Rosa Sheng Wants To Know Why So Few Leaders In Architecture Are Women

By Wanda Lau
May 14, 2014, ARCHITECT

Rosa Sheng, the chairperson of The Missing 32% Project wants to know why so few leaders in architecture are women.

It’s no secret that men outnumber women in the design profession, and even more so in senior leadership roles. But where did the women architecture students go? This winter, The Missing 32% Project, an organization with roots in AIA San Francisco, asked why architecture firms are largely headed by men and what firms can do to promote equity. Nearly 2,300 people—60 percent women, 40 percent men—responded to the online survey. Results are due out this summer. Chairperson Rosa Sheng, AIA, a senior associate in Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s San Francisco office, spoke with ARCHITECT on the challenges women face in the profession.

Explain the name The Missing 32%.
Based on information from AIA National a few years ago, in the United States, women represent about 50 percent of students enrolled in architecture programs, but only 18 percent of licensed architects. Since that original statistic, the actual number is a moving target, so the number 32 itself is less of a significant factor, [but more a representation of] the large percentage of women who are not getting licensed, being supported, or advancing into leadership positions in traditional firm structures.

We chose the name The Missing 32% as a jarring [reminder] that the number should be closer to 50/50. It also serves as an activist-oriented call to action for both women and men who mutually believe that equitable practice is critical to advancing architecture as a profession.

What are the survey’s goals?
The survey is trying to figure out where choke points occur in the progression of one’s career path as an architect—mainly for women, but for men as well. One of them is licensure, which I think is kind of a non-factor … but when you couple that with the biological clock, and people begin having families, [it’s easy to get] distracted. Many firms require that you get licensed in order to advance, which makes sense for liability reasons. Read more…

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