Breaking Barriers: Gender Parity Experiences of Indian Architects and Architecture Students

Two months after its official launch, the Gender Parity team brings a few findings from its ongoing survey Gender Parity: Architecture Profession in Post-Binary India.

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We are all affected (professionally and personally) by the prevalent gender constructs and sanctions that society imposes on us…it also dictates how we behave and interact with each other, how we work and how we create the design spaces around us.

Rajshree Rajmohan (Moderator, Panel Discussion: Equal Footing)

After two eventful months of the Gender Parity: Architecture Profession in Post-Binary India initiative, this article encapsulates our journey so far. Gender Parity was conceptualised with the conviction that the profession needs to equip itself to accommodate all genders. This conviction was solely based on personal first-hand and second-hand experiences and oral narratives- not validated by any statistical data at the Pan-India level.

But, two months on, we now have more than just statistical data- Anecdotes that encouraged us to introspect, thought-provoking incidents and quantitative data- every day has been a learning experience for the Gender Parity team. We are more aware, more learned and more sure of the need for this initiative. And, in this learning trajectory, the narration of your experience has prompted us to write this article in the middle of our survey.

Along with going through hundreds of your responses to our survey, we have been interacting with several architects from different parts of the country, identifying with different genders and belonging to various generations. Some negated the existence of gender disparity, some connected with it personally, and some encouraged us to look beyond statistics. 

For every person who shared their scepticism with us regarding the existence of gender inequality and the need for an initiative dedicated to it, we have a story. We have the experience of one of India’s most renowned female architects trying to convince her architect father about her passion for mainstream architecture thirty years back. We have the story of a female academician’s journey of dealing with sexist humour and gender bias in Architecture Academia. We have a trans man, assigned female at birth, narrating his experience witnessing privileged treatment due to his now male identity.

For me, it is a positive effect considering they don’t know me as a transgender person. I think male privilege is real as I pass easily as a male.

From the Freelancers/Self-employed form

Quantitatively speaking, based on our survey’s overall findings, for every person who discarded the existence of gender inequality, we have two who pointed out its existence. While 64% of our respondents agreed to the presence of gender inequality within the profession, of which 94% cited males as the dominating gender, 72% agreed that gender disparity exists in Architecture Academia. These numbers corroborated what we had concluded our first article with- the conviction that gender disparity indeed exists within the profession.

“In India, the gender disparity is so subtly there and evident through the years that for the 21-year-old Anuj, it would have been difficult to look between the lines and identify that there is a problem. It is so common and natural that most men do not notice the wrong in it.”

– Anuj Kale, Leewardists

The article from this point forth will be more your words than ours- because your experiences in your own words represent the need for this initiative better than our sentences could.

Gender Dominance

We are now familiar with the fraction of our respondents who believe that gender disparity is indeed a reality in Architecture. Of the practising architects who agreed, 94% cite the male gender to be the dominating gender in Architectural Practice.

Being a female founder of the company, I still have to hire a male civil engineer for clients to take me seriously because apparently “females are made interior designing” and it’s really demeaning!! 

From the Principal Architects/Co-Founder/Partner form

Gender bias in the architectural field is heavily influenced by external factors. On-site workers, contractors, clients, and stakeholders continue to believe in gender-defined roles.

Male clients tend to inquire from my male partner while conducting any research/asking structure-related questions, while at the same time, they tend to rely on me to speak to their wives/daughters to make interior-related decisions.

From the Freelancers/Self-employed form

Gender-Defined Roles

From preferring males for on-site duties to considering females more suited for specific verticals, the consensus regarding architects’ deliverables based on gender continues to impact an architect.

The attitude of clients change- they are not convinced that females can handle site visits, slab scrutiny etc. Many times females can’t handle malpractice like taking and giving bribes. If kids are taken to sites then there is a very strange attitude of all people on site.

From the Freelancers/Self-employed form

“Preference of males for site work”, “clients requesting for a male site supervisor”, “males being preferred for dealing with labour”, and “clients being more comfortable with a senior male architect”- 38% of the respondents to our employees form stated that their gender impacts the responsibilities assigned to them.

Males are more ready to travel out of the station for work deployment or site visits.

From the Principal/Co-Founder/Partner form

In professional practice, female representation also continues to rely on societal norms and gender-defined roles- which provide a discouraging environment for working females, especially mothers. Ritu Gulati, an academician and practising architect from Lucknow, narrates her experience of how she would feel uncomfortable bringing her children to formal work environments.

I never took my children to work; I only took them in an informal environment. I used to feel that I would be judged and my image might take a beating.

Ar Ritu Gulati, in Lead by Example: Ar. Ritu Gulati on Women in Architecture

Men dominate the positions of power- the systems in place often deny representation of another gender. Many argue that it is offering positions based on an individual’s experience. But then, if you do not give a chance to another gender in the first place, how would you know if they are capable of that position or not?

– Shreya Khandekar, Leewardists

Gender-Bias in Academia

Unlike Professional Practice, females have better representation in Architecture Academia. However, our interactions with academicians made us realize that gender bias is subtly yet deeply engrained in Academia.

