Benchmark Report 2023: Women in Canadian Architecture—An Update

Six years ago, I wrote an article for Canadian Architect entitled Because it’s 2017: Gender Diversity in Canada’s Architectural Profession (see CA, Jan 2017). It identified at least thirteen significant barriers to Canadian women architects achieving equity—from low or unequal pay and slower rates of promotion, to inflexible working hours and poor return-to-work training following parental leave. Despite women’s university enrolment and graduation rates for architecture exceeding 50 percent for many years, only 28.8 percent of employed architects at that time were women. Quebec was an outlier at 38 percent, a result my research attributed, at least in part, to the province’s earlier introduction of affordable daycare. This said, the tenor of the article was cautious optimism. Despite the consequential obstacles that remained, change was happening, and there was some evidence that major firms were taking action and that the rise of grassroots women in architecture groups across the country was having a noticeable impact.

In the half-decade since, a lot has happened. In particular, the #MeToo movement turned its attention with force to architecture, spurred by troubling allegations against prominent American architect Richard Meier. One outcome was the 2018 appearance of an anonymous list of abusive male architects bluntly titled “Shitty Architecture Men,” which included some Canadians. Although taken down quickly because of feared legal repercussions, it catalyzed numerous articles painting the profession in a very harsh light. 

In March of 2018, for example, S. Surface, a Seattle-based art, architecture and design curator, wrote in The Architect’s Newspaper: “As a compendium of case studies identifying specific behaviours as misconduct, the list rejects the normalization of bullying, coercion, and abuse of power as standard architecture culture.” More recently, in the wake of allegations of abuse levelled at starchitect David Adjaye earlier this year, The Observer’s Rowan Moore wrote a scathing assessment of both educational and work culture in the profession. This negative spotlight also coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic and its far-reaching impact on the economy, work arrangements and family care. 

But a brighter picture of the status of women in Canadian architecture emerges from looking at current gender-based data, including from Statistics Canada and the current Canadian Architectural Practices Benchmark Report. When the earlier article was written in 2017, the 2016 Canadian census data was not yet available, and the analysis was based on statistics from the earlier 2011 census. Now available are census employment data for both 2016 and 2021. 

What the data indicates: Architects by gender and province/territories, 2021    

The 2016 Census employment data reported that 33 percent of architects nationally were women. More current is the table above, which breaks out the numbers both nationally and by Province/Territory for 2021. (A caveat: The totals probably overestimate the number of registered architects. Whether this affects the gender ratios depends on whether people of one gender are more likely to be registered than the other.) The latest census indicates the national representation of women has now risen to 37.9 percent. PEI and Quebec are positive outliers with 60 percent and almost 48.8 percent representation, respectively. If Quebec is removed from the data, the combined representation for the other regions drops to 34.5 percent compared to 24.5 percent in 2011. Either way, the statistics indicate that women’s representation in architecture has improved around ten percent over the last decade.  

Architectural education, from undergrad to Master’s

It has been argued that while representation continues to improve in the profession, the rate of change does not reflect the graduation levels of women in accredited architecture schools in Canada. In 2021, the Canadian Architecture Certification Board (CACB) published a task force report entitled “Canadian Architectural Education, Accreditation, and Certification trends in a Changing Environment,” which provides extensive historical gender data on enrolment and graduation from both pre-professional degrees (Bachelor) and professional degrees (MArch) in eleven Canadian schools from 2003 to 2019.  

The CACB’s report found that for pre-professional programs in this period, the percentage of women’s enrolment fluctuated, but never dropped below 50 percent, and topped out at 63.6 percent in 2018-19. All schools, except Dalhousie, reported that women’s aggregate enrolment (each school summed for the full 16 years) exceeded 50 percent, with Laval and McGill at the top, with 65 percent. Women’s graduation rates fell below enrolment levels in nine years and exceeded enrolment in seven years; the total net loss appears to be marginal. Compared to men, women’s aggregate Bachelor graduation rates exceeded their enrolment representation in four schools: the University of Manitoba and the three Quebec schools (Laval, McGill and Université de Montréal).

When it comes to the Master’s degree, a requirement for the Apprenticeship Program leading to licensure exams and registration, however, the report indicates a larger drop-off in women relative to men between pre-professional graduation and enrolment in professional programs, even in 2018-19. Although in six of the 15 years covered by the study, women’s enrolment in professional degree programs exceeded 50 percent, overall, their rates fell short of women receiving pre-professional degrees. For the last four years of the study, the gap has averaged just over six percent per year. For those that did start professional degrees, however, women’s graduation rate exceeded their rate of enrolment half of the years, suggesting limited (if any) loss between enrolment and graduation. Over the full aggregated 16-year period, only Waterloo and again, the three Quebec schools, reported graduation rates for women over 50 percent.

From Master’s graduation to the internship program and licensure 

Another argument suggests an adverse effect for women during the transition from professional degree to licensure. Overall, we do not have the data to measure this key potential adverse impact. However, there is one exception: in 2023, the Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) reported that women constituted 43 percent of those achieving registration through the Internship in Architecture Program (IAP) in BC.

