Ritu Gulati

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

The Lucknow Architecture Festival was held from 04th November to 06th November 2022. The event's second day saw a panel discussion on 'Architecture & Design: Women in Business'. Post the panel discussion- we had a conversation with its moderator, Ar. Ritu Gulati, on women in architecture.
Ritu Gulati

We (Women) are not trying to prove that we are the better race; we are just trying to prove that we are worth it.

Ar. Ritu Gulati, Lucknow-based Architect and Academician

At the Lucknow Architecture Festival, Lucknow-based Ar. Ritu Gulati discussed with us the state of women in the architectural profession over the decades.

Nearly 50% of registered architects in India are women. Of this 50%, only 20% are practising architects. Why does this percentage, which starts as a balanced ratio at the academic level, drastically come down at the professional level?

Day 2 of the Lucknow Architecture Festival (LAF) witnessed a panel discussion on Women in Architecture in which five women architects from different generations of practising architects discussed the environment they practised and have been practising in. Post the panel discussion, we reached out to its moderator, Lucknow-based architect and academician Dr Ritu Gulati, to discuss the state of women architects in the field over the decades, how society is still struggling to accommodate ambitious women and why she believes that we should begin with women learning to own their praise.

From the Panel Discussion, we realized that a lot of prejudice is involved, especially at the government level. However, changing times seem more progressive for women in architecture, given the state the profession was in a few decades ago. PWD’s chief architect and the first woman to hold the post, Ar. Sabeena Singh mentioned the presence of only three women architects in the department at the time of her joining (1991). 

We are in the process of change. Sabeena started thirty years ago, and there was a lot of prejudice in terms of how people looked at women in the profession and how they brought children to work.

Women were expected to behave, act and look like men. And if they didn’t, then it was a problem. This was because, women being the minority, the majority were not like them.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

While women bringing children to work was frowned upon, the younger generation of architects seems more embracive about this. In another panel discussion, Unfolding Architecture X: Future Trajectories, Devyani Dayal, a young architect and co-founder of Lucknow-based Prayogshalaa, mentioned taking her children to site visits, client meetings etc.

With Devyani (Dayal) stating that she brings her children to the site, I see a positive change. Women are now comfortable taking their children to work, but when I started 25 years ago, I was hesitant. I was under the impression that if I took my child to the office, to the site, people would judge me and my professionalism. Now, women are comfortable enough to say that they (their children) are a part of their identity, and they move with them- as more people start embracing this, it will become the norm.

I never took my children to work; I only took them in informal environment. I used to feel that I would be judged and my image might take a beating. But now the women are more frank and unabashed about it- it is a welcome change. This is what women empowerment is all about. It is not about behaving like men- it is about owning your feminine identity and doing your job.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

When I joined teaching, there was only one woman, and the atmosphere of the staff room was quite different from what it is now. Our senior professors and faculty members resorted a lot to sexist humour. It was not very comfortable for us because they’d be talking about the clothes that we wear and our weight- a professor called me out for working during my pregnancy by saying that “Madam, now you should take leaves. Even your figure is bad, now”. We didn’t know how to respond to such humour. But now, there is more awareness about what can be said and what shouldn’t be said.

Today, in our department, we have a lot of women with young children, and we encourage them. There is no disturbance in terms of any perceptive notion that you should have a caregiver at home.

But institutes are still uncomfortable with being headed by a woman- they hate women bosses. This could be because women are more output-oriented than men- they have less time to spare for politics, gossip or waste. They focus on getting the work done, thereby often being cited as sticklers. 

On the academic front, women in today’s time have started balancing out the men, but the disparity exists amongst practising architects, especially at the government level.

I think Sabeena (Singh) has been able to take this with a pinch of salt and smile through the sexist humour. We have been slightly more fortunate- there initially was the sexist humour, but we were able to surmount that and prove that we are able, competent and achievers. It is all about the majority-minority. If you are a minority on any front, you are judged.

I believe women in architecture face lesser prejudice than engineers, where the number is overwhelmingly in favour of men. So PWD departments are in a worse position than architectural firms in terms of women representation. But, if you have more women on board, you will start considering it as the norm.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

We should encourage more women to practice, join offices, to work. Probably, the divide of women hating women will also go once everyone is on the same platform. 

The situation is improving, but we still have a long way to go, especially in north India, where people do not know how to deal with women and treat them as equals. They are either considered an object of desire or a domestic person. 

So, I tell the women around me to start by respecting themselves. One needs to let people around one know what is acceptable and what isn’t. Draw the line so that people are aware that they cannot mess with you.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

This attitude needs to be adopted by a majority of women, who lead by example.

For women to lead, they need to firmly establish themselves in a profession where men, especially outside their office, seldom seem to consider them the voice of command.

When I started my practice, I would accompany my husband to the sites. I was always somewhere in the background because the contractor would discuss the drawings and the site work with my husband. Even now, when I go to government sites, the project manager asks me to be careful or avoid going to certain parts of the site, stating that my feet and my clothes would get dirty. But, I take the extra effort to go- just to prove him that I can.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

So, there is a prejudice in the working community.

Women are either too aggressive or too feminine, both with negative connotations. So, can we have a balanced picture?

Ar. Ritu Gulati

If you look at the Architectural Fraternity, opinionated women are not liked much. Men feel intimidated by powerful women. Coy women, who smile at every joke of the senior architect, are better liked. 

Ar. Ritu Gulati

Along with this mindset, the environment remains a major discouraging factor- cities are often considered an unsafe space for women to traverse alone during late hours.

