Recent studies show that while leadership position for women have been slowly growing over the past few years, things are still far from ideal. An Australian survey shows that women’s growth in top management positions has improved, with up to 16.3% of CEO positions being filled in 2015-2016.
But what does that mean when it comes to a male dominated profession like Landscape Architecture?
While there certainly has been a dramatic change in the employment-scape of landscape architecture, the role of women is still on the fence. Adam Greenspan (president of the Landscape Architecture Foundation and PWP Landscape Architecture partner) pointed out at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting that while all the signatories to the 1966 LAF Declaration of Concern were men, the recent 2016 LAF draft had 48% women.
But that does it really change the fact that there still seems to be some discrimination out in the field? Every single day, a woman landscape architect battles against several gender-related hurdles. All of them are exacerbated by the male-dominated culture of this industry. So, what’s the women’s perspective on this dilemma?
Michelle Arab, director of landscape architecture at Olson Kundig firmly stated, “We’re missing women.” She deftly pointed out that only 36% of ASLA members were women, out of which, only 20% were fellows. “I never wanted to be a woman designer; I just wanted to be a designer,” Arab said, marking her statement with the fact that often times, she’s the only woman in a roomful of sixteen people.
On the other hand, Akiko Ono, associate at Shades of Green Landscape Architecture was of the perspective that many of the roles within this field already have very specific gendered connotations. This can end up defining the career path of both male and female candidates in the field. She proved her point by stating simple facts: the residential genre is the largest source of practice in landscape architecture, but it’s the urban-level projects that gather all the accolades. She suggested that this may be because domestic landscapes are associated with femininity while the larger projects herald male ideals.
Michelle Crowley, one of the founding principal’s of Crowley Cottrell stated her opinion in a completely different light. She likened her experience in the field to be influenced by a number of cultural factors and values. Since, her approach to landscape architecture is very all encompassing and considerate of all parties involved, she was dubbed as maternal.
“… I began showing a counter-culture approach to staff, clients, and contractors. I showed a more vulnerable side, admitted mistakes, listened to contractors, and may have agreed to give up something in the design that was proving hard to build,” said Michelle. “…I was told I was too maternal, which I took to mean nurturing, protective, caring, kind, and comforting… Instead of changing my own behavior, I chose to start my own firm.”
Aside from that, one of the major challenges faced in the field of landscape architecture is parenting. While this remains the key factor between the persistent pay gap between genders, the cultural side-effects are just as important. For a woman practicing landscape architecture, the firm-culture of working nights and weekends makes it hard for working women to maintain a ‘suitable image.’
Ono is of the perspective that motherhood can enrich your life to be more compassionate and personal, which can actually be an aid while designing the build environment. Arab reflected a similar sentiment, saying that having her son was a defining moment, and wheeling his stroller around allowed her a whole new perspective within the design. Even now, when her son is older, he still helps her look things in a new way.
Adam Greenspan says that, “…the composition of the field is changing, and the identities and voices coming up in the profession are more varied than they were 50 years ago.” His dedication to help the discipline grow and change is definitely a bright spot in an otherwise challenging profession.