Positive indicators, however, can be found by examining a break-down of the 2021 census data on architecture employment by age groups and gender. This data indicates a growing wave of women entering the profession. As the graph above shows, nationally, the number of women architects under the age of 30 exceeds 60 percent. In the three largest provinces, Quebec and Ontario dip below 50 percent—and only barely for the former—for the 35 to 44 age group. BC lags slightly behind for those under 30, although it falls in line with the other two provinces from age 35 to 44 and up, suggesting there may be leakage in the transition from graduation to registration in that province. However, if we take the average Master’s graduation rate for women from 2011 to 2016, which averages 53 percent, and compare it with the percentage of 30-to-35-year-old women architects in the 2021 census at 53.8 percent, there is an argument that there is no leakage through apprenticeship, licensure and early careers.  

The 2023 Canadian Architectural Practices Benchmark Report offers some data addressing the question of whether unequal pay remains an issue. While sample sizes are low for individual staff categories, the survey data suggests that average salaries for the positions of senior architect, intermediate architect, junior architect, and intern architect are comparable for men and women.

Beyond the numbers

Missing, despite the above, are well-defined, verifiable data covering Apprenticeship Program uptake, licensure attainment and initial employment. Even less available is good data on advancement rates as well as statistics on firm ownership, principals and partners. To get a deeper picture of the current status of women in Canadian architecture, therefore, we undertook interviews with six experienced women architects who have also been strongly engaged in the gender equity in architecture movement. 

This included Kate Gerson, Associate Architect, Dialog Design, and Jessica Yarish, Associate Architect, dHKArchitects, both active leaders in Women In Architecture Vancouver; Heather Dubbeldam, Principal, Dubbeldam Architecture + Design and Jennifer Esposito, an Associate at Superkül and now an Assistant Professor at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), both active leaders in Building Equality in Architecture Toronto (BEAT); and Melissa Mazik, Associate Architect, B+H Architects as well as the subject matter expert for the RAIC’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion webinar. Finally, we also interviewed Annmarie Adams, Professor in the School of Architecture and Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, where she is currently teaching a course on women in architecture.

When asked about the barriers identified in the 2017 article, there was consensus that progress has taken place in removing many barriers, but the assessment of the level of that progress differed. From BC, Gerson and Yarish tended to emphasize the slowness of progress, with the latter reporting that an informal poll of women colleagues found that most suggested pasting the original 2017 list into this article. She provides, however, a more balanced conclusion: “I think people are more aware and are trying to address [those barriers]; but, I also think there are still problems in most firms.” They, along with Adams, believe that while progress has been made in the universities, this is not reflected by a correlating increase of women entering and staying in the profession. Conversely, Dubbeldam and Esposito, along with Mazik, believe pro­gress over the last six years has been considerable, although significant work remains. Dubbeldam, for example, says the movement to appren­ticeship, licensure and hiring has undergone significant positive change. 

There is some general agreement on where progress has been made. Equal pay is less of an issue, although Gerson warns stereotypes may still play a determining role. Women are now more likely to be treated equitably when it comes to assigned responsibilities, and being sidelined has diminished. More equitable mentorship, in part because of groups like BEAT and Women in Architecture Vancouver, is emerging, although still not fully realized. 

The pandemic, flexibility and leadership

Some have argued that Covid impacted women negatively by forcing them to undertake even greater childcare responsibilities; others, includ­ing Mazik, found the experience isolating in a profession increasingly built on teamwork. This said, the pandemic also introduced ideas of flexible work, including remote working. Both Gerson and Esposito report their firms have returned primarily to in-office work, but the idea of flexibility remains. According to Gerson, this increased flexibility is a real positive: “If you can work from home quite easily, then it gives more flexibility in terms of working hours as well.” Mazik agrees. As a parent, she leaves work as required, but logs on in the evening to make up for the time.

Mazik also reported another positive pandemic impact. She has found the informality introduced through Teams meetings and town halls, for example, “have helped humanize the relationships between leadership and staff. These alternate methods of team communicating have helped break down the traditional hierarchy perception of senior to junior and also provided opportunity for alternate ways to present and communicate our work,” she says.

But barriers to accessing partnership levels remain for women, including roadblocks related to leadership styles and communication skills. “There’s a perceived idea of how to be a leader,” says Esposito, “but [in reality] there’s lots of ways to be a leader in the profession.” Demon­strating different, but effective, leadership styles is now one of the focuses for BEAT.

Closely related is the skill of communication, and it’s a particular challenge for younger women to find an effective voice that still remains their own. Communication is a two-way street, however, where current biases tend to favour the “male voice.” Thus, says Dubbeldam, BEAT’s forums and workshops will continue to address communication skills while also seeking to broaden the definition of effective communication.  

Underlying many of these issues is the lingering presence of uncon­scious biases that either favour the male stereotype, or underestimate the specific competency levels of women architects. In the interviews, the issue of women architects’ technical expertise being underestimated was frequently mentioned. In reality, the increase in women in the profession has coincided precisely with the profession’s increasing technical requirements. Mazik, a graduate of the technology-focused program at TMU, finds the stereotype perplexing. “Our education was very technically focused, cultivating very technically skilled and knowledgeable women into the field. My female colleagues are also very adept in the technicalities and detailing of their work. We are also seeing many technically proficient women in senior roles on the client side.”

