by Sahar Teymouri, ASLA
Women’s History Month is a great time to reflect on a survey conducted last year as part of the WxLA proposal for “Female Forward: Three Generations of Womxn Leaders Talk Life, Work, and Legacy,” by Andrea Cochran, FASLA, Cinda Gilliland, ASLA, Emily Greenwood, Rebecca Leonard, and myself for the 2020 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture. The data presented in this post comes from that survey, distributed last year with support from WxLA and ASLA. The survey’s aim was to collect information on emerging professionals’—those just entering the field—experiences, challenges, and opportunities in landscape architecture.
Survey Characteristics and Participant Demographics
The survey was open for 45 days, beginning on July 1, 2020. We asked respondents 21 questions in three categories:
- Demographic Information (9 questions),
- Workplace Culture (6 questions), and
- Career Advancement & Self Development (6 questions).
The survey was completed by 71% of the 159 participants.
Most of the survey participants identified themselves as female (78.6%); 11.9% of the participants identified themselves as male; 8.2% as non-binary or third gender, and the rest of the participants (1.3%) preferred not to answer the gender question.
The graphs above show the participants’ demographics based on their ethnicity, age, education, years of professional experience, and current role. As the demographic information shows, most participants identify themselves as white females, 25 to 34 years old, with a graduate degree, landscape architects or designers, and full-time employees.
Of course, COVID-19 had an impact on the survey results, as several participants became unemployed or had to transition to part-time positions in 2020. However, this survey was not designed to study the partiality of unemployment across genders and minority groups; therefore, this survey’s results are not conclusive for evaluating the impact of the COVID-19 on the life and career of women and gender minorities.
Below, responses to some of the questions related to Workplace Culture and Career Advancement & Self Development are discussed in more detail. Participants could add comments for each question; some quotes are shared here anonymously as a snapshot of respondents’ perspectives.
This section included the following questions:
- Do you believe that women and gender minorities face discrimination at work?
- Please give examples of how you think men are discriminated against at work.
- Do you believe that the genders are treated equally at work?
- How many hours do you work on average? (Hours worked per week/ full-time)?
- Are you comfortable/satisfied with your working hours?
- Do you believe it is hard to speak up about the wage gap/pay transparency at work?
For each question, the responses were compared with the AIA Diversity in the Profession of Architecture report published in January 2016. The goal of this comparison is to underscore the similarity of the gender inequality issue across two similar disciplines.
Do you believe that the genders are treated equally at work?
Only 7.6% responded that genders are treated equally at work. Some of the participants’ comments are shared below to give a fuller picture, beyond a single-click multiple choice answer.
Some respondents emphasized the traditional role of women and said, “Women are assumed to be more committed to their family obligations than to professional obligations, so are considered less often for advancement.” Another comment reads, “Women seem to have a bigger role in carrying the emotional role of the profession in addition to their job.”
Other comments shared the participants’ experiences, such as:
“In my office, half of the staff are women and half are men. However, the women are all in production, and the men are all in leadership/project manager positions.”
“Our practice only has male leadership. Every woman who has risen in leadership has ended up leaving.”
“I have not experienced a job where non-white men or women have positions of leadership.”
“I have seen similarly experienced men and women hired at distinctively different pay ranges. I have experienced men promoted into positions for which they are less qualified than female co-workers. I have witnessed women doing significantly more service than their male counterparts.”
Several mentioned how men are promoted based on their potential, but women are promoted based on their experience.
Stereotyping and countering the traditional culture of male and female roles must be kept in mind as contributing factors for inequality at work, along with socio-cultural and economic background, education, race and ethnicity, age, and so on.
Page 10 of the AIA Diversity in the Profession of Architecture report covers women’s career advancement challenges. As in allied professions such as architecture, women in landscape architecture face the same issues, including barriers to promotion and more senior positions, gender and race obstacles to equal pay, hiring rate in architecture positions when finishing school, and so on.