If we look at the exhibition sites and expos- we would see fewer women working at night. A lot of my friends are practising in Delhi, and they are not comfortable with staying back late during these exhibitions. Our parents are not instilling that fearlessness in children, especially in north India. We have to equip the child to be able to tackle a situation. The solution is not to ‘not go out’. 

Even in our hostels, the curfew for girls is 8 pm; this is very impartial because the boys come in at 10. We proposed for the girls to be allowed within the campus, but the parents reached out and asked us to ensure that they were in the hostel by 8. So, the fear exists.

And for this generation, the problem is the phone- when it is given to juveniles who do not know what to do with their sexuality. If you look at the stats, a significant number of crimes against women occur in the 14-18 age group, especially in backward regions. We should prioritize our rural youth more than the urban. Both are being fed the same media but the latter, due to societal restrictions, resorts to force.

Tackling these issues, the number of practising women architects in India has been observing a gradual increase. This increase in the representation of women architects encouraged the Architects’ Associations based out of Lucknow to consider the possibility of forming a women architect’s association. But, Ritu staunchly disapproves of the creation of such an association.

I am an architect, not a ‘woman’ architect. You cannot limit the association to just about 50 women architects in the city. I am as good as men, even better, because I do not carry their arrogance- a lot of times you will gulp your ego inside to make the other person feel better.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

Lately, the Council of Architecture has been encouraging women in architecture by having established a committee dedicated to the issues women face in the field. We asked Ar. Ritu about her views on this initiative of the Council.

I know that something exists, but there hasn’t been a lot of information regarding it. It is a very valuable step because, in offices, women are still facing problems. 

I have had girls come to me and say that they are expected to be on-site with the project managers, handle the clients and be the face of the office. But, they are not comfortable with these.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

So, if the Council is doing something about this, it is a welcome step.

This committee should be marketed aggressively. It should make a statement that if you misbehave with a woman, you will face repercussions. This (the committee’s presence) should hold them back from misbehaving with a woman. 

Ar. Ritu Gulati

The Council should analyse its team- there is only one woman (CoA Vice President, Ar. Sapna). It should lead by example and be very vocal about it.

Women are still not considered at par with men in every branch of architecture. For Ar. Ritu, the foundation for this cycle of unequal treatment lies in one’s house.

Making sons believe that they are not entitled to take up certain duties because they are a woman’s job is the beginning of this cycle. We are making our daughters more ambitious and more opportunity-oriented but not teaching our sons to accept that the woman is an achiever. 

At the student level, there is a skewed ratio. When there is a larger number of male teachers, they will favour female students and vice-versa. When we were studying, there was a higher ratio of male teachers, so women were believed to be favoured for more marks. Now things have been changing. 

But, at the school level, we should establish that equality is not the same as favouritism. So if he/she can achieve this, why can’t I? That spirit needs to reflect on the professional side as well- women need to make it clear that they do not want to stay relegated in the background. 

Ar. Ritu Gulati

There are a lot of women practitioners who are running every aspect of their practice, but the face of the practice remains a man- the man collects the awards, is the media’s face, and gives presentations.

On the government front, we need to stop being guilty of our achievements.

If someone praises our work, we often reply, “No, it’s all thanks to them.” We do not need to be uncomfortable with our achievements; we should own them.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

To give women equity, we have to elevate them at the Primary level, and the government has to ensure that this equity is achieved without bias. 

According to Ritu, a few regions seem to be more progressive about this equity than the majority part of the country.

Calcutta is a great place for women. Gujaratis are, I’d say, very liberated- the first time I saw women riding two-wheelers with men behind them was in Gujarat thirty years ago! In Maharashtra, even the smaller cities ensure that women are respected as professionals. 

In Lucknow, she cites Devyani’s husband and Prayogshalaa’s co-founder, Amit Kumar Dayal, for not shying from accepting his wife taking the lead.

Both of them (Amit and Devyani) were batchmates and my students. Of late, whenever I have met them, Amit always stated that Devyani is the boss and he does whatever she asks him to do. It is a welcome change that young people are not shying away from admitting this in public. But, there are many others from Amit’s batch and his juniors who hesitate from admitting- In the privacy of the house, it might often be said, but publicly they might not be so vocal.

There should absolutely be no hesitation in giving credit where deserved, regardless of one’s gender.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

Girls should not lose hope, back up and stop doing what they are doing. They should respect themselves, draw their boundaries and go ahead and work. 

We are not trying to prove that we are the better race; we are just trying to prove that we are worth it. The moment women start saying and believing that they are worth it, others will too.

Ar. Ritu Gulati

5 Responses

  1. Thankyou so much mam for upgrading, but I want to know about the point that after marriage ,if girls want to grow up in their ambition;but if her in laws stopped her at every level ,then how will she survive. In today’s generation, a word divorce is happening. Is it only a solution for an ambitious woman??
    Can you please throw some lights on how to tackle such situations because may be our maternal side may understand but they are not architects, they have not studied in an environment of Architecture.Infact, we have studied and that’s limited to our Architecture fraternity.

    How can we show up all these to our parents whether our real parents or our in laws.?
    This is main point where women had stopped practicing because of so called male dominant society and we became the victim of our fallen carrier.. It’s better be successful if u are alone or become successful if you have a partner who is also from same field.

    1. Yes shriya. I can understand your predicament…it depends on what you really want….if the balancing act suits you….happiness is more important than just career….you have to make the choice ….and move in that direction….slowly but steadily

  2. The opening quotation echoes what Mary Wollstonecraft said over a century ago, “We do not seek women’s power over men. We seek women’s power over themselves.”

  3. This is an important discussion and the article dives into into nuances.

    Often only women are drawn into these discussions and men are not.

    I am hoping that together we can create a more gender neutral world – where these discourses become archaic or irrelevant.

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