Lebanon News

Why female architecture graduates are disappearing

(The Daily Star/HO)

Editor's note: Elie Haddad wrote a response to this article. In accordance with Lebanese law, The Daily Star has published it here.

BEIRUT: Although women make up the vast majority of architecture students in Lebanon, they are outnumbered nearly three to one in the workplace, statistics from schools and the Order of Engineers and Architects indicate.

So where are the women going after graduation?

The numbers suggest a few more have started entering the profession. A decade ago, women made up just 19 percent of architects registered with the OEA in Beirut; today, they number 27 percent.

All architects working in Lebanon must register with the OEA, though anecdotal evidence shows many don’t due to the high registration fee - LL3,945,000 ($2,600) per year at the entry level.

But if the OEA’s statistics are an accurate representation of working architects, that means there are still nearly three men for every woman working in the field.

This is despite the overwhelming number of female graduates. The Lebanese University cites 69 percent of their architecture students as women, and 64 percent of students studying architecture at the Lebanese American University are women. At the Academie Libanaise Des Beaux-Arts, just over half, 57 percent, of architecture students over the last five years were women. At the American University of Beirut, the three-to-one workplace ratio is inverted: 76 percent of the school’s 178 architecture students this term are women.

These numbers have seen a significant rise over the past decade - up 22 percentage points at LU, 11 at ALBA and 9 at AUB.

While more men than women entered the profession over the past decade according to the OEA numbers, that ought to flip with the rise in female students.

An average of 350 architects entered the workforce each year over the last decade. Assuming that number grows to 450, two-thirds of them women, and 50 men retire every year, it would still take 23.5 years for women to make up 50 percent of the workforce.

That is, even with a major increase in female participation, it could take an entire generation to reach gender parity in the workforce.

Elie Haddad, the dean of the School of Architecture and Design at LAU, does not see a problem with the imbalance.

“[The discrepancy] is historical, it’s part of the fact that the majority of students before 1990 were male. It’s the remnants of the old system,” he told The Daily Star.

Haddad says his university doesn’t think the gender gap in the field is of concern. “We don’t take affirmative action against [the gender gap], but then again we don’t see the need for affirmative action,” he says.

Others aren’t so sanguine.

“I had a hypothesis that maybe women don’t have the skills or confidence to open their own firms and be out there.

“I started my research to understand where the women in architecture are,” says Ramona Abdallah, founding member of Architects for Change and an ambassador for the international G(irls)20 initiative, of her research project, “Where are the women in architecture?”

Although her research is still in the early phases, preliminary findings show that female architects have to overcome more barriers than their male counterparts.

“We don’t learn how to deal with sexual harassment on the job. There are many things we are not taught how to deal with. Some of these [things], men don’t face,” she says.

Anastasia Elrouss, instructor of design at AUB and principal architect at Anastasia Elrouss Architects, says once a female student graduates and enters the workforce, she is suddenly faced with a host of gender-specific barriers.

“To my surprise, when I started filling out permits, everything is written in the Arabic grammar of a male. It’s [the male form of] ‘the engineer,’” she says of her experience at the start of her career.

“What strikes you at the beginning is you are one of the only women either on site or in a meeting room, at a material supplier, at a carpenter or artisanal shop. Everywhere you have contractors that are completely male-dominated.”

Research done by Warchee, an NGO founded by Elrouss, asked individuals working in the construction field about their views on women working in the sector.

Though most respondents - 81.8 percent - said they had positive attitudes toward women working in the field, the majority - 68.2 percent - also responded that “society negatively views women who work in the construction field.”

Elrouss believes the lack of acceptance of women in the field is connected to the disappearance of women after graduation. On top of that, the lack of role models and confidence among women also seem to be part of the reason women don’t find their way into the workplace.

“Being an instructor in design [at AUB], in the discourse you notice directly that women are more shy, even if they are really talented and skilled and they have worked so much more,” Elrouss says. “We need to push [women] more, we need to prepare them, we need to give them more confidence, we need to give them our opinion on what they lack in their presentation skills.”

But once women get their foot in the door, there’s another problem.

“There are indeed more women studying architecture now than before, but that doesn’t mean they are in leadership positions in architecture,” Abdallah says.

The OEA could not provide statistics regarding the number of men and women in leadership positions in architecture, but Abdallah’s preliminary research findings show that there is also a vertical gap between the male and female architects in Lebanon.

“I don’t care if 80 percent of architects are women. What we care about is women in leadership in architecture.

“The question is, how is the system contributing in gender roles and leadership opportunities?” she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2018, on page 3.




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