Women In Architecture: Early Insights and Reflections

By Whynde Kuehn

Women In Architecture (WIA) is a global initiative with the mission to accelerate the pathway for women in architecture to amplify the impact of the discipline worldwide. WIA celebrated its one-year anniversary at the end of 2023, making it an opportune time for reflection.Whynde Kuehn

I am privileged to serve as chair for this great initiative. Over the past year, I have led or participated in a variety of events, workshops, panels, and conversations with architecture and transformation teams and communities globally. Together we have opened a new conversation, creating awareness and momentum to drive action and change.

I am immersed in a learning journey of my own, but here are some of my insights and reflections gained from these experiences so far.

We share a common understanding of the current reality.

The statistic that catalyzed the WIA journey was that only around 10% of enterprise architect roles are performed by women.[1] Sharing this data point with a group typically produces a moment of astonishment followed by discussions acknowledging its reflection of their own personal experiences and team composition.

This statistic also elicits a strong reaction that the current lack of women in the architecture profession is not a fair representation of the world population and it is unacceptable. The need for diversity is magnified by the fact that architecture, in today’s complex, interconnected, and digital world, requires a broader spectrum of ideas, perspectives, approaches, talents, and experiences to thrive.

The root causes for the lack of women in architecture are becoming clearer.

The question of why there so few women in architecture is a key one in our minds. Rather than dwelling on the negative, the conversations focus on identifying the root causes to help us move into action effectively.

I have learned that the answer to this question is incredibly nuanced and layered, with many interrelated factors. Some root causes for fewer women in architecture draw from the macro level context, including a similar set of challenges experienced by women in technology. However, one of the biggest contributors is the architecture profession itself and how it is presented. This has been a hard truth that has asserted itself as a common thread throughout the conversations. For example, the lack of clarity regarding the role and value proposition of architecture, often perceived as abstract, technical, and unattainable, poses a substantial barrier.

The women in architecture movement is coinciding with a shift in what the architecture role and profession need most.

However, there is a powerful correspondence between the momentum for more diversity in architecture and exactly what the profession needs most now. For architects of the future to thrive, it’s not enough to excel at cognitive, architectural, and technical competencies, but just as important to master the human competencies such as communication, influence, leadership, and emotional intelligence.

The perception that one must be a technology expert has been a key barrier preventing women from entering the role. However, with the pace of technological change and advancement, the emphasis is shifting towards one’s ability to learn and adapt to new technologies, collaborate, and to drive business outcomes.

In addition, greater diversity in architecture can help to unite the profession and enable it to connect with a much broader set of stakeholders to deliver business value.

Expanding women in architecture roles towards an equal balance is entirely possible.

Considering the addressable root causes and the passion behind this movement, it is entirely possible for the architecture profession to achieve an equal balance of women and men. This means more people in architect roles over time, which also helps to address capacity needs.

While interventions are necessary at all levels, including schools and universities, one of the greatest things we as individuals can do is to act with intent. For example, start a conversation with your team and commit to courses of action that help support and expand the female architects on the team. Share an opportunity with a woman in architecture and encourage her to act on it. Serve as a role model, mentor, advocate, or sponsor for a woman in architecture. What may seem like a small step for you can be life-changing and even profession-changing.

We believe in the power of diversity.

I have been inspired and overwhelmed by the excitement and heartfelt support for WIA, and the bold and visible leadership within the architecture community worldwide. We are unified around a belief in diversity of thought and talent, and we know the increased strength and impact it will bring to the architecture profession. We are focused on tangible action and outcomes. We lift each other up. We want to be an example for other professions to learn from.

In our conversations, success for WIA is often described as the day when it is no longer needed, because diversity in architecture will have become the norm. We have an opportunity for the entire architecture community to come together – leveraging our own diversity to build unity and harness the full power of architecture to make a difference for our organizations, societies, and world.

How can you get involved with WIA?

Learn more: https://thewomeninarchitecture.org/

Join the community (free): https://bit.ly/join-WIA

Contact us to become a sponsor or share your talent: contactus@thewomeninarchitecture.org

Whynde Kuehn, Founder and Managing Director of S2E Transformation

Whynde is recognized globally as a highly sought-after pioneer, thought leader, and educator in business architecture, with a distinguished track record of creating successful strategic business architecture teams worldwide. She has worked with an extensive array of organizations to build their capacity for end-to-end strategy execution, including Fortune 500 and global enterprises, governmental and non-profit organizations, social enterprises, startups, and cross-sector initiatives. Whynde is creator of Biz Arch Mastery, a dedicated online platform that helps professionals master the art and science of business architecture. She is co-founder of the Business Architecture Guild and a fellow with the Institute for Digital Transformation. Whynde is author of the book Strategy to Reality and co-author of The Execution Challenge. She is co-founder and chair of the Women In Architecture (WIA) global initiative.

[1] Based on the data here: https://www.zippia.com/enterprise-architect-jobs/demographics/#gender-statistic indicating that 12.3% of enterprise architect roles are performed by women. While limited, we still believe that the data is directionally accurate and generally indicative of the gender gap across all domains of enterprise architecture worldwide. For example, this same source states that women comprise 28.5% of business architects, 6.2% of software architects and 18.8% of data architects.