In 2018, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) published a census report, 2001-2016 Women in Australian Landscape Architecture, that examines available data to provide a detailed picture of women’s participation in landscape architecture. This report highlights how the gender pay gap for older women, the high proportion of women working part-time, and the clustering of women owners in smaller businesses are all indicators of gender impacts upon those in the profession. It also clarifies how:
“in comparison to architects, there are fewer landscape architects: for everyone landscape architect there are over five architects. But the proportion of women is much higher in landscape architecture (47%). However, this proportion is undercut by the high numbers of women working part-time, which reduces their contribution to the landscape profession to around 40%. This modification underlines the importance of digging beneath the headline numbers.”
Please give examples of how you think men are discriminated against at work.
It can be eye-opening to hear about the discrimination men face today, along with BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities. Stereotyping and the traditional culture of male and female roles affects men in many ways, such as being stereotyped as masculine and not emotional.
Discrimination based on education level and class are also prevalent. 25.2% of the respondents believe there is discrimination against men at work, while 19.5% believe there is no discrimination against men at work and 43.5% preferred to skip this question. 6.9% of the correspondents said “don’t know.”
Some of the participants’ comments described discrimination by men against other men at work, such as:
“Men who do not fit into the dominant heteronormative office culture will not be promoted to the same degree as men who project confidence and privilege of identifying with heteronormative culture.”
“They may be discriminated among each other, I’m sure. I would specifically say on a racial and cultural basis.”
Other comments focused on racial discrimination, such as:
“… black and indigenous men. The same way with under-representation. They are just a few notches up on the ladder.”
“I have seen men discriminated against due to disability, age, sexual orientation, but I do not believe I have witnessed men being discriminated against due to their gender.”
“I feel as though the men that do get discriminated against are men that are part of the LGBTQIA+ communities.”
Career Advancement and Self Development
This section included the following questions:
- What is the most important challenge you face in your career or at work?
- Do you believe your organization has measurable performance standards for promoting employees?
- Do you believe in your organization; promotions are only based on individual measured performance?
- Have you ever thought your gender has played a role in your missing out on a raise, promotion, key assignment, or chance to get ahead?
- Would you like to someday have the opportunity for advancement or leadership role? (Please specify that role)
- Do you believe in your organization; you get the credit for your work and ideas (your voice is being heard)?
What is the most important challenge you face in your career or at work?
This question focused on the challenges landscape designers/architects face in the career. Increased responsibilities at work, setting boundaries, and working longer hours were the top challenges participants face in their careers.
One of the participants wrote: “Becoming a mom has been the hardest hit for me. I don’t really have a good balance of work life and the expectations of being a mother, the pandemic making it worse.” Based on several responses, being a mom, or planning to have children and become a mom, and moving up the career ladder require a healthy work/life-support system. Another respondent wrote: “As a childless woman I am often expected to work more since I do not have children at home. I am often contacted after hours or on weekends, which is concerning since I do plan on having children. I don’t see how I’ll be able to dedicate time to my family.” And one wrote: “I think a frank discussion is needed around women who do not have children but would like to have reduced work hours or different work-life balance.”
The AIA Diversity in the Profession of Architecture report on page 12 explains the factors causing the underrepresentation of women in the field—mainly, concerns about work-life balance, long work hours, and lack of flexibility at work. The report also offers ways to retain women in the field. The approaches described are helpful; however, we need to think about more detailed, tangible solutions for different people and situations. In other words, what are the specific ways to promote change in an office culture that allows better work-life balance and increases job flexibility? Is that just about working remotely, job sharing, and having flexible hours? If so, why is it, even now in the midst of a pandemic, that most people work from home and have some flexibility in their work hours, we still hear about a disturbed work-life balance and more requests for work flexibility? Does this data want to show us a reality and an issue that needs more attention in the field of design, especially architecture and landscape architecture? The WxLA Gender Justice survey was not designed to study the effect of the pandemic on gender equity in the field of landscape architecture. But currently, during the pandemic, the next inevitable question is how COVID-19 and working remotely are affecting work/life balance for those of different genders. Does it give them more flexibility, or create additional difficulties? What are the diverse experiences of working parents, people of color, gender minorities, and other vulnerable groups?
The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) prepared a report called “Gender Equity: Next Steps” which outlines actions to address gender inequity in two main areas:
“Ensuring AILA’s own activities and processes support women in landscape architecture.
Providing resources, information, and support to assist the profession in moving towards a more equitable future.”