Bias is also suggested by the results of an Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) membership survey in 2023. Women respondents were somewhat less likely to feel included (69 percent) and supported (66 percent) than their male counterparts (at 75 percent and 72 percent, respectively). Conversely, they were more likely to report experiences of barriers (24 percent for women, to 15 percent for men) and discrimination (14 percent for women and seven percent for men).  

A significant dual change related to leadership over the past few years, according to Dubbeldam and Esposito, was first a big movement towards succession planning with younger people moving up into more senior roles, fairly rapidly coupled with broad implementation of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives. Almost all larger architectural practices have EDI committees and EDI profile criteria, they note. “The whole profession became much more competitive in the last ten years,” says Dubbeldam. “I think firms realize we really need to keep all these good people.” 

The elephants in the room 

I have left to the last two of the biggest barriers still facing women, both of which were broadly discussed in all the interviews. The first, perhaps not surprisingly, is the demands of childcare and the broader family. Increased work flexibility is helping, as is a generational shift to a broader role for fathers, supported by parental leave programs. But all agreed that the new National Daycare Program has potential to have a significant positive impact, just as Quebec’s earlier path-breaking program appeared to have. Still, there was a broad view that architecture is a high-demand, high-pressure profession that can have difficult implications for both men and women. Mazik says the industry has had an increase to some amazing leadership opportunities for women. “The doors are there for us, however there are some sacrifices to be made—specifically balancing family priorities—which may postpone choosing these positions until further in our careers.”

Second, architecture is a profession closely tied to interaction with its clients. If the culture of architecture and its approach to women practi­tioners has lagged behind our broader culture, as suggested by some in the interviews, the construction site culture involving developers, consultants, engineers and trades hasn’t changed much, says Dubbeldam. “[BEAT] would like to focus on developing some standards that could be adopted by the construction industry in terms of addressing some of these issues.” There is a need to “unpack conversations about issues related to site and those kinds of behaviours that we run into,” adds Esposito. While Gerson agrees that progress has been slow, albeit still apparent, she does note a significant shift in generations, and better relationships with younger practitioners. Mazik sees more women overall—both sitting across the table and on-site. She says that although “there remains a lot of men still on the site, [contractors] have been bringing women into their offices, even as site supers.”

A new paradigm?

Dubbeldam, Esposito and Mazik suggest the last five years has seen major advances for women, although, in line with Gerson’s and Yarish’s more restrained assessment of progress, they believe further work is definitely required. That said, there are emerging indications that, spurred by effective advocacy, labour market pressures, and generational change across architecture and related professions, the next five to ten years may produce significant advances for Canadian women in architecture.


Rhys Philips is an Ottawa-based architecture critic. He helped craft and enforce the Federal Government’s employment equity policies as an official with both the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Labour Canada.

This article is part of Canadian Architect’s series on the Canadian Architectural Practices Benchmark Report (2023 Edition). The full report is available for purchase from the RAIC

Canada Compared with Other Countries

At 37.9 percent women architects, Canada’s performance appears to be in the middle of the pack internationally. Although a 2021 AIA survey reported that 36 percent of architects in the US were women, the career platform Zippia provides a table for the same year that found women represented only 23.3 percent of architects. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics’ 2019 survey, at that time, 25 percent of architects were women.

A massive 2020 report for 31 European countries, compiled by the Architects Council of Europe, reported 42 percent of architects were women. But like the rates between Canadian provinces, national rates varied widely. Topping the list for women architects, eight countries—Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, and Sweden—reported rates above 50 percent. This is followed by six countries—Belgium, France, Italy, Norway, Portugal and Romania—that reported rates between 40 and 50 percent. 

Of Europe’s five major countries, only France and Italy had reached the 40 percent level, while the others were all modestly below Canada’s national levels—the UK at 32 percent, Germany at 34 percent and Spain at 34 percent. In the case of the UK, women in 2023 were 31 percent of architects according to the Architects Registration Board (ARB), although new architects joining the register in 2021 were nearly 50 percent female. As in Canada, Europe’s age tree bulges at the bottom for women, while still being mostly populated by men in the higher age brackets. 

Some other countries for which statistics on women in architecture are available include South Africa at 21 percent, India at 47.3 percent, and China at 33 percent.   

See all articles in the November issue 

Read additional articles in Canadian Architect’s series on the Canadian Architectural Practices Benchmark Report (2023 Edition):

·        Benchmark Report 2023: The State of Canadian Architectural Practice

·        Benchmark 2023: How’s your firm’s financial health?

·        Benchmark Report 2023: Mixed Prospects

·        Benchmark Report 2023: Architecture and Capital “M” Marketing

·        Benchmark Report 2023: Firm Expectations—Managing Remote Work and Flexibility

·        Benchmark Report 2023: Competitive Compensation

·        Benchmark Report 2023: Looking Ahead—Succession Planning and Firm Value

·        Benchmark 2023: Future Forward—Adaptive Change in Architecture Education and Practice