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Women in Irish architecture

Aisling Cleary



Aisling joined FaulknerBrowns in 2021 to assist in establishing our Dublin studio, with eight years of commercial, residential and workplace experience in New York, Dublin and Amsterdam. She was awarded the Jack O’Keefe Medal for Academic Excellence in Professional Practice in 2017 and has since been an examiner on the Professional Practice programme at TU Dublin.

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The student gender ratio of the six architecture schools in Ireland has been close to 50:50 since the 1990s. Yet today, women account for only 30% of Registered Architect members, and for just 16% of practice directors. As often the only female in the meeting room, this is a fact that is highlighted to me on a weekly basis.

To bring about positive change to these statistics, it is important to question why they exist. 'Gender equality in Irish architecture: where are Ireland's women architects?' is a research initiative currently underway by Dr Dervla MacManus, investigating the drop-off in registration and inadequate representation of women in leadership positions in the profession. As part of her research, McManus points to some potential causes, including a lack of workplace flexibility and childcare responsibilities; “An ESRI study says 75% of caring duties are still carried out by women."

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Follow the research project at @GenderEquityIA

Challenging the statistics of women as majority carers is a complex matter that goes beyond the boundaries of the architectural industry. As a start, value may be found in looking to Swedish culture and policies, where paid parental leave is distributed between the parents as they wish.

Two key tools in empowering women to reach leadership roles are visibility and mentorship, where alternative models of thinking and behaving are presented. I recently attended the annual RIAI Women in Architecture event curated by Carole Pollard, which provides a platform for this visibility, where female architects in leadership roles share their career journeys and insights. Replicating this visibility in practice leadership roles is key to building a more gender-equal future in the architectural workplace.

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Carole Pollard in conversation with Jennifer Boyer, Gráinne Dunne, Sarah-Jane Pisciotti and Vicky Landy at the annual RIAI Women in Architecture event (Image credit: RIAI)

Mentorship, whether formal or informal, is also invaluable in accelerating change and enabling female architects to realise their full potential. In the workplace, this could simply involve the pairing of a senior female leader with a graduate, while externally, this could materialise as a bursary fund supported by the AAI or RIAI, where female architects are coached by industry-leading female role models.

It goes without saying that there is a wealth of female architectural talent in Ireland, including RIBA Gold Medal recipients Sheila O’Donnell (2015) of O’Donnell and Tuomey, and Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (2020) of Grafton Architects. There is an opportunity to build on this success towards a future where leadership is more reflective of society. To achieve this, men and women need to work together to provide a platform where both male and female voices are leading the decision-making processes that shape our environment.