In this report, the detailed action items and next steps were organized into the categories: Part-Time Work, Tackling Long Hours Cultures, Small Business Owners, Career Progression, Addressing the Gender Pay Gap, and Connecting Women & Governance. The information presented offers great examples to reflect on the data and utilize it to develop a series of questions and solutions.
Measurable performance standards and employee’s promotion
With these questions, the aim was to find out if the participant’s workplace follows a system to promote employees and if discrimination influences the system. Some participants noted, “Not everyone wants to climb all the ladders;” however, for those who want to climb, the following two questions are related in the sense that if an organization has measurable performance standards, why are women still not getting promoted? Are gender differences really at play, or are there any other hidden factors we are not aware of? What are those factors?
The participants’ comments include a wide variety of perspectives that show organizational issues and lack of transparency at work such as:
“These measurable standards are not disclosed to employees.”
“Performance standards are general and only applied downward (i.e., I cannot submit a performance evaluation of my superiors, but they submit one of me).”
“These are nonexistent. While the partners may have standards somewhat articulated for themselves, they’re not accessible or available to any of the staff.”
“Our limit is lack of positions to promote to, a shallow range of levels.”
“Performance reviews, but no measurable standards.”
Have you ever thought your gender has played a role in your missing out on a raise, promotion, key assignment, or chance to get ahead?
47.7% responded yes, 28.8% responded no, and the remaining responded “to some extent.” Comments that speak to the gender inequality issue include:
“I do wonder about upper management’s encouragement of minorities and women to take certain steps to get promotions and raises. I think men or employees who come from more privileged backgrounds may have had opportunities because they were taught or just know how to position themselves for opportunities. There is always an element of putting yourself and your needs and professional goals out there. This is not always common knowledge.”
“When I was looking for work pre-COVID-19, I was either visibly pregnant or I had an infant at home. In interviews, I can’t remember specifically how it came up, but it always came up that I had an infant at home. It took over a year to find a job.”
“I received a promotion without a raise last year. I was not given a salary bump because I was told I am the highest paid at my level. I have over twice as much experience as all of the others who share my job title. Penalized for being overqualified.”
“Definitely played a part in not getting raises or earning the correct salary. Also, on getting key assignments (loudest, most charismatic voice gets them, and I end up doing the work).”
Would you like to someday have the opportunity for advancement or a leadership role?
92% of the participants answered affirmatively. It was great to see how most participants raised their voices to express their interest in growing in their careers and having a leadership role. Some have specific ideas about their desired roles, and some not. A very interesting and thought-provoking result was that many participants, especially emerging and established professionals, mentioned how, to excel in their careers, they had to leave their workplace and start their own firm. They did not see a path to leadership in their firm for many reasons, including toxic environments, unhealthy relationships, work politics, etc.
In the comments section, the participants wrote about the roles they would like to have. Most of the participants’ comments include leadership and design leadership roles, with a few comments on mentorship roles.
50% of participants said that women and gender minorities face more discrimination in their careers. 60% of participants believe talking about the wage gap and pay transparency is problematic. Only 26% believe their workplace has measurable performance standards for promotion, and 50% think they are getting credit for their work and that their voice is being heard.
This survey only shows the tip of the iceberg and proves that we have many challenges ahead. We have come a long way in the fight for women’s rights and opportunity. Thank you to those who came before us, who fought for these rights. We still have a lot to do in continuing their path.
I would like to express my very great appreciation to:
- the WxLA team for their support and their contributions in refining the survey design, reaching out to a diverse audience, and collecting the data.
- ASLA for providing this opportunity to publish the article.
- ASLA’s Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN) leadership team for reviewing and providing feedback on this article.
- All the survey participants took the survey and shared their valuable responses, which made this study happen.
References and Resources
Diversity in the Profession of Architecture. The American Institute of Architects (2016).
Census Report 2001-2016 – Women in Landscape Architecture. The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (2018).
Gender Equity: Next Steps. The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (2019).
Designing the Bigger Time: Tools for a Gender Just Workplace, WxLA, World Landscape Architecture (2021).
*Views of individual survey participants included in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the author or of ASLA.
Sahar Teymouri, ASLA, is Landscape Designer for SEPI Engineering & Construction, Inc. She also serves as co-chair for ASLA’s Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (PPN) and was a 2019 WxLA scholarship recipient.