The discrimination is mostly indirect, subtle at the surface level but deeply rooted and normalized.

From the Academicians Form

In Academia, gender bias extends beyond teaching. Students of Architecture often face their first instance of gender discrimination in architectural school.

An all-male preliminary internal jury did not find my topic/ research on the Centre for WOMEN EMPOWERMENT good enough to be a thesis proposal. Of the two jurors, one refused to believe that crimes against women go unreported most of the time, even after being presented with relevant data from the Govt. Of India… Had to struggle a lot to finish my research-based thesis proposal, only to be ignored by another all-male jury that didn’t even bother looking at my sheets, after hearing the topic in the final Thesis Review.

Anonymous comment from the Freelancers/Self-employed survey form

From a different set of rules for different genders to preferential treatment to ruling out a few research topics- gender bias/discrimination/harassment exists in varied forms in a student’s life. A significant number of comments that we received from students mentioned a female being judged based on her clothes.

After a sexual assault allegation, strict dress codes for women were applied- no ‘thin single strap’ tops or shorts. Curfew time in the girls’ hostel is 8 PM while the boys’ hostel curfew is 10 PM but relaxed.

From the Students Form

This judging, linked to a student’s physical appearance, contributes towards making the educational space unsafe.

People, mostly faculties judge you and treat you differently based on your appearance.

From the Students  form

Within an institute’s premise, in our survey, a shocking 75% of students, out of those who found some institutional spaces unsafe, cited teaching spaces (studios, classrooms, labs, library) as unsafe.

(In college) There was a student who didn’t identify as cisgender and I would see what issues they were facing…I could see the students making fun of them. And male professors would be addressing them very differently- not in a nice way. There was always some sort of mischief, comicness in their tone. And, that did not feel like a comfortable space.

Achal Dodia, Panel Discussion: Equal Footing

Representation of the Non-Cis Genders

There is no mechanism to discuss the non cis genders. But now I would like to discuss this. In 20 years of practising architecture, I have never come across a person identifying outside cis male or female.  

Vijay Narnapatti, Co-founder and Partner, Maya Praxis

For architects who do not identify as cis-genders, the representation on record is a minuscule percentage. Between 2016 and 2021, only three students identifying as transgender graduated from Architectural School.

No real exposure or access to enby or queer designers for me to develop or learn better, or even form groups (formal/informal) that would help other queer people in my college or just make people more sensitive towards the matter.

From the Students form

As reflected in our stats, over 80% of our respondents have never interacted with a non-cis architect or architecture student. Most of the architects we interacted with pointed out similar experiences. We know this representation is low, but to accommodate all genders- the first step is to acknowledge their presence. 

Nobody imagines a classmate, a co-worker, or a friend when they think of a trans person because we did not make space for them.

Jaya Nila, Double Identities and Secrets: Onto a Journey of Self-acceptance with an Architect

The Gender Parity Survey

This survey (Click here to Participate) is to provoke people to think, introspect and acknowledge. We are not attempting to simplify a complex subject. We aim to bring forward the loopholes, introduce gender-positive policies adopted by certain organizations in India and collate data regarding the representation of different genders across different verticals.

It is to disclose that 28% of our respondents stated infrastructure, as basic as toilets, lacked gender-sensitive amenities.

Toilets placed within staffroom. Can hear noises while using the loo. Not private. Safe but privacy issues and uncomfortable to use hence.

From the Academicians form

It is to educate the architects and students of architecture, like the 73% of our respondents who have experienced sexual/gender harassment/discrimination but were never able to confide and formally report, about the laws and the follow-up steps. It is to highlight the need to include gender-based workshops.

Staff room, corridors

A respondent to the Academicians form on being asked if there are any spaces within their institution’s premise that make them feel unsafe

This survey is a reference for the 47% of our respondents who said that their organization lacked policies regarding gender parity.

Change begins at home. Like our firm didn’t wait for policies to be made by an external authority/organization… Only when we open our doors and truly believe in everyone being equal, can we call ourselves an inclusive society.

From the Employed Architects form

I introduced flexible timings, made the studio child friendly and started a paternity paid break after I joined in 2010. Women staff were encouraged to join back after their break for childbirth and maternal care. Studio benefited greatly.

From Principal Architects/Co-Founders/Partner form

Lastly, this survey is to learn, adjudicate and adopt.

Much more needs to be done, and it needs to start from our design studios. Educating clients and contractors to be gender sensitive is an ongoing daily process. We must persevere despite the odds.

From Principal Architects/Co-Founders/Partner form

Featured image credits: Getty Images

The Gender Parity: Architecture Profession in Post-Binary India aims to identify loopholes hindering gender inclusivity and gauge the community’s attitude regarding gender parity. This analysis and its accuracy depend upon the number of respondents to our Gender-Parity Survey- a Pan-India attempt to collect data that could help us promote an environment that embraces gender inclusivity within the architecture profession.

We need your support to be able to continue with this initiative, which we hope will greatly benefit architecture profession in India. Please follow the link below to

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