neighbouring companies, run by the company itself.
“Boogertman + Partners is committed to providing the necessary support at every level, from entry into the industry with appropriate mentorship, to addressing real lifecycle challenges like motherhood and including creche facilities to support young families,” says Van Bebber. “These are pragmatic demonstrations of support that are then furthered by organisational equity principles.”
Boogertman + Partners’ commitment to industry transformation goes beyond its own back yard. The company has a large bursary programme, which supports 11 students a year, the company also runs the annual Boogertman + Partners Design Scholarship Awards Africa, a competition that awards a scholarship valued at R140 000 over two years, and includes an individual mentorship programme for the duration of the recipient’s studies. Members of the company are SACAP registered mentors, contributing actively to development and transformation of minorities.
“While it is undeniable that there is inequality in the architectural profession worldwide,” says Van Bebber, “it is most important that the necessary changes are made with a proper understanding of their complexity so that real, lasting change is achieved. Doing that on a basis of equal pay for equal work is a necessary foundation of that change.”
He adds that Boogertman + Partners hopes that by taking up Dezeen’s challenge and publicising its score on Move the Needle’s online calculator, it will help lead the way and affect a broader change in the fields of architecture and design in South Africa and Africa.