While the number of female students has steadily been growing in the last few decades the number of women working in architecture drops off quite rapidly midway through their career. There are many reasons why women leave the industry; high stress, poor work/life balance or lack of flexibility, but one of the key factors is their decision to start a family.
The larger responsibility of caring for children still lies with women and many assume that it is not possible to enjoy a career in architecture and raise a family. Even as a recognised and respected architect women often find it difficult to balance the demands of a professional career with the unending pull of family life. However it is not impossible.
As females we are blessed to be able to have children, however choosing to start a family does put women at a disadvantage career-wise.
Facing, what can be seen as, a setback in her career, an architect mum often finds herself left behind on re-joining the workplace after taking maternity leave or an extended break to look after her children. Existing projects have been delivered, new projects have come in or teams have been reassigned, all of which require a period of readjustment.
Sadly though, many will choose not to return to work or they opt for a part time position after giving birth. But since most traditional architectural firms do not offer flexible timings and demand long working hours, many architect mums choose to take a career break while their children are still young.
Whereas most male architects follow a straight and traditional career path, the architect mum has to be incredibly flexible dividing her time efficiently between the office and home if she chooses to go back to work. And this is where support within the workplace matters a lot when it comes to toggling between being an architect and being a mother. An increasing number of firms are beginning to provide the option of a part time solution or flexible timings for working mothers which can help alleviate some of the pressure and there are many different ways of doing this that can comfortably fit in with the company’s culture whether that is a change of start and finish times, reduced hours each day or working more hours over fewer days.
Female led offices are particularly good at providing the kind of structure that allows a working mother to continue to develop her career yet still be available when she needs to pick up her children from school or to work from home when one of her children are sick.
There are many architect mums actively juggling and sometimes even blurring the lines between their work and children, taking pride in carrying out the double role of a mother and an architect. It is never going to get easier, but at the end of the day there is nothing more rewarding than watching your children grow, your projects thrive and being able to share with your family the contribution you have made to the built environment.
By Christine Espinosa, Architect and Mother